Rinse, Repeat – American Dirt novel and The Help

Posted on January 22, 2020

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If it worked once, why not follow the same formula? Well, be careful what you wish for, or in this case, who you appropriate.

If you haven’t already heard about the uproar over the new book “American Dirt” then prepare yourself (WTF is with that title? If the book had been about black people, there would be hell to pay). This time an author has “studied” Mexicans and many in publishing have gobbled up another un-authentic voice while proclaiming that it IS an authentic voice, thus putting their stamp of approval on it. Sorry, I can’t help but recall how the creators of Amos ‘n Andy claimed they knew “Negroes”:

 

The Pittsburgh Press Jul 28,1929 article on Amos ‘n Andy

 

 

It took author Jeanine Cummins all of four years:

“Cummins researched and wrote the book over a span of four years. She drew on the work of Valeria Luiselli, Luis Alberto Urrea and others to learn about Mexico and the struggles of migrants. She took trips to Mexico and interviewed people on both sides of the border. She spoke to scholars and lawyers, activists and migrants in shelters, and families separated at the border.”

Link: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2020-01-17/american-dirt-jeanine-cummins-politics-of-fiction

 

The Toad and the Cat - by artist sketchshark-Megan Nicole Dong

Cartoon by the talented @sketchshark, Megan Nicole Dong

 

 

“The fantasies that Americans have about Mexico are not harmless. They fuel behavior. They function as an ideology that then fuels behavior…The imagination is just as politicized as the rest of life.”—Myriam Gurba, author and activist

 

Frank Shyong tweet

 

 

Thank you for what

 

This shit is way past tiresome.  Thankfully, unlike when The Help was released to near universal acclaim and without any real scrutiny, American Dirt won’t get off that easy.

 

**UPDATE** 

Jeanine Cummins publisher, Flatiron books has canceled the remaining bookings due to “safety concerns.” 

WHOSE SAFETY? You mean like blacks and supporters were subjected to during the civil rights era:

 

The dogs of war released on American citizens during segregation

The dogs of war released on American citizens during segregation

 

 

Ann Moody at lunch counter sit in

Ann Moody at Jackson, Ms. lunch counter sit in with Jane Trumpauer Mulholland and Hunter Grey Bear

 

Or how about the reasons and actions by the current political administration, and Trump’s inhumane immigration policy?

 

American Dirt has received valid criticism. So this pearl clutching over “safety” is an over reaction. And its just another way to ignore or dismiss having an honest conversation with the author and her supporters. It’s about controlling and containing the damage.

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/82288-citing-peril-flatiron-cancels-american-dirt-tour-apologizes-for-serious-mistakes.html

 

THIS JUST IN:

Cummins no threats

 

#DignidadLiteraria had a meeting with Flatiron books, MacMillan and Oprah Winfrey’s representatives. They were able to come to an agreement regarding more Latino/a/x represention at MacMillan:

 

DignidadLiteraria

 

They have a platform, and now they have a website documenting the American Dirt fiasco:  american-dirt.net

 

 

Back to my thoughts on the book:

First, I thought I’d show how cookie cutter publishing can be when it comes to POC in the pages. Check out the birds:

 

So as not to offend, racially ambiguous bird art continues to rule covers when minorities or sensitive subjects are involved.

 

 

Remind you of anything? Well, my first thought was of The Help’s Disney-esque birdie cover, meant for that coveted reader base (white people) who some publishers swear won’t read anything with a POC on the actual cover (unless that POC is Oprah).

US book cover for The Help

 

 

Yet another obscure cover for The Help.

 

 

This is the cover that was used over in England that they dared not put on the US version:

UK Cover of the Help AKA the cover they dared not put on US bookshelves

 

I’ll return to the copycat covers in a moment. Next up is marketing.

 

Here’s the tasteless marketing done for American Dirt:

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. The table centerpieces are supposed to resemble barbed wire.

 

No room at the table-American Dirt

Publishing bigwigs enjoying a meal, oblivious and utterly clueless to how demeaning and hurtful the faux barbed wire centerpieces look.

 

And someone took a screenshot of the book’s author squealing excitedly about it:

 

 

Now, I have a whole post up on how HSN had a tasteless The Help themed collaboration to sell cook ware by Emeril and dresses to evoke the segregated time period and to capitalize off the book and upcoming film’s popularity. Here’s the link to a few flashbacks:

HSN product tie in for The Help. Emeril’s pots and pans were on sale, but thankfully no maids uniforms were part of this misguided promo for the film.

 

 

Yes, this is what the HSN on-air personalities were giddy over selling. And how did this tie in with the movie? Well, they were black maids! DUH. And domestics need pots right?

Emeril’s Pots and pans inspired by The Help

 

 

For more cringe inducing info on what some in charge of making more money off THE HELP were up to:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/the-help-movie-cleans-up-after-itself-the-novel/making-the-help-pay/

 

This may be what’s in store for American Dirt, brought to you by the clueless people hyping this book, since its soon to be a movie.

 

And really, there are no words for the level of disconnect author Jeanine Cummins has, as this screenshot shows Cummins? admiring her nails in this tweet because  . . .  wait for it . . . they match her book cover:

Jeanine Cummins admires her barbed wire painted nails

 

OMG. I think I get it. I mean, for most of Cummins’ life she’s identified with being white and all that comes with it. Only, this could have been a teachable moment. Cummins could’ve let her fans know that totally cute painted nails are no substitute for the very real suffering and discrimination Mexican immigrants face. “You Guys! Hispanic culture, my new found culture isn’t a trend or a twitter moment. Please educate yourselves” – Jeanine

Okay, clearly the author wouldn’t state something like that.  But I’m guessing some of her old tweets are being deleted with a quickness.

 

But what about the novel? Was it pulse-pounding, and just as Oprah proclaimed on CBS’ morning show: 

“I thought this humanized that migration process in a way that nothing else I had ever felt or seen had.” The book, “changed the way I see what it means to be an immigrant trying to come to this country.”

Oprah endorses American Dirt

 

 

Damn. So did Oprah not see the drowning of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his daughter Angie Valeria photo? I mean, while they weren’t Mexican, they still made the perilous journey from El Salvador. 

Associated Press - Photo by Julia Le Duc

The sad, gut wretching drownings of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his two year old daughter Angie Valeria. Photo by Julia Le Duc/Associated Press

 

 

Well, Oprah’s entitled to her opinion. UPDATED to add: Oprah’s also listed as an author published by Flatiron books, the same publisher of American Dirt:

Flatiron books author Oprah Winfrey

https://us.macmillan.com/publishers/flatiron-books/

 

Two more links regarding the business relationship between Flatiron books and Oprah:

PW announcement about Oprah and Flatiron

Link: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/68844-flatiron-to-pub-oprah-s-memoir-host-her-new-imprint.html

 

 

Oprah publishing article

https://www.bustle.com/articles/200212-oprah-winfreys-publishing-imprint-officially-has-a-name-and-two-books-slated-for-release

 

 

I thought that American Dirt started out better than it finished. And it wasn’t even close to Grapes of Wrath. Book store owner Lydia and her eight year old son Luca go on the run from a cartel. They’re the only survivors of a hit on her family (Lydia’s mother, Lydia’s husband, Lydia’s sister, brother-in-law, nephew, niece) during the niece’s quinceanera. See what I did there? Just so you know it’s Spanish, the word is italicized so that it stands out. It’s an example of what happens throughout the book. So Mami Lydia and Mijo Luca hide in the bathroom, and miracle of miracles, even though a blood thirsty (and grilled chicken starving) gunman comes to relieve himself (and also sweep the house for survivors) he doesn’t realize where they’re hiding or that they’re even there. From the book: 

“There’s no door on this shower, no curtain. It’s only a corner of his abuela’s bathroom, with a third tiled wall built to suggest a stall.

This wall is about five and a half feet high and three feet long, just large enough, with some luck, to shield Luca and his mother from sight.”

I have a feeling this will be changed for the movie version. Moving ahead, Lydia needs cash, so while the police are collecting evidence (she calls them once the gunmen leave) Lydia takes her recently deceased mother’s stash of “15,000 pesos” (about 800 dollars) from under Abuela’s mattress. I’m jumping ahead here, because Lydia flees in her family car (after checking for a bomb) somehow manages to get her son not to cry out for his murdered dad or relatives, goes to the bank and withdraws $219,000 pesos (a little over $12,000) but can’t get on a plane because Luca doesn’t have any ID. 

 

From the novel:

The gunmen leave a note on her car. It says “Boo!” She worries that there may be a bomb, but thinks, there won’t be a bomb. A bomb would be overkill after all those bullets.

Luca asks Lydia:

“Where will we go, Mami?”

“I don’t know mijo,” she says. “We’ll see. We’ll have an adventure.”

“Like in the movies?”

“Yes, mijo. Just like in the movies.”

So mother and son go on a harrowing road trip in order to cross the border. Along the way they pick up an assortment of other individuals, but Jeanine Cummins and her editors don’t bother with much character development. Mami Lydia has flashbacks of her previous life as a book store owner, there’s a soap opera twist where she flirts with the cartel head who GASP! turns out to be the creep who orders her family killed and just won’t let Lydia go. 

Lydia’s an airhead. I liked Luca better, but not that much better. Her hubby Sebastian’s dead body gets described like this:

“It might be good, actually, for Luca to see the warm wreckage of his recent father, the spatula bent crooked beneath his fallen weight” 

The “warm wreckage of his recent father.” I get what the author meant, but it’s this kind of clunky wording that makes Stephen King’s quote of “the prose is immaculate” suspect. 

The book reads more like a screen play than a novel in many parts. I’m guessing that may have been deliberate, since its reported that the film rights have already been sold.

There’s villians galore, secret betrayors (the cartel has eyes everywhere) victim blaming (Lydia’s hubby Sebastian writes an exposé on cartel head/Lydia’s admirer Javier, leading to Javier’s kill order on him after another story twist) train jumping, wistful flashbacks, switching sides and a meh . . . if you say so ending. 

Anyway, there’s nothing in the book imo that warrants all the hype. Cummins tale will surely appeal to the reader base Amy Einhorn was aiming for. And yeah, Lydia comes across as more American reality show contestant than a native of Mexico. But again, that was probably by design. I doubt if Scarlett Johansson will take the role if offered. She’s already gone thru it with 2017’s Ghost in the Shell.

 

 

Here’s what author Myriam Gurba had to say about the novel:

Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck: My Bronca with Fake-Ass Social Justice Literature

 

” . . . A self-professed gabacha, Jeanine Cummins, wrote a book that sucks. Big time.

Her obra de caca belongs to the great American tradition of doing the following:

  1. Appropriating genius works by people of color
  2. Slapping a coat of mayonesa on them to make palatable to taste buds estados-unidenses and
  3. Repackaging them for mass racially “colorblind” consumption.

Rather than look us in the eye, many gabachos prefer to look down their noses at us. Rather than face that we are their moral and intellectual equals, they happily pity us. Pity is what inspires their sweet tooth for Mexican pain, a craving many of them hide. This denial motivates their spending habits, resulting in a preference for trauma porn that wears a social justice fig leaf. To satisfy this demand, Cummins tossed together American Dirt, a “road thriller” that wears an I’m-giving-a-voice-to-the-voiceless-masses merkin.”

 

And Ms. Gurba’s blood boiled at this:

“The first time Jeanine and I ever talked on the phone,” the publisher gushed, “she said migrants at the Mexican border were being portrayed as a ‘faceless brown mass.’ She said she wanted to give these people a face.”

 

Read the full review here:

https://tropicsofmeta.com/2019/12/12/pendeja-you-aint-steinbeck-my-bronca-with-fake-ass-social-justice-literature/

 

 

Wow. She wanted to give “these people” a face. Sorta like what Kathryn Stockett had Skeeter say to win over an editor named Elaine Stein in The Help:

“I’d like to write this showing the point of view of the help. The colored women down here.” Skeeter tries to picture Constantine’s face, and then Aibileen’s before continuing.  “They raise a white child and then twenty years later the child becomes the employer. It’s that irony, that we love them and they love us, yet . . .we don’t even allow them to use the toilet in the house.”

“Everyone knows how we white people feel, the glorified Mammy figure who dedicates her whole life to a white family. Margaret Mitchell covered that. But no one ever asked Mammy how she felt about it.”

Finally Miss Stein asks, “So you want to show a side that’s never been examined before.”

“Yes. Because no one ever talks about it. No one talks about anything down here.”

 

Read more about Skeeter selling her book idea to Elaine Stein here:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/chapter-reviews-from-the-help/chapter-eight/

 

And the state of black authors being published during segregation:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/did-the-maids-really-need-skeeter-to-get-published/

 

**UPDATED**

There’s a publisher’s statement in American Dirt by Amy Einhorn, who was also the publisher and editor of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (the one Myriam Gurba also refers to). Einhorn also paid seven figures for American Dirt, per Publisher’s Weekly:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/book-deals/article/76994-book-deals-week-of-may-28-2018.html

 

There’s another article from Publisher’s Weekly from November 2019, where Cummins states:  “I ended up adding about 40,000 words after she [Amy Einhorn] bought the book, and I feel it is so much better because of her. She’s so smart; every time she gave me an edit, I would almost be embarrassed—I would say, ‘Why did I not see that before?’ She has a way of homing in on exactly the thing that’s missing or isn’t exactly right, and of really articulating what you need to do.”

AND

“Einhorn will edit Cummins’s next novel as well, despite her recent move to Holt as president and publisher. “I don’t know exactly how the contract is finagled,” Cummins says, “but she will be my editor either at Flatiron or Holt. About the new book, I can say what very little I know, which is that it’s going to be about Puerto Rico.”

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/81696-jeanine-cummins-s-new-novel-is-a-harrowing-immigrant-s-tale.html

 

Oh Hell Naw.

Amy “I never met a stereotype I didn’t like” Einhorn (she also edited The Help) and YOU, Jeanine Cummins, need to think twice. This isn’t about writing BS fiction until you get it right. But you know, having a “savior” complex is a hell of a thing,

 

I also have to add this bit of info from the same article (items in bold are my doing):

“I have a very difficult time with plot, so I’m hyper-aware of it. I talked at great length with Amy Einhorn [her editor] about pulling the threat of Javier through the book so that Lydia never felt safe from him. The final reckoning with Javier actually came from a meeting with the producer who bought the movie rights. He wanted them to meet face-to-face, which I was very reluctant to do, but I did realize after talking to him that there should be a moment when Lydia has some kind of final say.”

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/81696-jeanine-cummins-s-new-novel-is-a-harrowing-immigrant-s-tale.html

 

So much wrong here. An author letting a movie producer influence how her book should be written? Now where have I read something like that before? (hint: The Help) More to come on that. 

 

For American Dirt, Amy Einhorn recounts a conversation with Jeanine Cummins, stating the author told her that migrants were being portrayed as “a faceless brown mass.” She said Cummins wanted to give “these people a face.”

Link: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/clarissajanlim/american-dirt-jeanine-cummins-controversy-explained

 

It appears Einhorn has gone back to the same well which proved bountiful for Stockett’s The Help.

It’s no surprise to me to see that Amy Einhorn was all up in this mix. Einhorn knows the formula that pays, and she works to make her target audience of white readers “feel something.”

Imo it takes a bit of conceit for an author to claim she or he wrote a book to put a human face on a “faceless brown mass.” WTF and double WTFery?

Imagine if this had been written as putting a human face on a “faceless white mass”

Cummin’s “faceless brown mass” is just the kind of questionable wording that gets picked up and reworded as “putting a human face on” then repeated as some sort of benevolent promotional mantra, when really, that shit shouldn’t be spoken out loud:

 

Potato salad Karen endorses American Dirt

Potato salad Karen endorses American Dirt (I blocked out her face). “Aw hell naw Karen! Keep your bland ass review to yourself.”

 

And imho the stories of POC are simply a means to an end, yet again. I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t more books coming down the pipeline in this same vein.

 

How about birdies flying over the Great Wall of China?

Copy Cat books

The Wall – The story of a courageous dissident, whose story is wonderfully watered down for your reading enjoyment. Random Chinese words included.

 

 

Or birdies flying over WWII Germany?  Or flying over Iran?  

 

American Sand

 

 

Dear Ms. Kapoor (mis-spelling is intentional)

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we must pass on this book. We already have one like it coming out later this month by an author who has studied your culture and we feel the public will be much more comfortable reading this type of subject filtered through her lens. We wish you much success (not really). – Cordially, Most of American Publishing

 

Readers, I think you get my point. 

 

 

I’ve listed just a few of the similarities between American Dirt and The Help. You see, this is considered a winning formula. RINSE. REPEAT.

Publishers will readily sign a non-minority to write about the minority experience and stamp it as authentic, even if the story is fiction and has major flaws.

The Help had a whopper of an error, where Kathryn Stockett claimed Medgar Evers had been “bludgeoned in his front yard”  in three separate audio interviews. This error actually made it into the first pressing of the book on page 277, as Skeeter thinks:

Medgar Evers error on Pg 277 of the hard cover edition

 

Here’s the paperback version with the error:

Error on Evers in the Paperback version of The Help

 

Links to Kathryn Stockett’s audio gaffes on Medgar Evers death:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/publisher-corrects-medgar-evers-error/

 

How is it that the author and the editors didn’t catch this inaccuracy before the book was published? (I have a few guesses as to why, but I’ll just leave it at that).

 

I’ve got a bounty of links both pro and con of the novel American Dirt, which I will post as I continue to update this, but let me also say that while author Jeanine Cummins is now reclaiming her hispanic side, she professed to be white in 2016 (not a white hispanic).

“I am white. The grandmother I shared with Julie and Robin was Puerto Rican, and their father is half Lebanese. But in every practical way, my family is mostly white. I’ll never know the impotent rage of being profiled, or encounter institutionalized hurdles to success because of my skin or hair or name. But I care about race and equality. And it’s imperative for white people to join the conversation about racism. Discomfort is the least of our obligations.”

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/opinion/sunday/murder-isnt-black-or-white.html

 

Now, its not up to me to judge Cummins finally embracing her hispanic ancestry. But time and social media have a habit of shedding light on cultural appropriation, even if its your own.

 

And oh, feigning reluctance is also out of the Kathryn Stockett response playbook:

“Cummins has repeatedly expressed her reluctance to write about Mexico and the immigrant experience. She writes in the author’s note that she worried her privilege would make her “blind to certain truths,” that she might get things wrong. And in a New York Times profile last Monday, she told an interviewer, “I don’t know if I’m the right person to tell this story.”

Link: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2020-01-17/american-dirt-jeanine-cummins-politics-of-fiction

 

“I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it,” Cummins said in a note at the end of the novel, her fourth book. “But then I thought, if you’re a person who has the capacity to be a bridge, why not be a bridge? So I began.”

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/01/22/american-dirt-cummins/

 

 

“Reluctant” blasts from the past from Kathryn Stockett:

“And the truth is, I’m still nervous. I’ll never know what it really felt like to be in the shoes of those black women who worked in the white homes of the South during the 1960s and I hope that no one thinks I presume to know that. But I had to try. I wanted the story to be told. I hope I got some of it right.”

Link: http://us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/help.html

 

“. . . On the one hand I wonder, Was this really my story to tell? On the other hand, I just wanted the story to be told. But the truth is that I didn’t think anybody was going to read it. Had I known it was going to be so widely disseminated I probably wouldn’t have written it in the type of language that I did.”

http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1937562,00.html

 

Interview with John Barber for Saturday’s Globe and Mail

“I’m still waiting for the jack-in-the-box to pop,” she says, “for somebody to corner me and say everything I say in my own head – that I had no right to do this.”

In fact, some have done that, accusing the author of the very contemporary sin of cultural appropriation. But when it comes, Stockett says, the criticism is sometimes a relief. “I do wish that people talked about the subject of race, especially in the South,” she says. “It’s just a really hard and uncomfortable topic.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/kathryn-stocketts-southern-discomfort/article2012818/singlepage/#articlecontent

 

At the end of The Help, Kathryn Stockett, who admits her grandparents still practiced segregation years after the Civil Rights Act (Stockett was born in 1969) opines:

“There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism.” –  Howell Raines quote referenced by Kathryn Stockett

 

Ya know, its like Déjà vu. 

 

BUZZFEED has a breakdown on the controversy surrounding the book’s portrayal of Mexican refugees:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/clarissajanlim/american-dirt-jeanine-cummins-controversy-explained

 

 

It’s important to remember that in publishing, people work hand in hand to make a book a hit. Per The New Republic’s article by ALEX SHEPHARD titled “How Not to Write a Book Review” –

Hype for the book began building as soon as it was bought by Flatiron for a seven-figure advance in 2018. A movie deal, involving the producers of The Mule and the writer of Blood Diamondfollowed a year later. The book was hailed by John Grisham and Stephen King as a perfect thriller, and in the lead-up to its publication there were profiles of Cummins in the usual newspapers and glossy magazines, heralding the year’s first blockbuster novel.”

“The marketing campaign worked. On Tuesday, the book’s publication day, Oprah Winfrey announced that American Dirt had been selected for her coveted Book Club, guaranteeing it would become a bestseller.

Link: https://newrepublic.com/article/156282/not-write-book-review

 

However, even a book reviewer can have second thoughts and wonder aloud:

“I was sure I was the wrong person to review this book. I could never speak to the accuracy of the book’s representation of Mexican culture or the plights of migrants; I have never been Mexican or a migrant . . .” – Lauren Groff

“Perhaps this book is an act of cultural imperialism; at the same time, weeks after finishing it, the novel remains alive in me. When I think of the migrants at the border, suffering and desperate, I think of Lydia and Luca, and feel something close to bodily pain. “American Dirt” was written with good intentions, and like all deeply felt books, it calls its imagined ghosts into the reader’s real flesh.” – Lauren Groff

Excerpts from Lauren Groff’s review of American Dirt, titled ‘American Dirt’ Plunges Readers Into the Border Crisis.

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/19/books/review/american-dirt-jeanine-cummins.html

 

Yeah. Because you know, like Groff, when I feel the need to ever think of real people suffering, my thoughts ultimately turn to FICTIONAL CHARACTERS. 

 

Perhaps that’s why I don’t get all starry eyed over celebrity reviews like this:

American Dirt is an extraordinary piece of work, a perfect balancing act with terror on one side and love on the other. I defy anyone to read the first seven pages of this book and not finish it. The prose is immaculate, and the story never lets up. This book will be an important voice in the discussion about immigration and los migrantes; it certainly puts the lie to the idea that we are being besieged by ‘bad hombres.’ On a micro scale―the story scale, where I like to live―it’s one hell of a novel about a good woman on the run with her beautiful boy. It’s marvelous.”
Stephen King

 

King waded into the 2020 version of #Oscars so white, stating this on twitter recently:

Stephen King twitter on diversity

 

And continued his thoughts with a second tweet “That said I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”

 

Backlash soon followed. Ava Duvernay expressed dismay and disappointment to “see a tweet from someone you admire that is so backward and ignorant you want to go back to bed.”

Link: https://www.salon.com/2020/01/15/stephen-king-diversity-ava-duvernay-twitter-backlash/

 

Michael Harriot of The ROOT pulled no punches in responding to King:

“The conflation of “diversity” with a lack of quality is a long-standing argument made by white males who are afraid of losing their privilege. Anyone who doesn’t consider diversity in art is probably making shitty art… Or stealing it from black people.”

“I bet he’s at home listening to a rock riff created by the Beatles when they “discovered” blues, eating a gourmet taco made by a lily-white chef, underneath a Picasso “inspired” by African art, talmbout: “Diversity doesn’t matter, only quality. White people have SOME NERVE!”

“As a white man whose sensibilities are baked into the dominant culture, he DOESN’T have to consider diversity… OTHER artists do. I read Stephen King’s books knowing that nary a character will resemble me. He NEVER has to consider that when he consumes art.”

Link: https://twitter.com/michaelharriot/status/1217238703929798661

 

And when people came at Harriot, he responded with: 

Link: https://twitter.com/michaelharriot/status/1217248664151826434

 

Ultimately King attempted to clarify his remarks. So pardon me if I’m skeptical of his glowing review of American Dirt, especially King’s line about “The prose is immaculate.”

 

A few examples of that “immaculate prose”:

“Their eyes are closed, their bodies motionless, even their adrenaline is suspended within the calcified will of their stillness”

“Lydia feels like a cracked egg, and she doesn’t know if she’s the shell or the yolk or the white. She is scrambled.”

“Soledad retracts her dangling legs and folds them beneath her, shifting her spine and shoulders into a stretched position, and Lydia sees, even in this minor animation of the girl’s body, how the danger rattles off her relentlessly.”

“Her presence is a vivid throb of color . . . An accident of biology.”

“She wears an intense scowl in failing effort to suppress that calamitous beauty.”

 

Unfortunately, in The Help Kathryn Stockett could only write about a character being attractive if they were closer to white looking. Characters like Yule May Crookle (notice the last name, its an inside joke I’m guessing, as this character ends up being a thief. The last name was changed for the movie). Yule May has the docile Aibileen noting: “Yule May easy to recognize from the back cause she got such good hair, smooth, no nap to it. I hear she educated, went through most a college.”

Read more about Yule May here:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/yule-may-crookle/

 

But Stockett sure goes all out in describing how black the maids are, and their weight (items in bold are my doing):

I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup a coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine. (Aibileen Pg 91)

“He black. Blacker than me.” (Pg 189) Aibileen, comparing her complexion to a roach

“I told Shirley Boon her ass won’t fit on no stool at Woolworth’s anyway.” Minny (Pg 217)

“We was all surprised Constantine would go and… get herself in a family way. Some folks at church wasn’t so kind about it, especially when the baby come out white. Even though the father was black as me.” Aibileen to Skeeter (Pg 358)

Pascagoula is described as tiny as a child, not five feet tall, and black as night (Pg 59) –Skeeter

Constantine was so close, I could see the blackness of her gums (Pg 65) – Skeeter

I clear my throat, produce a nervous smile. Minny doesn’t smile back. She is fat and short and strong. Her skin is blacker than Aibileen’s by ten shadesand shiny and taut, like a pair of new patent shoes. –  Skeeter’s first impression of Minny (Pg 164)

 

If you can stomach reading more insulting quotes from the book, please see this post:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/should-not-be-in-the-help/

 

And let me also state that it doesn’t surprise me that folks like Oprah and Gayle King endorsed American Dirt. Actress Octavia Spencer went on a book tour with Kathryn Stockett endorsing The Help, giving live readings of one of the most insulting passages in the book, the “Spoilt Cootchie” scene. You see, Aibileen somehow cast down a venereal disease on her rival via the power of prayer. And black magic.

Read the whole sordid scene here, with historical references showing how bigots continually linked blacks and “venereal diseases”:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/spoilt-cootchies-and-no-account-men/

 

 

Now, here’s a bit of interesting history:

In the early 1930s writer Fannie Hurst employed writer Zora Neale Hurston as her secretary and they were well known friends.  Close enough that Hurst gave Hurston this backhanded compliment (note the sly use of the word “Spade”):

“A brilliantly facile spade has turned over rich new earth.” – preface to Hurston’s first novel Jonah’s Gurd Vine.

Robert Hemenway, author of  Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography, Vine Press 1977  points out Hurst seems incessantly aware of race in her interactions with Hurston.  –  Introduction xliv Imitation of Life by Fannie Hurst and Daniel Itzkovitz

See more in this post

Hurston was a strong supporter of Hurst’s blockbuster best seller Imitation of Life. It’s reported that Hurston, for a time even convinced Langston Hughes to promote the novel.

But after Hughes got wind of what African American critics pointed out were the issues with the black maid Delilah’s depiction, Langston Hughes completely revised his early support, so much so that he wrote a play that was a parody, called “Limitations of Life” with the black and white roles reversed.

 

Excerpts from the novel Imitation of Life:

“Honey Chile, I’ll work for anything you is willin’ to pay, and not take more’n mah share of your time for my young un, ef I kin get her and me a good roof over our heads. Didn’t your maw always tell you a nigger woman was mos’ reliable when she had  chillun taggin’ at her apron strings? I needs a home for us honey. . .” (the maid Delilah selling her skills to prospective employer Bea in the 1933 novel Imitation of Life)

“Oh Lawd! Oh Lawd! Saw a brown spider webbing downward this mornin’ and know’d mah chile was a ‘comin home brown – Oh Lawd!” (The maid Delilah wailing when her daughter Peola rejects being black)

Delilah degrades her ex-husband in the book, calling him a “white nigger.”

 

She’s also described like this in the book (in typical mammy fashion): 

“the enormously buxom figure of a woman with a round black face that shone above an Alps of bosom.”

“The heavy cheeks, shellacked eyes, bright, round and crammed with vitality, huge upholstery of lips that caught you like a pair of divans into the luxury of laughter.”

Sort of like:

More Aunt Jemima

Ladies and Aunt Jemima. Note how she “speaks”

 

Mammy and Minny together at last

Mammy and Minny, together at last. This image is from racismstillexisttumblr.com

 

The  face of mammy2shoes

The face of mammy two shoes from Tom and Jerry is finally revealed!

 

 

 

The Dirt on American Dirt

“By many accounts, Cummins, a white woman with a Puerto Rican grandmother, fucked it up. And by “many accounts,” I mean many brown-faced accounts.

The publishing industry increased the fuckery by rewarding Cummins with a seven-figure contract. Seattle writer Jen Soriano justly tweeted that Cummins should donate some of that windfall to immigration rights groups.

But the most important takeaway of the Pineda article is in the middle, a quote from Gurba. “We’re perfectly competent and perfectly capable of telling stories” but “gatekeepers do not allow us inside, but they will let in somebody who wants to usurp our voice.”

Voices like Cummins’s are elevated and rewarded with fat contracts because a white publishing industry catering to white readers, anoints through its white lens a novel that is, in the publisher’s words, “IT in capital letters.” High-profile white writers are invited to review it for high-profile publications, and the (white) snowball gains momentum, while brown writers are sidelined, their words ignored.

https://seattlereviewofbooks.com/notes/2020/01/21/the-dirt-on-american-dirt/?fbclid=IwAR15gBkVEGAlsmlqyLndyQFAhw5Md32sMVUUftLiU1fC9Rrhvjr21LNg94c

 

This twitter post sums up my thoughts on Oprah picking American Dirt as her book of the month:

 

 

I don’t read books based on Oprah’s recommendation or any other celebrity endorsement. When I was in school, inculcating individual critical thinking skills by gathering information from a wealth of sources was the norm. And even when garnering those sources, a system of checks and balances while also citing reputable source(s) was required.

Having an inquiring mind, challenging the status quo, taking things beyond face value, listening and mulling over information before responding . . . that’s what was prized both by my parents and in school. The need to know WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and have an ability to recite or impart this information accurately to others.

Maybe that’s why I’m keen to watch the impeachment telecasts on multiple channels (CNN, MSNBC and FOX).

So in compiling documents for this post, I didn’t just look at what others had to say about Jeanine Cummins’ novel, but at the author herself, her publishing company (Flatiron books), who makes up her publishing company, who worked with her on editing/polishing the book, Cummins’ social media presence, and the novel itself. This process is fluid and subject to revision . . .

 

That being said, Oprah and Gayle King effed up recommending American Dirt. Will either woman be big enough to admit her mistake? Hmmm. Stay tuned.

Since this post is getting very long, I will have a part two up shortly.

 

 

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