BE THE MAMMY: The real message to any “poor black kid”

Posted on December 15, 2011


There’s a web post getting lots of buzz on the internet. It’s called “If I were a poor black kid” by Gene Marks of Forbes Magazine.

Yeah, it’s the kind of article that just speaks to you, especially if you happen to be one of those “poor black kids” who need to get told yet again, you’re not working hard enough from where others sit.

I never equated Forbes as interested in social issues but if they’re branching out, I really wish they’d take note of how many “poor black kids” are in college. And also that it’s not just “poor black kids” who need chiding. We’re in a time period where even poor white kids can’t tell you who’s running for president or who the mayor of their own city is. And as Gene much too briefly covers,  computers are and have been available to even “poor black kids.” Rent-To-Own companies make you pay through the nose, but where there’s a will there’s a way to get wired. I can’t say the same for obtaining Wifi and 4G though. Alas, some necessities are still out of reach.

I read the Forbes article, and while I understand the indignation and anger directed at Marks, just like Kathryn Stockett, this guy truly believes he means well.

But while I’ve never been a poor black kid,  uh wait – maybe I have and didn’t know it. I had a white repairman tell me that I lived in a poor neighborhood, even though I consider myself middle class and own my home in what I’d believed to be a nice neighborhood. So maybe one man’s poor black kid is another’s “Huh? You think I’m poor?”

Was the article condescending? At times yes. I had to keep reminding myself that he meant well.

“Poor” can be subjective. You can be rich and see your parents less often that a “poor black kid” whose parents work several jobs. You can be rich and never step foot in a house of worship or expect to grow up to respect your elders and not pull a Ponzi scheme on family friends so that they no longer have a retirement fund. Sometimes growing up with all the “advantages” doesn’t mean jackshit if you’re morally bankrupt.

I think before I’d start counseling a “poor black kid” on what they need to do, I’d want to look at what I can do to change the situation for a “poor kid” no matter what the race. But first off I’d limit my use of “poor black kid” because I wouldn’t want anyone to have the mentality of you know, actually thinking they could be a “poor black kid.” Oh the horror. The horror.

What I took out of the piece in addition to “Look! I work in technology and I can tell you how to get the pieces parts I have because it’s technology that will make us all right and good and economically equal, is . . .




That’s right “poor black kid.” Be the mammy. Look how well it worked for Herman Cain.


Moving on up. Cain on the Cover of Newsweek



He had the “Mammy attitiude.” And look where it got him. Why, even Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh were singing his praises, even though it appears the man has a roving eye. And roving hands. Sure, sure he dropped out of the Republican race for presidential candidate, but Cain has such a high opinion of himself ’round all those white folks that he wouldn’t mind being considered for Secretary of Defense rather than a Dancing with The Stars contestant. I gather as Secretary of Defense, he’d just surround himself with really smart people, because see, “poor black kid,” using your own brain and knowing who’s the president of UBecky Becky Stan isn’t really required. So don’t let all this confusing advice stop you from running for the president of the greatest country in the world. While Gene Marks thinks you need to know lots of things, like technology, Herman Cain proves you don’t.


Especially if you can be of some use to those who need to use a “poor black kid” or even a “poor black maid” to get ahead.


That’s why the title of this post is BE THE MAMMY: The true message for any poor black kid.


See, by being compliant and complicit, you too can get doors opened.


While the Forbes article advises”poor black kids” to hit the books, the director and screenwriter of The Help implies that academics may not matter, especially where profit is concerned.:

“All of the criticism we’ve been facing is based on the fact that I’m not an African-American director and that Kathryn is not an African-American writer,” Taylor says. “It suggests that race relations in my country are still very black and white. But outside of a small academic elite, it doesn’t matter. The Help has been playing to all four quadrants. All races, ages, sexes have gone to see it. The most profitable theatre of its run has been in Jackson, Mississippi, with a completely mixed audience. And afterwards people stop in the parking lot and talk about the issues.” – Tate Taylor, director and screenwriter of The Help




That “small academic elite” consist of other African Americans “poor black kid.” Some of whom are college professors, those in higher ed who not only happen to know black history,  but American history as well. Some of us didn’t have the luxury of ignoring or getting questions wrong about famous white people in school. Our futures depended on knowing this stuff. Apparently Taylor and Stockett’s didn’t.



When profit is the bottom line “poor black kid”  apparently facts shouldn’t get in the way. And it’s  never been more evident than when portraying the South and  those”poor black maids” of The Help.


I’ll prove that you don’t have to know anything about history, because even if you do mess up, some people will just ignore it, like the mainstream media:

“Medgar Evers . . . he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard” – Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help in one of three known audio interviews.

“…1963 was a horrifying and momentous year in Mississippi’s history as well as the entire United States. It was… the fall of 62 when James Meredith was accepted into Ole Miss and in 1963 Medgar Evers the uh…who was with the NAACP, he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard in front of his children.”  (stated at 8:34 minutes into a 10:31 interview)





See more in this post

And “poor black kid” even if your director friend admits this:


“Civil rights is just the backdrop. I’m not qualified to make a film about civil rights.” – Tate Taylor, director and screenwriter of The Help


And this:

“The scene where Viola Davis is sitting on a toilet in a garage in 108 degrees, and then a white woman comes out and tells her to hurry up was visually brutal. To me that’s worse than seeing a lynching. It just is.”




It’s certainly comforting to know these telling statements won’t knock your film out of the running for a Best Picture nomination. Hollywood merely slapped Tate Taylor on the wrist for those off-putting statements by not nominating him for Best Director. But don’t worry “poor black kid” because it’ll still pay off in either the Best screenplay or Best film award.

What you have to realize “poor black kid” is that many times it’s not what you know, but WHO YOU KNOW. That and to always have a backup category.

Just ignore that the movie was being marketed as a Civil Rights film. And it’s this “hook” that will have well meaning liberals, like those who happen to think like Gene Marks does, that having those “poor black maids” act like they know their place, why sure they deserve to be nominated in a number of awards even though two of the African American stars have condescending and stereotypical lines like “You is kind, you is smart, you is im-potent” (Aibileen, played by best actress nominee Viola Davis)  and “Frying chicken make you tend to feel better about life” (Minny, played by best supporting actress nominee Octavia Spencer)



JUST BE THE MAMMY and you too “poor black kid” can earn raves from Hollywood and thousands of readers who think you’re “pitch perfect” and an “authentic” black person. Just so long as you talk trash about your own culture, separate yourself from the black male and cringe and laugh at the appropriate time.

Oh, and if you’re offended by anything Stockett’s written for that “admirable poor black maid” all you have to do is just ignore it. For as Viola Davis revealed in an interview about the film:

“If you didn’t object to the dialect, were there aspects of the book that did bother you?

Davis: The one thing I don’t embrace in any book about black women is I don’t embrace how the looks are described. I always erase that. I don’t care if it’s the greatest writer in the world. I know these black women. The first woman of beauty in my life was my Aunt Joyce, and she was over 300 pounds, and we thought she was Halle Berry to us. Every time she came to visit, she would have these earrings, and these clothes and the beauty of her skin. We would all sit around her touching her hands and her face and her skin and she was beautiful. I didn’t see the bigness. I just have a different idea of how we look, the hues of our skin, how we exude sensuality and sexuality and how our hair looks. So I always just interpret that for myself. It’s like Chris Walken cuts out all the exclamation points, and the periods. I cut out all the descriptions.”






Whew, good thing Viola was able to ignore (or deny) Stockett describing her African American characters as if they’re truly “Martians” like her oh so cute “Martian Luther King” pep talk scene Aibileen had with Mae Mobley.

I didn’t have the strength not to notice characters being described as “So black I couldn’t tell them apart” or “black as asphalt” “Black as night” and Aibileen’s highly insulting advice to a former child she’d raised him on “I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still aint drunk a cup a coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’salways nice seeing the kids grown up fine.” (Pg 91). In addition to almost undecipherable dialect, most of the black maids are either big enough to lift up a bus, have flesh hanging over a chair, in short they somehow default into one of the most popular icons still gracing American supermarkets:

Aunt Jemima mangles the english language, just like Aibileen and Minny




Yet Viola still ultimately proclaims Stockett’s work “Beautiful” even though she admits skipping over sections of the book she apparently couldn’t face.


That’s almost as bad as the Hollywood NAACP official announcing how African Americans need to have parties dedicated to The Help 

I hope they remembered to bring some fried chicken. Law.




The message in all this, is that Mammy = Good. And Mammy just may equal gold.


For this, dear “poor black kid”  is the year of the Mammy in Hollywood.

The face of mammy two shoes is finally revealed!





Here’s the breakdown of the Mammy of the year nominees on film:

1. Viola Davis

The accolades for her portrayal of the asexual, long suffering Aibileen Clark keep pouring in. It seems the ability not to act like the angry black woman stereotype is an asset this awards season, so those thinking  “I’m so disappointed with Viola Davis for doing this role” need to understand that the character of Aibileen has almost reached iconic “Beloved” status, as in Uncle Remus from Song of The South and Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. And Mammy from Gone With The Wind. And the crows from Dumbo. And the deleted hoof shining Centaurette named Sunflower from Fantasia.

Aibileen's folksy sayings and demeanor resemble Uncle Remus from Disney's Song of The Song



It may have taken almost a century, but the docile black maid caricature may finally get her due. While Louise Beavers wasn’t nominated in 1935 for Imitation of Life  (there was no best supporting actress category back then), with the accolades that came her way for the part of Delilah, the FIRST  loyal, meek and mild domestic may have also been the first African American actress with an Oscar, and not Hattie McDaniel. And now Viola will probably walk away with an Oscar, thereby cementing these roles are the most “Beloved” for African American actresses.

Louise Beavers in Imitation of Life, touted as "the greatest screen role ever played by a colored actress"




I doubt Hollywood needs to honor the “sassy” maid caricature again, which was already acted to perfection by Hattie McDaniel. It just isn’t done. Sorry Octavia. Hmm. But if “It’s hard out here for a Pimp” could win an Academy Award for best song, then who knows what those wacky liberals in Hollywood may do?

Besides that, after Hattie McDaniel’s win, decade after tiresome decade we were treated with rip-offs of her Mammy character. From the talented Broadway vet Nell Carter’s “Gimmee a Break” housekeeper/cook/maid to Flo on The Jeffersons. The” sassy” maid has been given more than enough time at the top. Now its the docile,” I wanna blow up but I’ll keep it tightly coiled inside and put on a happy face while my eyes show my pain” maid who should be given her due. Sho’ nuff.

From an article by Actvist and author Max Gordon for The New Civil Rights

“We never see an Aibileen who is frustrated with a white child, or wants to strangle it because the kid may turn out to be just like one of the women she works for. Aibileen is always kind, always patient. The script makes her low energy the result of grief, but that’s too easy. Aibileen, (with the exception of a few lines), has almost no growl, not even in private when white people aren’t looking. Which means her devotion is total - she is Mammy.”





Yes, I can see why Viola Davis would ignore Stockett’s descriptions of the maids. If it wasn’t the thick dialect, why Law, I was reading about Minny being blacker than Aibileen by ten shades (Skeeter’s observation of Minny’s skin color compared to Aibileen’s) And there’s the infamous color swatch test Aibileen does with the roach, until she comes to this brain shattering conclusion: He black. Blacker than me.

Aibileen’s self loathing over her skin color as well as the way she practically drools over all things white in the novel (like Yule May’s “good hair, no naps” and how the white kids like Hilly’s daughter Heather and Mae Mobley are “pretty cute” and “pretty” respectively, but she somehow can’t bring herself to notice if any of the black kids in her neighborhood or even her best friend Minny’s kids could be also described as “pretty cute” wouldn’t work in her favor on screen. Better to let people think the character is a saint because she sides with Skeeter. There’s far too little scenes (or interest it seems) in the book or the movie which go into Aibileen’s own life drama, that of losing her only child Treelore.

Or as one reviewer noted:

“And we never find out who impregnated Aibileen years before and gave her a son. Was Aibileen’s an immaculate conception? Was she once married but now a widow or divorced? Was she abandoned by her son’s father? He’s never mentioned, to my recollection.”

But I think that’s the idea. For moviegoers NOT to ask these questions. Certainly those nominating this turkey of a film for top honors didn’t bother to. Because that leads one to the book the movie is based on, where we find out Aibileen’s ex husband, like Minny’s spouse Leroy is also a popular film stereotype.  A “no-ccount” and a man who apparently gave a woman named Cocoa a “cootchie spoilt as a rotten oyster.” This revelation took Minny over twenty years to tell her best friend (who’s probably been walking around with a spoilt cootchie herself, since Clyde only left Aibileen a week prior to infecting Cocoa. Just as nasty as the whole poopie pie deal, here’s Stockett’s scene from the novel, as two devout “Christians” talk about Aibileen’s ability to call down a venereal disease via prayer and “black magic” (items in bold are my doing):

The “spoilt cootchie” conversation between Aibileen and Minny

“Minny, I say last Sunday, “Why Bertrina ask me to pray for her?”

“Rumor is you got some kind a power prayer, gets better results than just the regular variety.”

“Say what?”

” . . . Snuff Washington, Lolly Jackson – heck, Lolly go on your list and two days later she pop up from her wheelchair like she touched Jesus. Everybody in Hinds County know about that one.”

“But that aint’ me,” I say. “That’s just prayer.”

“You know Cocoa, the one Clyde run off with?”

“Phhh you know I never forget her?”

“Week after Clyde left you, I heard that Cocoa wake up to her cootchie spoilt like a rotten oyster. Didn’t get better for three months. Bertrina, she good friends with Cocoa. She know your prayer works.”

“You saying people think I got the black magic?”

“I knew it make it worry if I told you. They just think you got a better connection than most. We all on a party line to God, but you, you setting right in his ear.” (Pg 23-24)

Gee, I wonder how Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer ignored the insulting and offensive connotations in this scene?

To review, Minny admits that some church members believe Aibileen’s prayers are truly heard by God. So much so, that somehow Aibileen was able to call down a venereal disease on the woman (Cocoa) who ran off with Aibileen’s husband Clyde. Too bad Minny waited close to two decades to tell Aibileen this, since Stockett seems to infer that Clyde gave Cocoa a “spoilt cootchie” a mere week after running out on Aibileen. It would have helped to know if Aibileen got a clean bill of health, since she’s been sharing her husband with another woman.

And note the “black magic” reference, which has no place in this whole discussion. If these two women are “devout Christians” then black magic would have no bearing on their conversation. Not so slyly inserting ideology which originated during segregation, that no matter what religion African Americans believed in, somehow we reverted back to the “black magic” practices of the motherland Africa, was another WTF?  moment I had while reading this book. While this degrading conversation wasn’t included in the film (I wonder why? eye-roll) its still in the book. A novel which has sold over 5 million worldwide and counting. “Admirable maids” indeed. NOT.

This is but one example of the epic fail in Stockett’s depiction and skewed view of her African American characters. Black domestics who toiled under the oppressive regime of segregation deserved better. So let me make my objections clearer:

The shit Stockett wrote, the scene I referenced above is offensive and it isn’t funny. But that’s only the half of it, because the novel includes more insulting dialogue and scenes with the black characters. Characters who spew “amusing” anecdotes which are anything but. It’s no wonder then, that in the movie Minny also reportedly is given this line:

“Minny don’t burn no chicken.”



Tate Taylor's Chicken Party, starring Octavia Spencer and Alison Janney. Cameo by of all things "fried chicken"



So while Viola Davis can state in the same LATimes  interview “I was reading that book every single night. I had a lot of trust issues with the script because of the responsibility I have with humanizing this woman: a quiet, dignified black maid who takes care of a white baby. ”

Viola Davis as Aibileen in film version of The Help and young actress as Mae Mobley



Why then, ignore or try to dampen parts of it that reveal the total makeup of the character? Perhaps to make her more “dignified” for moviegoers? Hmmm?

“The maid, she says, is not a myth. “And yes, Mammy does exist – if that’s what you want to call her. But Mammy is not all she is. So ask the questions. Find out what she thinks, what she’s like and who she is beyond the kitchen. That’s the challenge for film-makers today.”

As written in the novel, Aibileen was part proud Mammy and part Uncle Tom. Why take out the essence of the character, the qualities many readers fell in love with, because she’s a woman who fawns over the white characters and obsesses over Mae Mobley, and then Skeeter,  but doesn’t have time to coddle or instill any children in her own community with self affirming mantras?

This is the same character who says this about her “good friend” Minny, then turns around and is too chicken shit to stick up for asthmatic Benny when Leroy wakes up raging:

We make it out the door and down to the street fore we hear Leroy hollering at Benny for waking him up. I walk faster so she (Minny) don’t go back and give Leroy what he good for.

(Aibileen, Pg 397)

And how Stockett makes it quite clear that Constantine, Minny and also Aibileen aren’t dealing with a full deck:


Aibileen’s face is turning darker. She giggles again into her knuckles. Clearly she’s not getting this. (Skeeter, Pg 386)



I was in the attic, looking down at the farm,” I tell her. “I could see the tops of the trees.”

“You gone be a brain surgeon! Top of the house mean the head.” (Constantine’s answer to Skeeter, Pg 63)



“How tall are you Constantine? I asked, unable to hide my tears.

“Constantine narrowed her eyes at me. “How tall is you?”

“Five-eleven,” I cried. “I’m already taller than the boys’ basketball coach.”

“Well, I’m five-thirteen, so quit feeling sorry for yourself.” (Constantine comforts Skeeter with fuzzy math, Pg 65)

Here’s Minny’s time to shine:

Lord, I know what I have to do. I have to go out there. I have to get him first (Pg 306, Domestic violence victim Minny, in full “noble savage” mode, taking a knife to attack the naked pervert outsid in order to defend Celia. Minny is pregnant with her sixth child in this scene, but Celia’s well being – even though Celia’s locked behind a closed door- is what counts most)

The look of empowerment:



Viola as Aibileen showing just what Kathryn Stockett thought it will take to make a black woman break down during segregation. Being separated from Miss Skeeter and Mae Mobley





Then there’s the unresolved business of real life maid Abilene Cooper.

Because this woman looks more like the physical embodiment of the onscreen character Aibileen Clark:

Ablene Cooper's photo from the UK Daily Mail. This is the "real deal" Abilene

Viola Davis saying the line that was never uttered in the book "You are a Godless woman"





See more about this truly sad fiasco  here

Pretty maids all in a row

Best quotes from around the internet on Viola playing Aibileen:


“I love Viola Davis but The Help can kiss my ass” – (name of the person who created this quote is not known, However, I’d love to give them credit)


“I hope Viola Davis puts her Oscar in her bathroom, because the Academy is clearly  full of shit” – LOGIC, commenting on the site  Shadow and Act

The next Mammy of the year nominee:


Over done angry black woman pose featuring hand on hip




2. Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer portrays the fiesty, oh so “sassy” maid Minny, a role that she was born to play, as the author of The Help admits:

” . . . I didn’t know Octavia very well at the time I was writing, but I’d watched her mannerisms and listened to her stories at parties. She’s an actress in Los Angeles, and you can just imagine the look on her face when some skinny white girl came up and said to her, “I’ve written a book and you’re one of the main characters.”


And Stockett also reveals why Spencer was destined to play the role:

In an interview with Diana Dapito of Audible com, Kathryn Stockett says (items in bold are my doing and there’s no transcript available):

Dapito: And is there a movie version coming out of The Help? Did I hear that right?

Stockett: The movie rights have been sold to a fellow Mississippian Tate Taylor (inaudible) Green and I’m just so lucky that the book is in the hands of people, not only Mississippians but friends of mine from Jackson. They’re two filmmakers based in Los Angeles.

Dapito: Oh I can’t wait. Do you think they will cast Octavia and some of the other narrators?

Stockett: I think Octavia will be the part of Minny because ah . . (pause and laughter) you know, that was just the agreement. It wasn’t that hard of, it you know, there was no pulling hair on that one. She’s such a natural.”

Link: An Interview with Kathryn Stockett, Author of ‘The Help’ Narrated by Diana Dapito


Celia gives Minny a hug, which is supposed to make moviegoers chuckle and go "Awww"

For many lovers of the book and movie goers, Minny is a favorite:
“Now Minnie ( Octavia Jackson) was my fav character  . . . one of the maids who had sew much heart but had a difficult time keeping her words to herself…She just made me smile…”

Mammy Tobe and The Help



**A minor point here. The last name is Octavia SPENCER. Not Jackson. Minny Jackson was the CHARACTER. This site was . . . well “interesting” with its love of Mammy rag dolls. And how cute is it when the word “so” is replaced with “sew”. Sort of like LAW for Lord in The Help. Sho nuf

Our last nominee is Gab-



Gabourey Sidibe in the film Tower Heist



Oh, sorry,  guess I got mixed up after seeing the uniform. Not this year Gabby, but you’ve got the right idea. The way to Oscar gold is the path of least resistance. It’s not enough to be a maid. You’ve got to be a MAMMY chile.




The Mammy Wars: Aibileen vs. Minny

Sassy vs. Serene. Impulsive vs. the introvert. In the head to head battle which Mammy comes out on top?

One of the rules of Mammyhood is abstaining from sex, though the domestic can already have a child by an absentee male. But after that, no more. No man, no significant other of any sex. No vibrator. Even mentioning the word “sex” in the stereotypical Mammy world isn’t allowed.

Minny’s got five kids and a sixth on the way in the novel. I don’t think the movie has her pregnant with her sixth child, just like it dropped the naked pervert jacking off and Minny defending Miss Celia by going outside with a knife to confront the guy. No, I think I read that Minny just has a bunch of kids in the film. That knocks her into a whole ‘nother category.

Maybe a better head to head comparision would be Constantine vs Aibileen, because Constantine even went so far as getting rid of her only child just so she could keep her job.

No, it wouldn’t do for her to think “Hey, why don’t I just move to Chicago with my daughter?” I mean, there wasa little something called The Great Migration going on, but I don’t think Kathryn Stockett felt the need to do research on it. Just watching Abilene Cooper and Octavia Spencer and recalling Demetrie McLorn was the ticket to creating “authentic” black people.

Only Stockett may not have known that Spencer admits she can’t cook in real life. So there goes one stereotype of Black people. Sort of like the myth that we all have rhythm.



Minny at the door with an apology and a shit pie for Hilly



Winner: Aibileen





Teresa Harris on the cover of JET magazine in 1945

In The Help, Aibileen at least loves to write. Though her sentence structure is so poor that she must depend on Skeeter to edit her words. See, even though Aibileen loves to read, it appears she didn’t realize there were books which could have boistered her writing skills. And that would have meant she was independent minded. No, it matters not that Ann Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi would be published around the same time as Kathryn Stockett’s fictional tale of the maids would have.

The UK trailer alluding to Aibileen being the catalyst of it all, not Skeeter

Minny doesn’t even get the luxury of scenes showing her using her brain in the book or in the movie. Her only “gift” is frying chicken it seems. And baking poop pies. Which is such a nasty trick, I can’t see how this even puts the film into “Best picture” territory, even though it has heavy weights like Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus behind it.

In the head to head battle of which maid has the most to offer I have to give the nod to . . . .

Winner: Aibileen





Cooking up feces in your kitchen is nasty beyond belief.

Just like in the novel, the movie version of Aibileen is considered admirable and good and compassionate because she’s able to swallow an insult with class,  grins at the appropriate time and showers Mae Mobley with the kind of affection that makes some long for the good old days, before the “angry black woman” was invented as still another trope.

While Minny is supposed to be bossy and strong, Aibileen is touted as the serene one, with inner strength.

But if Aibileen’s so “strong” what’s she breaking down and crying for at the end of the movie?

Aibileen walking off into the sunset. Too bad the real Jackson, MS remained relatively unchanged in its racial views up to twenty years later



At least Minny shows a bit of fire in the book and in the movie, though she still ultimately defaults into a Mammy. But in a head to head battle regarding strength of will, I gotta give this to Minny. Five kids and a abusive husband, and she can still do stand up comedy in the kitchen, and cook up a storm.


Winner: Minny


This next section is part two of my post The Help’s Blueprint for Black characters

Here’s what I think most can agree on, whether one enjoyed Kathryn Stockett’s novel or not. That Segregation was a shameful period in American history.

From demeaning advertising, to films, books and television shows that mocked and played upon the “differences” between blacks and whites (and not in a good way). To bogus medical studies which built upon the belief that blacks were inferior in all things, except manual labor and physical sports. And cooking and cleaning. Oh, and raising other’s children.

Everybody's favorite "Aunt", Aunt Jemima, still "large and in charge" even today

Hires ad, "Yassuh . . ." Black males were also required to grovel and give service with a smile

Children were not immune to being used for mockery:

This GE ad uses the stereotype of blacks and fried chicken

Yet here’s how African Americans were portraying themselves to combat demeaning depictions:

Jesse Owens for White Owl Cigars

Pepsi Ad from 1960's Ebony Magazine. Photo curtesy of Vieilles Annonces

But what do those who’ve seen the film and still live in Jackson, Mississippi today have to say? In an article by Nicole Sperling of the LA Times some residents reveal:

“. . . Lee Harper, a 51-year-old African American restaurant owner, recalled how her mother worked as a maid for white employers from sunup to sundown, six days a week, and hated every minute of it. “I cried a lot in the movie, mostly because I thought of her,” said Harper. “I remember wishing she could do something else.”

Here in Jackson, and elsewhere in the country, the movie has prompted viewers to contemplate this Southern town’s place in the civil rights struggle and consider how relations between the races have progressed in the last 50 years.

Wright’s multi-racial book club is evidence of how far Jackson has come. And there are other obvious signs of change: The mayor is African American, as is the district attorney; the city, the majority of whose residents were white at the time in which “The Help” is set, is now mostly black. But the June killing of a 49-year-old African American by white teenagers in what authorities say was a racially motivated attack, was an ugly reminder that, even half a century after the fictional events of “The Help,” Jackson still has deep scars.

“Mississippi has not changed that much,” said book club member Dierdre Payne, 62, a retired Exxon employee who is black.

“People dress better. They drive more European cars and there are more black people living on streets that don’t have ditches. [But] do not think that Mississippi is just like everywhere else. We incubate racism here. We are still sitting shiva for Jefferson Davis to come back.”

“Things are 100% better,” Evers said. “Forty years ago we couldn’t drink out of a white water fountain. We couldn’t vote. We couldn’t stay in a hotel. One of the things my brother was killed for was trying to integrate Ole Miss, and now I have two granddaughters that graduated from the law school. It’s 100% changed but it’s not enough. We’ve got to go farther.”

Evers says he has no interest in seeing “The Help,” though. He simply doesn’t want to delve into the past. It’s the same reasoning that’s keeping him away from the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington this weekend.

“I don’t want to look back,” he said. “I get angry. And I don’t want to get angry. That’s when you lose control.”

Hours before the vigil, C.J. Rhodes, 29, the new preacher at Mount Helm Baptist Church, Jackson’s oldest black congregation, was having supper after services at the Fairview Inn, which was once the home of the head of the segregationist White Citizens’ Council — a group formed in 1954 as a response to the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision desegregating public schools.

Rhodes saw “The Help” with his girlfriend at a local theater, and although they found it moving, he worries that such feel-good films tend to make people think society has already reached true racial reconciliation.

“The possible danger of ‘The Help’ or ‘The Blind Side’ is that it sanitizes the racial stuff,” he said. “It was a great movie; we wept together. The End.”



I’ve still got typos and some sections to clean up in this post.

To be continued . . .

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