Well, I read the book, “The Help” and I saw the movie. I liked them both.
But as I was talking about both the movie and book with friends, we came to a consensus: what was depicted could never have happened. We came to the conclusion that such a book would never have come to print, and that anyone who participated in a “hush and tell” project such as the brave maids did in this fictional adventure would have been destroyed. The violence perpetrated against black people seeking dignity and equal rights back then, and the white people who tried to help them, was vicious, relentless and largely permissible.
What, then, was or is the value of this story?
Perhaps it is that some people, white and black, were introduced to the “race problem” or America for the first time. In the theater where I saw the movie, there was a young African American male who wept openly. I asked him how old he was; he replied 30. Somehow, the story of “how we got over” was never told to him. He was surprised, shocked, and while he was glad the Negro maids were able to tell their story, he was angered by how they were treated.
He said he had a new respect for his grandparents. Call that progress.
I suspect that this sugar-coated version of life in the South for black people “back then” was about all many people would take. The horror of that time period, the domestic terrorism that was a trademark of American life, is hard to recall, hard to remember, and hard not to resent. America is still infected with racism, but nobody will admit to the disease if the presentation of the disease is too rancid. Hence, this “feel good” version of what “the help” went through was all that could have been withstood at this point.
But the tragedy of not being able to tell the real story is that much of the country and the world (the book has been published in 35 countries) is that those who really want to keep blinders on will walk away thinking and truly believing that American terrorism was not so bad, that all of the hee-hawing that is heard from black folks is a bit overdone. Heck, if a group of Negro maids could get together and just tell the truth, then what’s everyone always complaining about?
That attitude begs the real story to be told. After reading “The Help” and seeing the movie, I delved into Alice Childress’ book, Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life. The difference between the two books is stark…but that is not surprising. Childress was the great-granddaughter of a slave who was born in South Carolina who also once worked briefly as a domestic. Her experiences were far different than those of Kathryn Stockett. There is an authenticity in Childress’ book that is absent from Stockett’s.
That is not to say, however, that there was and is no value in Stockett’s work. If just a few more people can become just a little more knowledgeable about these United States and how it treated its African immigrants, the quest for a post-racial world might be a little more realistic.
That is a candid observation.