[Posted as part of an email dialog in response to Joyce Ladner's comments regarding the movie "The Help" which was based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.]
I am a white woman who worked for SNCC in Georgia and Mississippi from 1962-1965.
For some time I have been reading The Help commentary with interest, on the SNCC list and elsewhere. I have read the book, but have not seen the movie although I plan to. The post on this list from Joyce Ladner, one of my colleagues in SNCC, was profound and to the point, and I have forwarded it and other critiques to many people. I very much appreciated Patricia Turner's op-ed in the NY Times yesterday. Indeed, so-called "good" white people are a big part of the problem.
However, I now feel compelled to say that nowhere in the book that I read did I find a character who as "a white woman would be the catalyst that would spark the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi." While I have a serious understanding of why some Black people might choose to not read the book or see the movie, I am writing to ask white people in particular to read the book/see the movie before you make a 100% judgment. I think it has potential as a teaching tool and has potential to move the conversation in the white community.
In 1966 I was given, along with my other white colleagues, the task of speaking to/organizing in the white community around racism. I floundered for a time, but over several decades have found a number of ways to keep to that task. Although I would never argue with anything said and felt by many (although not all) Black women about this book and/or movie, I do think it is moving the conversation within the white community.
I have heard from numbers of white women how either the book or the movie impacted them. I have heard from my own cousin, who grew up privileged in Washington, DC in the 1940s and 50s, that this book was an eye opener with strong emotional impact. "I never knew" she said. I have been talking to her for 45 years, apparently to not nearly enough effect. I have an ongoing dialogue about race with a waitress in a local restaurant ever since she came to me some time ago and told me that her grandfather was a member of the KKK in Vermont in the 1920s. The other day she told me she had seen the movie of The Help and learned so much and cried at what had been done to the amazing Black women in this story. At a later date, we'll take this conversation further. Another friend described seeing the movie in Montpelier, VT and sitting in the utterly silent largely white audience as the credits rolled. My friend said people were not feeling good. They were stunned.
As far as I'm concerned, I will take my opportunities when and how they come. I think the story is more authentic than Mississippi Burning ever was. Black women are the strongest, most brilliant characters in the book. I don't actually think Skeeter, the young white woman, comes off as a heroine. And she certainly does not appear to be the leader of any Civil Rights Movement.
I hope this adds to the dialogue.
Copyright © 2011, Penny Patch
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