I’ve got to thank Alina on Amazon.com for posting a link to the blog Dear White Feminists. It’s important to keep in mind that the blog talks about a controversy that occurred in 2008. But damn if it doesn’t provide insight into the same excuses made over the issues in and with The Help.
Here’s the utterly brilliant rant from the blogger after she was fed up with her fellow feminists:
“I’m sick of this cycle. I’m sick of seeing white women dismiss the concerns of women of color.
I’m sick of our self-righteous claims of inclusivity while we marginalize the voices of women of color when they speak out.
We marginalize them if they do it with anger, or do it in the wrong way, or do it while disagreeing with us, or #%$@cking do it at all.
I’m sick of us exercising our white privilege and then accusing our sisters of color of causing divisiveness when they refuse to submit to our racism. Mostly it’s unintentional racism by white women who want to believe that we are saving the world. But we are not. We’re oppressing and silencing the very people we talk so eloquently about being allies with.”
End of excerpt
A brief summary on what caused the ruckus. From what I gather, a book was being promoted on a site frequented by both white and black feminists. What wound up dividing them were pics in the novel, like this one:
When various opinions by women of color were expressed on the offensive nature of the images, that’s when the shit hit the fan. Some white feminists rushed to the aid of the author, and the concerns of the women of color were rudely dismissed (so what else is new). But don’t believe me. Here’s the link to the blog:
It’s important to also take a look at the Update section of the blog, link is here) because the book was still promoted, regardless of the slight to African Americans. So while feminism won out, apparently the rush to excuse offensive images did too.
Excerpt from the blog:
Also from the blog:
“. . . Meanwhile arguments continue to rage. At Pandagon, Marcotte’s blog, there is a torrent of commentary about how the images aren’t really that racist, how people are out to get Marcotte, how wonderful a person she is for issuing an apology, etc.”
Any of this sound familiar?
How about the reasons used to excuse the numerous problems in The Help?
From condescending dismissal “I don’t see anything wrong with the novel. It depicted black people perfectly. That’s how they talk.” to “Abilene Cooper should be grateful. The character of Aibileen in the novel is admirable” and “It’s the message that counts” to my favorite “Black people are just mad because a white woman wrote this beautiful novel.”
Back to the Dear White Feminists Blog. There were many great responses quoted on the blog’s Update page, and also the blog itself. I hated to pick, but here’s a direct hit:
” . . . If the issues concerned a bunch of women and men in arguing over whether something were sexist or not, there would be no question of who was right. When you have a group of men ganging up and claiming that the women in the room are being oversensitive and irrational and seeing sexism where there is none (we have all been in this room before, I think), we all know the men are full of bullshit. It is an egregious show of male privilege.”
So when all the WoC in the blogosphere are telling us that there are problems in feminism…
Now just apply this spot on response to all the people loving The Help but refusing to understand why it could possibly be offensive to some African Americans. If I may alter that last part “So when some WOC in the blogosphere are telling us there are problems in The Help.“
While the novel and the movie appease some because they touch on segregation, many fail to see how the book and movie also include dialogue and scenes which actually demean the black culture, and continue to promote accepted stereotypes.
Some of the most often used excuses? “It’s not a history lesson” or “It’s not perfect”
Frankly, I’d rather not see a minority in a film if they’re only used as a token or caricature to advance the non-minority lead’s storyline.
Another quote I enjoyed on the blog is this one:
“I think the point where I went fuck it , is when a law student, a couple writers, and a professor basically endorsed a book and MISSED in reading something they were ATTACHING their names to. Racist comics, about MY PEOPLE. Yeah MY PEOPLE, being KILLED and destroyed to save a white man and give a white woman the “courage” she so desperately desires. And people fell over themselves to excuse them. Cause they’re learning. You know what, fuck off.”
Now here we are in 2011, and in a pathetic attempt to throw dissenters of The Help a bone, one major reviewer stated this:
From Bookmarks Magazine
. . . Several critics questioned Stockett’s decision to use a heavy dialect solely for the black characters. Overall, however, The Help is a compassionate, original story, as well as an excellent choice for book groups. –This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
Guess they missed Ol’ Aibileen’s self loathing in the book (which the movie thankfully dropped), like when she compares her skin color to a roach, “He black, blacker than me” on Page 189. Or her demeaning advice she gave long ago “I told him don’t drink coffee or you gone turn colored. He say he ain’t touched a drop and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine.” And it’s back to whining about her skin color when she tells Miss Skeeter this about Constantine’s ex lover Connor “. . . the father was black as me.” (Aibileen, Pg 358)
Aibileen was no role model (and neither was Minny, or Constantine for that matter). At times her scenes were a cross between a Mammy and an Uncle Tom, especially when she had thoughts like this “Yule May easy to spot from the behind. She got good hair, straight, no naps” (Aibileen, Pg 208 )
Adding insult to injury, Aibileen cries tears of happiness imagining Skeeter walking down the streets of New York, while Stockett couldn’t bring herself create any scenes of the maid crying tears of grief over her recently deceased son.
The waterworks flow freely for Aibileen, as Stockett has her enamored with bedtime thoughts of Skeeter’s escape from Jackson. And at the end of the novel (and the movie) Aibileen can’t stand to see her ”special baby” Mae Mobley upset at her leaving. But somehow Aibileen manages to hold her tears at bay when thinking of her son’s untimely death, a young man who was her only child. Yeah, rightttt.
There was nothing empowering in my opinion about the character. She simply groveled and grinned. A character from the imagination of a writer who admits she was brought up in a household which freely practiced segregation long after it was outlawed. So the question then becomes, how is it that some readers who profess to be “liberal” missed the insulting references to African Americans when Stockett played omni-present narrator? Stockett’s assumptions about the black culture were as bad as the images that caused an uproar over on the feminist site.
Ironically, Disney and Dreamworks tried to use the feminist angle on the film. But with stereotypical lines uttered by Minny such as “Minny don’t burn no fried chicken” to Aibileen’s cringe worthy “You is kind, you is smart, you is im-po-tent” then The Help movie appears to suffer from the same skewed vision of African Americans as the novel.
And yet, I suspect those behind the film are probably still scratching their heads over why the movie isn’t uniformly beloved. And giving the same sorry excuses to explain why.
Back to the Dear White Feminists Blog: “Update 6, (7/28/08 ) on Alternet: (Edit: Months after the controversies listed above, Alternet puts out an article by another white feminist calling for unity from WOC):
Heidi Schnakenberg has written an article about white feminists, feminist infighting, and unity that reiterates much of what white feminists have been saying for a long time. Namely, that women need to come together and unite despite our differences. I make note of this here mainly to point out that it was Alternet that first published Marcotte’s article about immigrant women. Now they have another white woman writing about issues of race and feminism. At some point, perhaps, Alternet will see fit to have an actual woman of color write about, well, women of color? Or do I ask for too much…? “
End of Excerpt
I tell ya, it’s downright scary how some of this mirrors the controversy over The Help. And no, the two books are not exactly the same.
But what’s unsettlingly similar is how so many rallied around Kathryn Stockett’s revisionist fiction with a mountain of excuses as to why the book and movie mattered, even using offensive and truly WTF? rationale when debating real African Americans (like me) who were around during segregation and recognized sections of Stockett’s tale were off kilter.
And yet, what other reason could there be for any dissention over the book and the movie except as one reviewer claimed, those who objected were racist. Here’s the titillating title:
The Help isn’t racist. It’s critics are.
The less said about the piece the better, especially when I get the feeling the writer just wanted to come up with a catchy but controversial headline to lure readers.
I truly hope the originator of Dear White Feminists will come back and do an update. I’d also like to hear from anyone who was involved in this.
In case you think this is a one time thing, here’s an excellent post from the Crunk Feminist Collective on a more recent racial affront at the “Slut Walk” march, where a sign was proudly held proclaiming WOMEN ARE THE NIGGERS OF THE WORLD
Excerpt from the article I Saw the Sign but Did We Really Need a Sign?: SlutWalk and Racism:
“I do not dig debating with young white feminists late into the night about white privilege and having other Black women in the thread have to call out the supposed anti-racist feminists for not speaking up, for yet again forcing Black women to do the exhausting work of teaching. I do not dig being told on the interwebs, –tumblr, other blogs, the Slutwalk NYC FB page–that Black women are being hyper-sensitive and divisive. I do not dig being intellectually insulted with the assertion that I simply didn’t understand “Yoko and John’s intent.” As if. Y’all know that saying about intentions and well, perhaps you should also recognize that we are long past the point of talking about intent when we talk about racism. We should be talking about impact.”
Here’s the link to the post, and yes, there are pictures that show the actual sign:
Frankly, I think whoever wrote the thing just wanted to use the N word. I fear if I’d been anywhere near those broads holding up that sign, I would have snatched it down and dared them to do something about it, because really, they needed someone to confront their collective asses face to face for that stupid as all hell stunt. Yoko Ono and John Lennon were too high to know what the hell they were talking about when they used it in the 70s, and I doubt the young ladies who resurrected the former song title for their sign really understood its impact.
You know, I really wish people wanting to be socially relevant would quit dragging black people into the mix. This same insensitive bullshit happened frequently back in the day and its still on going within the feminist movement.
Just like the insults about the black culture got the okay from the publishers of The Help under the guise of “That’s how it was back then” it still doesn’t justify Stockett (as well as her editors, because the author claimed several helped her perfect each page) playing omni-present narrator into slyly giving their critical assessment on African Americans TODAY.
I’m going to have a post up shortly about that “narrator”, the one who plays favorites, and tells the reader most of the white males are “good” and “honest” yet categorizes most of the black males in the novel negatively. This “narrator” does no favors for the maids either by making them stupidly complicit in dogging their own family members and community.
To be continued . . .