Saturday, August 27, 2011

Help! Conflicted about The Help

I'm not sure if I'm going to publish this. It's kind of a charged subject and I am certainly not the expert.

The Help.

I read it. I loved it. Like, really, really loved it. I've been waiting/dying for a chance to see it in the theater. And then I did the thing that I usually do that generally sucks the fun from what I like (see Thanksgiving). I did some reading. I tried to see the thing that gave me joy through the eyes of someone else. Someone who was crying tears of hurt and anger while I was weeping with sentimentality and warmth.

Ugh. The thing is that I live in this world and you live in this world, but depending on who you are, where you were born, what color your skin is, how much money you have, etc., our worlds are not at all the same. And I need to know that. I need to see it. Because if someone doesn't show it to me, I will go along ignorantly celebrating things that hurt people.

I have to come to grips with White Privilege. And when I think I start to, I get blindsided again by another reminder that I haven't at all. That I have so far to go. I'm embarrassed and ashamed each time my eyes are opened again and my head is turned towards The Ugly (and I realize I'm looking at myself).

When I was in college, I learned how to do thoughtful feminist media criticism. I had this great teacher. She was a single, older woman who had a very-easy-to-mock way of speaking. Most people hated taking her classes, and I did at first too. But then I jumped all in to a paper critiquing Fried Green Tomatoes from a feminist perspective. I typed terms like "patriarchy" and "phallic symbol" and other things the likes of which my 3.5" disk drive had never known before. And I learned. I learned to look for meaning and symbolism and types and it made me a better thinker.

It was empowering for me to look at things through that lens because I was a (young, naive) woman.

I never looked at a film through the lens of a different oppressed minority. It never really crossed my mind.

In the past few years, I've been trying to do that. See my things and my purchases through the lens of poverty. See Thanksgiving through the eyes of someone living on an Indian reservation. Read a patriotic slogan with the eyes of an innocent Muslim that's been randomly searched too many times. Hear my spiritual cliches through the ears of someone who is hurting and rejected.

I'll be honest - it's pretty depressing. What's even more depressing is thinking I'm doing it, and realizing I'm not doing it well enough.

So, here's the thing about The Help. Someone could probably argue the racial harmlessness of the book. (I guess?) But, if it hurts others, if it reinforces ugly stereotypes, if it assuages in any way necessary responsibility for racial harm, then I don't want my voice to be in the chorus of "oooohs" that you hear in the back of the theater.

After getting a different perspective on The Help, I was a little devastated. (Can you be "a little" devastated? That's what I was - wrecked, but probably not enough) And, then I listened to the Voice.

The gospel is for this too. For every time that I should have known better and didn't. For every time I have valued my entertainment over someone else's reality. For every time I thought I was thinking through race "better" than someone else. For every time my heart is defensive. For every time I don't "consider others higher than myself."

Which is a lot.

The gospel is for this; it is for me. It's to make my heart soft and my mind sharp. It's to do the difficult, messy work of restoration - not to make it look like no work is needed. And it is to forgive me, even before I realize how much I need it.


Connie said...

Thanks for posting this...I needed to read that link you included. Makes me sad that I'm so far from "getting it." But I need to read stuff like that to remind me to stay in it and keep challenging my thinking...

Beth said...

Well thought out, Susie. Thanks for publishing! I read those comments, too. They are certainly charged and full of emotion. The author is admittedly working through some things herself, too. Wish we all could have this open dialog!

Chase and Laura Bowers said...

i am no help. i am thinking all the same thoughts. loved the book, read it twice. then saw the movie and initially liked it, but the more the scenes have played out in my mind, the more disturbed I am by it. and the more disturbed/convicted I am that I loved it at first. sigh. thanks for putting words to some of what is rumbling in my heart/mind!

Abby said...

I haven't read the book yet, but I've been meaning to do so and will, soon. And once I do, I will come back and re-read this and the link you shared. Thanks for challenging us to look beyond our own (limited) perspective.

Also, I think J.R. was totally underrated. She's probably the first prof who ever forced me think critically. She was tough, but oh - she was great.

Adrianne Thompson said...

I love you and I love this post. just don't ruin the fun our family has with: celebratory queso, naked/awkward jokes, etc. Deal?