Saturday, August 13, 2011

More on "The Help" controversy

Since I wrote about this the other day, I've read more about various views on the book and movie. No one has gotten the African American viewpoint on this across to me more effectively than Chauncey DeVega at We Are Respectable Negroes.

The Whiteness of memory involves a necessary a flattening of history. Often, in the white savior genre, black agency is made secondary to the opportunity of white folks to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of history. While the Other is included, the White gaze necessitates the centrality of whiteness--and a reframing where the evils of white supremacy are a device for good white folks to show that white supremacy was an aberration and not the norm governing American social and political life. A sideshow in our own freedom struggle, Black people's agency is muted as a mere means to the ends of the recuperative project that is Whiteness in "colorblind" America.

That really seems to hit the nail on the head about white people's attraction to this story...its a recuperative project for us. The danger, of course, is that we all want to identify with the white heroine who goes against the norm of racism and fail to connect with our culpability as demonstrated by the villains. Looking at history is convenient that way...we can all imagine ourselves as Skeeter rather than the other housewives. And then we imagine all of that in the past and pat ourselves on the back. There is no real accounting for ourselves in the present.

On the other hand, you have to ask what's so bad about white people identifying with someone who fought the racism of her day. And as I've said before, the enlightenment of what it meant to be a black southern maid in the 60's is an important part of our history that many people have not grappled with.

Like so many issues, the perspective of whether you're seeing this as a white or black person seems to be the critical difference. As I was reading about that in an article at Jack and Jill Politics titled Helping White People Understand the Black Beef with The Help, I thought of this video of Tim Wise.



This movie has sparked some of that conversation about race to which Wise is referring. And I thought this was a particularly salient analogy.

It's like having a book club where people of color and white folks have all been asked to read the same book. And in this case its the book of their collective life. People of color have read 400 pages, white folks have read the preface, and then we're supposed to come together and have the conversation. Its not easy.

The truth is, there's no getting around that disparity. White folks are going to have to learn that we have a lot of "reading" to do to catch up. And people of color are going to have to be patient while we do that. The question I'm sure people of color would ask is: Are you busy reading or are you too caught up in patting yourself on the back?

4 comments:

  1. 'Afternoon, Ms. Pants

    You do it aGAIN.

    You just can't help yourself, can you?

    I'm so VERY glad!

    ReplyDelete
  2. OK, this one was outstanding, and the conclusion is what did it:

    The truth is, there's no getting around that disparity. White folks are going to have to learn that we have a lot of "reading" to do to catch up. And people of color are going to have to be patient while we do that. The question I'm sure people of color would ask is: Are you busy reading or are you too caught up in patting yourself on the back?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks guys.

    The last one needed an update as the conversation continues and I learn more about the different perspectives.

    I'm fascinated by the process!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Until I moved to West Africa for a time in the mid-80s I thought I understood the position of black people in this country. Only after I went to a place where I was the minority and my passing by was scrutinized and remarked upon by total strangers and many, many assumptions made about who and what I was simply by virtue of my color did I begin to get a clue about what it might be like to be the "other". I was in a privileged position there, but the thing I hadn't anticipated was how much my complexion affected perceptions of what kind of a person I was.

    ReplyDelete

Feminism Must Be Part of Police Reform

Please take a minute and a half to watch this powerful ad. I promise that, unless you've seen it before, you will never guess what the a...