Wednesday, August 10, 2011

No Help for Me

I suppose the Civil Rights Era will always be rich fodder for telling stories.  It was one of the most pivotal times in American history and produced many charismatic people and compelling stories.  But at the same time, the subjugation and persecution of African-American people in this country is still very painful. [Just this past week a black man was killed by white teenagers who were motivated by racism.]   My grandmother, who is 94 years young, has a group of friends from church ranging in age from their 70s to their 90s who will not go to the movies today because of the painful memories they have of Jim Crow laws and being treated disparately during their youth.  And so it is with them in mind that I have respectfully declined to read the novel and will not be seeing the big screen rendition of The Help.  First, I already know the story. Benevolent white person becomes aware of the racial injustices of American society and so extends a helping hand to the downtrodden black person, in this case by releasing a tell-all book about maids who work for southern white families, and confronts the powers that be to show that racism is bad.  No thanks.  Been there, done that.  While I recognize  that there were people of all ethnicities involved in the Civil Rights movement, I am tired of paternalistic accounts of that time which suggest that black people were unable or incapable of advancing their own causes.  For this reason, I much prefer documentaries such as Freedom Riders over Hollywood’s fictional movies about this era. Call me discontent or overly sensitive, but I’m just not down with gentrified or spoon-fed versions of the history of race in this country.  I want the truth.  Maybe some maids loved their jobs and the families they cared for, maybe others felt they had no choice and made the best of it, and maybe others seethed with quiet rage.  Whatever.  I won’t be paying homage to the Hollywood revisionist treatment.

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