Hold that thought, because I have to say this first: RIP Joe Frazier.
Soft spoken and socially awkward, there was something endearing about you Joe. Plus you had class. No, there was no out mouthing Ali and wisely you didn’t, simply letting your fists do the talking in the ring.
On a sadder note, the intra-racism passed off as hilarious PR back in the day should be addressed, and I’m glad to see news outlets like The Grio mentioning it. See their article on boxing great Joe Frazier here.
I’m also glad my mom and dad broke it down for me, because I didn’t realize back then how hurtful (and divisive) Ali’s comments were. All I knew as a kid was that he was cracking some funny zingers at his opponent, so I laughed. Only “playing the dozens” wasn’t allowed in our house. And while my mom and dad were fans of Ali’s, his public condemnation of Joe became a teachable moment by my parents.
My dad was tall and dark brown. My mom much lighter. From these two I learned not only how the world viewed and treated their pairing, but our own culture’s views on what was considered desireable and what wasn’t.
On this blog I talk about the stereotypes in The Help, but there’s much left unsaid about the way African Americans treat each other. From slavery until today, ranking one another based upon a set of arbitrary and frankly, bigoted beauty standards IS WRONG.
You wanna crown Angelina Jolie or Halle Berry or Mila Kunis as the hottest things walking? Fine.
But I’ll debate 24/7 on the overlooked beauty and talent of women who don’t fit the traditional standard of beauty. Because it is in eye of the beholder.
For more on what The Help missed on the beauty, both physically and spiritually about the black culture, see this post
I wish I could stay on this subject, but this post is about Herman Cain, and how he reminds me of what I dislike about The Help.
I don’t have an opinion on whether the sexual allegations about him are true or not. Events are moving fast, and it appears the truth will be revealed shortly.
Instead I’d like to explore what I noticed about Mr. Cain. From his “Call me Cornbread” to his cringe worthy “Brother from another mother” line. Much like the ridiculous and stereotypical sayings Stockett had the maids in The Help stating, I can’t relate the man, or to Stockett’s black caricatures being passed off as multi-faceted roles.
It’s probably because Stockett chose to define a “good” negro as one who cracks Herman Cain type jokes (Minny) or grins and dotes (Aibileen) or pines over the white family she’s separated from (Constantine, dying of a broken heart in the book and the movie). Herman rubs me the wrong way with his need to showboat like Michael Steele did when he was the Republican Chairman. Half the time both men seemed to believe they were speaking or acting in a manner that appears “cool.” Insistent on peppering their public appearances with old time slang at inappropriate times, I don’t think either one realize how truly cringe worthy it can look and sound.
It’s one thing to be gregarious and truly amusing. It’s another to speak as if you’re mocking your own culture, which is how Mr. Cain appears more often than not to me when he speaks, similar to how Stockett’s maids behave, particularly Minny.
There are two schools of thought on Mr. Cain, with no middle ground. He’s either loved or loathed:
“Toure, a liberal black writer and commentator, accused Cain of exploiting his race to appreciative white audiences, calling it this “constant minstrelsy aspect.”
“He’s the one who says he wants the Secret Service to call him ‘Cornbread.'” Toure said. “He’s the one who says things like ‘Aw, shucky ducky’…. This is deep black slang that he’s using.”
But before you start feeling bad for Mr. Cain, the man appears to relish this role:
“I have been called ‘Uncle Tom,’ ‘sellout,’ ‘Oreo,’ ‘shameless,” Cain often tells his overwhelmingly white audiences as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination. “In the words of my grandfather,” he said last spring in Iowa Falls, “I does not care. I does not care.”
When singer Harry Belafonte, a liberal activist, recently called Cain a “bad apple,” Cain reveled in the insult. Belafonte, said Cain, “was referring to the fact that I wouldn’t stay on the Democrat plantation because I ran away and I ain’t going back!”
In The Help, both the book and the movie, Aibileen relishes her role beside Skeeter. As written in the novel, though toned down for the movie, Aibileen is both Mammy and Uncle Tom. While the viewer learns that she loves to write, her greatest passion seems to be the need to infuse the white children she rears with her own special brand of smothering love. However, for a woman thought to be the most admirable and compassionate in the novel by many readers, Aibileen doesn’t associate with any children in her own neighborhood, church or even her own family. And not once does she initiate any nurturing or positive affirmations to Minny’s children, even when she knows they’re in more danger than Mae Mobley. Though Stockett threw in a jab at Aibileen’s sisters having eighteen children between the two of them, the only children Aibileen sees fit to coddle are her employers’.
Minny, for all her big talk defaults into Celia’s own personal modern day Mammy from Gone With The Wind. She’s the maid who was deemed “Sassy” (I hate that word) and the most stereotypical imo. It’s no wonder her relationship with Celia is popular in both the book and movie. By making Celia so unbelievably childlike, she becomes yet another one of Minny’s kids. Only she gets treated better, at least in the book.
Minny hollers and berates two of her daughters, the teenaged Sugar and five year old Kindra. In Sugar’s case, Minny offers advice which is more like a threat, this after smacking her oldest child for laughing at Celia’s drunken behavior at the Junior League Benefit. With this act Minny becomes a fully fledged Mammy, even though she was supposed to be the most belligerent maid of the bunch. Coupled with being willing to risk her life and that of her unborn child ( in the novel) to protect “Miss” Celia when a naked pervert is spied jacking off in the azealeas, the movie wisely omitted the offensive scene of Minny chasing the afore mentioned pervert, as Tate Taylor simply blended Minny’s meeting with Johnny Foote as sort of weird hybrid of the two scenes.
Instead the audience laughs at Minny’s outlandish reaction to meeting Johnny Foote.
While Taylor has been quoted as saying how “beautiful” Stockett’s book is, somehow word got to him that many scenes weren’t as “beautiful” as these two first thought. However, Minny’s obsessing over food was in the book and foolishly broadened in the movie, as the character becomes even more of a caricature on film.
Taking a page from what seems the old Amos ‘n Andy radio show, Minny proclaims her love for fried chicken and spouts off in the third person “Minny don’t burn no fried chicken.”
Similarly, Herman Cain has taken to speaking of himself in the third person. Just one of the many quotes by Mr. Cain, referencing himself:
“For every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably thousands who will say that none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.”
While domestics are still woefully unsung, and I’ve enjoyed watching Viola Davis’ acting career over the years, the maids of the The Help are no role models.
They are merely one more southern writer’s take on what constitutes a “good negro.” And a funny one.
Which brings me back to Herman Cain. In his run for the presidency, Mr. Cain came out swinging, deciding to “own it” by going after Obama in a style that reminds me of Ali versus Frazier.
I recognize Herman Cain. I know of the era he’s from, stubborn in his beliefs, at times all bluster and bravado. And yes, I believe highly chauvinistic.
The stylish hat, the well fitting suits, the cadence of his voice reminds me of several older males. As kids we were supposed to listen to them impart knowledge, giving them respect and our undivided attention while in their presence.
It wasn’t until much later I found out some of them rarely practiced what they preached. Tough love was their mantra, which meant don’t ask me for any money. Herman Cain is a man who’s now having his life played out on the public stage. He’s ill prepared for it, but swears up and down that he’s got it covered.
Its safe to say he’s probably had his share of taunts like Joe Frazier experienced, even before running for president. But instead of quiet dignity, Herman Cain has embraced an outlandish, old skol “cornbread” persona. Unlike Joe Frazier, Cain’s intent on out mouthing all the other candidates about Obama, even injecting some black on black taunts, treading where the others in the running dare not go. Trying to make it a two man race, Herman Cain seems intent on playing the role of Ali, race baiting Obama to be his Joe Frazier.
In The Help, Kathryn Stockett inhabits Minny to give us her very own blackface version of a woman berating not only African American males, but her community.
Minny makes an all encompassing statement on the troubling antics of many black males, while Stockett is strangely silent portraying Skeeter and the gals assessments on the flaws of many white males.
Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump. But that’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got the kids to think about. (Minny Pg 311)
Tate Taylor left out this rather low down and insulting assessment in the film. And since Stockett had no stats to back up her statement, maybe it shouldn’t have been in the novel. It doesn’t warrant an even more insulting excuse like “I just made this shit up!”
For more on Stockett’s demeaning explanation on the flaws in her book, see this post.
Stockett doesn’t just stop at Minny expressing her thoughts on black men. She even has the character making some frankly stupid statements on the civil rights movement (which is supposed to be funny) simply because she has a personality conflict with a church member by the name of Shirley Boon. When Shirley tries to rally church members to stage a sit-in, Minny chooses to berate Shirley’s efforts, telling the woman her ass is too big to fit on a stool at Woolworth’s. Minny’s irritability is part of her rationale for ignoring working on civil rights, choosing instead to place Skeeter’s book ahead of a lasting legacy for her children.
Tate Taylor changed this in the film, loosely linking Minny, Aibileen, and the other maids to the civil rights/freedom movement by making Medgar Evers death the catalyst for them agreeing to help Skeeter compile their stories.
But since Ole Miss wasn’t graduating many liberals at that time, Skeeter does nothing to warrant the type of solidarity Stockett gifts her with by the maids of Jackson. By putting her story squarely in a city known as one of the most oppressive during the struggle for civil rights, both Stockett and her director/screenwriter Tate Taylor practice not offending moviegoers, instead falling back on Minny and Aibileen behaving like they’re maids in a sit-com as they joke in the kitchen. The result is The Help becomes a dramedy.
It was a calculated mistake Stockett also made in the book, to which Tate Taylor tries to rectify in the movie. Yet while the screenwriter has been quoted as saying (items in bold are my doing):
“Civil rights is just the backdrop. I’m not qualified to make a film about civil rights. People say to me: ‘Why wasn’t there a lynching? Why aren’t there houses burning down?’ But that’s not what this story is. For me, the most horrific moment in the film is the scene where the maid is sitting with her panties round her ankles in a three-by-three plywood bathroom, like a cat in a litter-box, while an impatient white woman is tapping her foot outside. If people need to see blood and gore and can’t see how horrific that is – well, I don’t have answer to that.”
However, when asked why moviegoers should see the film, Taylor stated this in August, just prior to The Help’s national release (items in bold are my doing):
“We present this story in a truthful way . . .”
“If you want to see a historically accurate portrayal of life in the sixties, but go behind the door and see the humanity and the love behind these courageous . . .
As both the screenwriter and director, this appears to be a WTF? contradiction. At least he’s no longer claiming watching Viola being told to hurry up taking a crap is “worse than seeing a lynching.”
And while Taylor admits he’s not qualified to make a film about civil rights, guess what Stockett’s publisher categorized The Help as with The Library of Congress? (check out your page that lists the publisher info. In my hard cover copy its in the front, on the second page).
Number one Civil Rights movements – Fiction
Number two is listed as African American women – fiction
and Number three is Jackson, Mississippi – fiction
Here’s a screenshot of the page. Click the image for a larger view:
And please, if you leave a comment like “OMG! it says fiction duh.”
A bit more on your reasons for this stance would be appreciated.
For example, if I wrote a book on 9/11 and claimed it’s fictional American history, yet I state only one plane was involved, I’d be called out on it. Oh, and suppose I added a gawky Ole Miss student who leads everyone to safety. Watch how many people challenge me if I try to hide behind “it’s only fiction people!”
Too bad Stockett blew it even further with the embarressing gaffe of three (known) audio interviews claiming Evers was indeed “bludgeoned.” And this was AFTER the publisher inserted the line in the hard bound copy of the novel (which has been changed in later paperback and ebooks)
“They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers.” Skeeter, Pg 277
For more on this blunder, see this post
Like Herman Cain, the maids in Stockett’s novel come off as not all there. Thus the need for Skeeter to lead them.
And if Herman stays in the race, to quote Ann Coulter when she appeared on the The Fox show Hannity “Our blacks are so much better then their blacks . . . to become a black Republican, you don’t just roll into it. . . and that’s why we have very impressive blacks in the Republican party . . . Herman Cain will make a wonderful vice-president.”
Apparently Ann Coulter sees the need for Mitt Romney to lead Herman Cain.
If you think I’m kidding about the maids lacking brain cells, then the dialogue Stockett gives Minny and Aibileen on Pages 23 to 24 is a must read. Omitted from the film, Stockett has Aibileen believing she has the power to call down a venereal disease on the woman who ran off with her husband. I call it the Cocoa, Cootchie, Clyde deal, an unsavory piece of conversation between two supposed “devout Christians”
“Week after Clyde left you, Cocoa wake up to her cootchie spoilt like a rotten oyster” Minny, Pg 24
“You saying people think I got the black magic?” Aibileen, Pg, 24
Lest you don’t get how offensive this whole exchange is, much like Herman Cain’s “black walnut” crack, Stockett attempts to bring the funny to a conversation on who gave who a venereal disease. Aibileen’s too stupid to realize that since she’s been sharing Clyde with Cocoa all this time, it’s possible she’s also contracted something. Her only thoughts are of the people in her congregation being equally as stupid to believe she has the power, via “Black magic” and prayer to cast a plague on another woman’s “cootchie.”
And while Stockett claims to have just been creative, this scene is similar to the excuse bigots used during segregation to block integration, claiming that blacks carried “venereal diseases” and that we were immoral. Why Stockett created a scene and a character to embody this skewed thinking, all for laughs is the million dollar question.
Only I wasn’t laughing while reading many of her scenes. I recognized their origins. And they weren’t from the black community, but demeaning myths from those intent on blocking integration.
There’s also WIMS, an organization that was established to educate white women of Mississippi on their black neighbors. WIMS addressed the demeaning myth of all blacks being carriers of venereal disease. There’s even an independent movie being made highlighting their work in the 60s.
Here’s Stockett along side Octavia Spencer during their road show:
Fast forward to 8:34 to hear Stockett channel her inner stereotypical black woman voice. Also worth noting is how this account differs slightly from the novel. Stockett inserts the name “Plunk” for Clyde, which just adds another real person to the growing list of actual people the author inserted into her novel. Clyde AKA Plunk was the abusive husband of real life maid Demetrie.
Contrary to Tate Taylor’s assertion that the movie is “presented in a truthful way” and that the film is “Historically accurate”, omitting The Citizen’s Council of Jackson and making the maids one skin shade fits all is hardly being “truthful.” African Americans were routinely guided into domestic positions, no matter what their complexion or level of education. For the movie to infer that only dark complexioned African Americans were maids harkens back to the days of Hollywood routinely casting either Louise Beavers or Hattie McDaniel as the default image of a black maid. The Help is not only guilty of a number of mis-steps while going back in time, but with its erroneous depiction of Stockett’s claim in the book that the maids be “The blacker the better” it’s hardly accurate.
Stockett’s characters didn’t just spring from her mind as made up shit. These are stereotypes rooted in misinformed beliefs on how blacks both looked and behaved. That’s why most of the maids are heavy set and dark in complexion. And while Stockett made a point to admit her grandparents had Demetrie McLorn (their maid, and someone Stockett admits spending her younger years being watched by) working under the antiquated rules of segregation during the 70s and 80s, (remember, Stockett was born in 1969) the author forgot to filter out what she’d been negatively taught about African Americans.
Just like Aibileen believes God is telling her to help Skeeter (in the movie), Herman Cain is convinced God told him to run for president:
“I prayed and prayed and prayed,” Cain told about 100 members of the Georgia Young Republicans in Atlanta on Saturday. “I’m a man of faith, I had to do a lot of praying for this one, more praying than I’d ever done before in my life. And when I finally realized that it was God saying that this is what I needed to do, I was like Moses. ‘You’ve got the wrong man, Lord. Are you sure?'”
But what of Herman Cain’s wacky assertions on matters that appear more aligned with the folksy sayings of Aibileen, Minny and Constantine?
I think the best assessment I’ve come across on the invention of the man we now see is here:
” . . . Cain’s life chances are often described as humble beginnings, his daddy was a chauffeur for the President of Atlanta’s Coca Cola Company, but I know better. My father was a waiter, and the men and women in the segregated service industry that catered to the wealthy elite were definitely upper middle class in the black community. Thurgood Marshall, Patricia Roberts Harris, and others had fathers who were waiters. They had money and status. Most importantly, they had access. They observed men of power and wealth learned how they thought, What they ate and drank. What they wore. They put them at ease. These were cultural skills passed inside the community among workers and families. Many felt these skills to be undignified, reinforcing status and stereotypes of subservience. But the culture really taught these workers who had the most significant level of contact with the elite in a segregated America that reinforced injustice how to leverage and build on this extraordinary minor relationship. The differences were in what purpose it would serve.
Cain choose a different fork. He neither thanks or mentions publicly the narrative for the struggle for equality and opportunity that puts him on the national stage. Like Topsy, he “just grew.” [‘I spect I just grow’d. Don’t think nobody never made me.”] He could draw from Republican examples. Bob Dole stood in the well of the Senate and after Strom Thurmond moved for cloture to cut off Jesse Helms’ filibuster, steered the passage of the King Holiday bill. Would Mitch McConnell do so now? More importantly, would Herman Cain? A search reveals no remarks by Cain on the person from his hometown who give him his life’s greatest chance: an open door to corporate America, a ladder to its opportunities, laws to protect and guarantee its gains, and annual ceremonies and celebrations to affirm our better selves at which Cain has been strangely silent.
At the center of that silence is a skill trusted blacks learned to use to survive in their relationships with the powerful.
You learned not to challenge. Today Cain doesn’t challenge any of the conservative orthodoxy or affirm the importance of continued social progress. No view is 100% right, but Cain offers no departures, and when he does, he quickly adjusts and backtracks. That’s not independent leadership; that’s being a popular, highly skilled sycophant.
Cain is no Ronald Reagan, but he is highly skilled in social, group, and personal relationships. The American black community had a special class of youngsters who were taught the skills of pleasing power and gaining power by trust, association, and reference. The roles that enshrine this trust go back before the Civil War. On the plantation, trusted black men and women were given the keys each day. The key holders protected the interests of the planter and slave holder. His trust required them to be differential, invisible, prompt, and loyal. But their choice was not made in fear or out of threats or intimidation, and often not by merit. They chose quite willingly to collaborate, to put the planter’s interests above all, including their own for marginal gain and personal benefit. It was America’s first inter-ethnic coalition. Some who entered into the pact wore the mask. For others it became a true face.
Nelson Mandela rejected such entreaties, as did Dr. King. But Cain learned if you imitated the dominant group, espoused their values, and could put them under a legitimate obligation, you could avoid many of the present dangers of the social head winds that others faced. Cain chose his course with this in mind. It has become his true face.
The irony of Cain’s course it that it is shaped by a parallel universe in which the battle for social justice, opportunity, and inclusion are played out. Cain’s rise comes after the blood sacrifice of civil rights, it comes after corporate America was forced to open its doors and discover talent, but his rise depends upon skills from the legacy of slavery, not submissive acceptance or the stereotype of the Uncle Tom, not docile and guileless; but something ambitious and passive aggressive, something that ignores the personal cost of turning your back and abandoning those who fought for your rights and taught you survival tricks.
Despite leading the polls, Cain’s funding–which has increased–amounts to a weekly operating allowance. He’s in hot water for borrowing funds from a non-profit (forbidden under the tax code) financed by anonymous donors to get his campaign off the ground. Follow the money: his campaign manager works for a Koch brothers Wisconsin issues organization.
Cain’s accusation and finger pointing at Obama is an old race tactic, again rooted in American slavery. In Charleston, those enslaved caught plotting fires or rebellions were often let go if they pointed the finger at others who were judged as potential trouble makers. To save themselves or to bring down people they disliked, slaves blew the whistle and shifted the blame to preserve their privilege. And they give authorities an excuse to take down those perceived as threats to the social order.
And does Cain really think he would be in the Republican nomination race were it not for Obama? Reagan’s 11th commandment once applied within the African-American community–don’t harp on differences. But Cain attacks to flex his bonafides. Divide and blame has been successfully prompted since slavery as a means to curry privilege and favor.
Yes, Cain did sing.
One of the most enduring American images is an African-American bursting into song. From the crop fields to levies to the proscenium and raised podium, singing blacks have assured us all is right with the world (or will soon be) and the good times be rolling. . . ”
THIS. Breaks it down beautifully.
I hope the author, a Mr. Walter Rhett doesn’t mind me using it, but I couldn’t have said it any better.
This post is still in development . . .