I’m watching the arraignment of Ariel Castro, and I’m struck by how contrite and cowardly he appears. His eyes are downcast, he’s using a collar to hide part of his face, his shoulders are slumped. However, I’m not taking this as a sign that he’s remorseful. But looking at how he now comes across, I’m sure to the young women Castro kidnapped (two who were teens and one other who was twenty when abducted), he was a much larger, fearsome assailant (plus he was ten years younger, thus stronger). It’s possible there are many sides to this man, and the one being seen in court is the same Ariel Castro the kidnapped victims saw. Someone who didn’t appear as if he would be capable of physical and mental torture. But that’s just part of what he’s changed with.
My prayers go out to the ladies who’ve now been freed, and the youngest, a six year old child.
There’s also something else that emerged from this sad case. Someone who assisted the very courageous Amanda Berry.
That of Charles Ramsey and his persona.
I’ve known many men like Ramsey. I’m not solely talking about his decision to help when far too many would have just kept on walking. But men who pepper their blunt sentences with profanity, who are animated when they speak, and just come across as seriously raw and real, because that’s who they are.
So it’s not a shock to me that Ramsey has a criminal past:
Cleveland ‘hero’ and Internet celeb Charles Ramsey says criminal past made him a better man
The 43-year-old dishwasher has been lauded for his heroic efforts after helping three women and a young girl escape captivity from his neighbor’s house. But Ramsey was arrested at least three times for domestic violence from 1997 to 2003.
“Those incidents helped me become the man I am today and are the reason why I try to help the community as much as I can … including those women,” the 43-year-old told TMZ.
The gutsy dishwasher — who’s become an Internet sensation thanks to his animated interviews — was convicted of domestic violence three times from 1997 to 2003, according to an arrest report obtained by The Smoking Gun. The assaults were related to his then-wife Rochelle, who told the website that he also failed to pay child support for their now-15-year-old daughter.
While Ramsey’s fifteen minutes of fame may be up due to these new revelations, far too many others who become media darlings are able to escape prying eyes and end up smelling like roses, while folks like Charles get investigated left and right, possibly because of their socio-economic status or because of their race, and even their religion.
In truth a few of my male relatives who behave like Ramsey does, share a similar history and also look. When I saw Ramsey’s interviews he put me in mind of them. Receding hairline hidden by a cap, the missing teeth, the widened eyes when emphasizing a point, opinions that make you nod in agreement at their directness, and also make you laugh at the way they uniquely put things. But they also have a dark side.
And you know what else?
The irony is, these are some of the same men who won’t hesitate to spring into action and throw themselves into the fray, without regard to their own safety. This duality has always fascinated me. They were and are far from perfect, but also operate by a code that kicks in unregulated at times, and generally explain it simply as it’s what a man should do.
I’m been a recipient of them stepping in to set another male straight who either came out of their mouth wrong (when I was younger, whenever a guy didn’t like it if I showed no interest and didn’t want to take no for an answer) or decided I needed to be protected when I was foolish enough to either walk home late, or was somewhere I had no place being. Most times it would seem as though I should have been afraid of them. But even with a criminal past, for whatever reason, these men decided I was a lamb among wolves, and they made a decision to keep the wolves at bay.
And for that I’ll always be forever grateful. Let me also repeat, they were far from perfect, and will be the first ones to tell you so. Many were felons. Many had violence in their past. But if I were ever in a situation, I knew they’d have my back. What you saw was what you got. Unfiltered, profane, “let me break it down for you” discussions.
So what I’m also saying is this, since this site is called A Critical Review of The Help. When I read the novel The Help, I realized Kathryn Stockett, Octavia Spencer and Tate Taylor (because if you’ve read the articles on this site, you’ll see that Kathryn Stockett alluded to their help during the novel’s creation phase) had no clue regarding the many layers a black man can have. Or for that matter, a black woman. And that’s probably why her characters were simply caricatures to me.
The saintly, docile maid. The wise cracking, sassy, large in girth maid. Both these caricatures were on display in the help, respectively named Aibileen and Minny.
And the men they’re paired with, the violent, stupid as hell Leroy, who was paired with Minny. The philandering, absentee ex-spouse Clyde, who was paired with Aibileen. I might was well throw in Connor, who again was painted in a negative light, who was paired with Constantine. Connor, who Stockett decided should leave Constantine simply because their daughter came out with hair “the color of hay” per Aibileen, and was light enough to pass for white in the novel.
These are men who were unredeemable in the novel, broadly written as villains during segregation as well as the primary irritants for Stockett’s trio of caricatured maids. Unlike the white males in the book who practiced segregation, but were rehabbed so that Southern but primarily white readers wouldn’t be offended.
In June I’m going to repost On Father’s Day, there’s no black father figure in The Help
Because anyone who claims The Help somehow captures the black maids culture and life as “authentic” will always get a debate from me. A point of disagreement concerns how the author decided the males in her own culture should be either “handsome”and “a good man” (attributes Skeeter gives to Stuart Whitworth. The good man label is stated when Stuart takes back his engagement ring) or “honest” (Skeeter says this about her dad when she questions him about Constantine’s dismissal) while deciding to downgrade black males linked with the primary maids by painting them in a highly negative light, even though these men suffered equally alongside black females during segregation. I knew then that Stockett and her publisher, and all those designating the novel as “beloved” and somehow wanting it to become a classic, had no clue.
IMO all Kathryn Stockett’s novel and subsequent dramedy of a film did was reinforce stereotypes that African Americans have challenged since these offensive images were created and ingrained as “beloved” by those who can’t seem to part with them.
So when Charles Ramsey made this statement:
“I knew somethin’ was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Somethin’ is WRONG here. Dead giveaway! Deaaaddddd giveaway. Deaaaaadddddddddddddd giveaway. She’s got problems. That’s the only reason she’s running to a black man!”
I knew what he meant.
Far too often, black males are painted as either good or bad, with no middle or gray area. There’s a history of how the color white means purity, goodness and screams HERO. The color black, as per historical meanings, was designated as evil, bad, the opposite of white or goodness. These meanings are still present in modern dictionaries.
And God forbid if a black male has made a mistake. Even now there are calls for Michael Vick and Chris Brown’s heads, even though both of whom have paid their debt to society as American law deems, yet both are vilified to the point of no redemption.
Trayvon Martin, though a seventeen year old youth carrying bottled iced tea and Skittles has been wrongly painted by some as a thug, and had another young man’s Facebook pic attributed to him (the image of a male throwing up gang symbols, which an internet site had to take down and apologize for later on, since the picture in question wasn’t Martin)
Even President Obama has been stereotyped, Photoshopped with fried chicken and watermelon, just a small sample of the myriad of uncalled for caricatures which reference his race (I won’t post some of the more offensive ones).
The above image evokes the real tragedies during segregation, which included lynchings of African Americans:
Back in the day, I recall terms like “Good Negro” would be applied to any black male who acted as if they knew their place. Their place being one of servitude, to grovel and grin whenever appropriate, and to act slow of mind, in essence, to become that living, breathing caricature that had been created for them. Many times black men extended their lifespan by behaving like this:
These were images that real black males were expected to emulate:
“The meaner the man be the more you smile although you cryin’ on the inside . . . ”
-Booker Wright, from the documentary Mississippi: A Self-Portrait
More on Booker Wright’s harrowing account of surviving in 1965 Mississippi can be found in this post:
Against this image, men like Martin Luther King Jr., Booker Wright and possibly, with histories and lifestyles like Charles Ramsey rebelled:
I’m pretty sure some of those who marched for freedom during segregation had brushes with the law prior to their involvement in the civil rights movement, and that the contributions of black females who fought for equality weren’t given the appreciation or accolades as they should have during this oppressive time period.
But that also shows there’s still much to be learned about just how varied African Americans were during the fight for civil rights. We’ve only scratched the surface.
And I get why the media decided to dig up information on Charles Ramsey. Inquiring minds want to know.
But why, at the time, were some of those same inquiring minds silent on the errors in The Help?
Why wasn’t the Medgar Evers error in the book, which the author repeated three times in three audio interviews not newsworthy?
And why were Abilene Cooper’s assertions of Stockett using parts of her life to peddle her novel, not taken seriously by the US Media? At least a UK magazine had the decency to interview Cooper, who was also Kathryn Stockett’s brother’s maid.
This is the type of duality that exists, either ignoring or crushing some voices, while propping up others who most closely fit the romanticized American idea.
No pressing interviews (Katie’s Couric’s piece of fluff interview with Stockett was a joke. It didn’t even seem as though this was the same journalist who’d grilled Sarah Palin a few years prior to Stockett’s interview), no follow up on published interviews Stockett did which reveal inconsistencies.
And no answer to why all three maids are separated from a significant other at both the novel’s end and the movie. None were widowed, and the movie actually makes no mention of Aibileen having a spouse, even though her son and his death are mentioned.
No questions were asked, and even when some reviewers knew something was amiss, it was pooh-poohed with excuses like “it’s the message that counts.”
But hard hitting questions would have revealed a less than idyllic reason why the novel came to be.
Which would have then led to more questions on the conflicting statements of an early pact or “agreement” between Stockett, Taylor and Spencer. And more scrutiny regarding whether the novel was as positive a portrayal of African Americans as first thought, and why Spencer went along so willingly, since she was key to selling the premise on the initial book tour.
I guess since there was money to be made, no one wanted to spoil the glow of a “feel good” read and ultra polished backstory.
I’m not done with this post, and I’ve got newer posts to put up.
To be continued . . .