Posts tagged the help.

Like the housewives portrayed in reality television shows, the housewives of Jackson [as shown in The Help] treat each other, their parents and their husbands with total callousness. In short, they are bad people, therefore they are racists.

There’s a problem, though, with that message. To suggest that bad people were racist implies that good people were not.

Jim Crow segregation survived long into the 20th century because it was kept alive by white Southerners with value systems and personalities we would applaud. It’s the fallacy of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a movie that never fails to move me but that advances a troubling falsehood: the notion that well-educated Christian whites were somehow victimized by white trash and forced to live within a social system that exploited and denigrated its black citizens, and that the privileged white upper class was somehow held hostage to these struggling individuals.

Patricia A. Turner, “Dangerous White Stereotypes”, New York Times Op-Ed

Favorable of The Help but good, brief analysis of it. I like this section a lot, because it’s a falsehood I’ve seen over and over (and over) in doing anarchist organizing and economic justice organizing—I’ve literally heard people say about another white organizer, “Their politics are okay, but they’re bad on race.” So, someone is exempt from racism because they’ve decided to work on this campaign with us…but they might say racist shit while we work on it.

I’m ‘Help(ed)’ Out And Yet, I Still Have Some Things To Say!


There have been numerous primarily Black feminist critiques of both the book and the film ‘The Help’. Most of the critiques deeply resonate with my feelings about both entities. Since it’s official release on August 10, 2011, I’ve dedicated probably too much time to reading and reposting many of the critiques by both Black and White women. While I’ve shared some of my concerns with some, I haven’t compiled all of them into one note up until now…

I didn’t like the book ‘The Help’ at all, but I believe it is ten times better than the film. If there were a plethora of films about the complexities of Black life, I wouldn’t care at all about the film ‘The Help’. However, since there aren’t that many films out there, combined with the fact that this film will be seen globally and probably go down in cinematic history as a classic, I’m personally very, very clear about my sheer disgust about it.

I saw the movie at a sneak promotional viewing and I was horrified. Now, I thought Viola Davis’ acting was phenomenal and  Octavia Spencer’s was superb. They both did incredible work with the roles that they were given.  In spite of this, I was and am deeply disturbed by the film’s subtle and not-so subtle racism. Yes, I know the film takes place in 1962  Mississippi, and one could argue that the film was depicting the time. While some of that is true, what’s also true is that, in my opinion, the film is racist, sexist and ahistorical.

I’m the great granddaughter, great-niece, and granddaughter of Black women who worked as domestics for racist and sexist White people both in the Jim Crow South and the (allegedly liberated) North. I am the daughter of a southern Black woman who spent 18-months (1964-1966) in Laurel, Mississippi working for SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). Hardly any of the stories that I heard, first hand throughout my life (and I’m in my 40s) from any of the aforementioned women or their friends, matched the portrayal of the Black women and their communities in the book or the film ‘The Help.’

There are many wonderful books by Black women authors who through fiction and fact poignantly address the realities of Black women domestic workers during the same time period that ‘The Help’ takes place.  Some of those books received critical acclaim.  And yet, those books aren’t turned into films. Several of those books have been listed in previous critiques of ‘The Help’ including Jennifer Williams essay and the Association of Black Women Historian’s Open Statement to the Fans of ‘The Help.’

In addition to those books, I reflect upon the very recently released Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women In SNCC, (edited by Faith S. Holsaert, Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, Judy Richardson, Betty Garman Robinson, Jean Smith Young, and Dorothy M. Zellner), which really highlights those unsung, many of whom were not formally educated women who changed the face of Amer-i-KKK-a in the Jim Crow South. I’m not talking about the multiracial SNCC workers themselves (per se); but those Black women (and men) who opened their homes and lives to the SNCC volunteers… Many of who were already doing radical and subversive work in the midst of working for “Miss Ann”… So many of the testimonies captured in this anthology are worthy of film or even their own independent book. In my mind’s eye, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC tells the stories of ordinary women (and men) doing extraordinary work. 

My deep pain about all of the hoopla and fanfare about ‘The Help’ has to do with the fact that we very rarely EVER see a film where the sheer White male and female supremacist terror that Black people lived under (first during enslavement -which lasted for centuries, then throughout the Jim Crow era) is depicted. From DW Griffiths ‘The Birth Of A Nation,’ til present day, Hollywood has been committed to sanitizing and making light of excruciatingly painful, wretched, and inhumane times for millionS of African-Americans.  This system has been able to do this through castigating, maligning, stereotyping, marginalizing, and dehumanizing people of African descent. There is something very uncanny and disturbing about this, to say the very least.

While some have critiqued Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and other Black actresses featured in ‘The Help,’ I understand that they are caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s hard out here for Black women (and men) actors in the Hollywood (or Hollyweird, as Toni Cade Bambara used to call it) system. When one turns down a role based on their principles and dignity, another one will gladly accept that role. I’m sad that roles in ‘The Help’ are the options for phenomenal actresses like Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  In many ways, it appears as if this vicious racist and sexist cycle will never ever get broken.

My questions are how do we stop this powerful system - Hollywood, which influences the world, from its ongoing cinematic racist, sexist, heterosexist/homophobic/ transphobic, and classist assaults not only on communities of African descent, but also on Latina/o, Arab, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific, Islander, Roma (Gypsy), and Southwest Asian communities…? When does ENOUGH become ENOUGH?

I’m concerned about the messages that are conveyed through ‘The Help.’ If you aren’t formally educated, you need a White woman to document and tell your story in order for it to get heard… Then the White woman leaves town to make it big in NYC, and you’re safe(?) in 1960s White Supremacist Terrorist Mississippi after getting fired for breaking your silence…? Or, your battered by your Black husband, and the White woman you taught how to cook, stays up all night to prepare the most delicious meal you’ve ever had. You were so moved by that meal, that you leave your abusive husband. 

Foremost, are we really okay with these types of depictions of White women as the sole saviors to Black women’s lives, which are presented as historical fact? Equally as important, is this an accurate HERstory?  And if it is, which I doubt, how often did this happen? Was there real Sisterhood based on equality between Black women domestic workers and their White women employers? How does this story foster sisterhood based on equality between Black and White women contemporarily?

To quote Black feminist political scientist Melissa Harris-Perry’The Help’ reduces systematic, violent racism, sexism & labor exploitation to a cat fight that can be won with cunning spunk.

Again, if there were a plethora of films about the complexities of Black life, then ‘The Help’ would be another film… But, it’s not another film. For many, painfully similar to how the ahistorical film ‘Mississippi Burning’ became the cinematic representation of the disappearance of civil rights workers ~Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney; ‘The Help’ will be the cinematic representation of life for Black women domestic workers and their White women employers in Mississippi in the1960s.

To add insult to injury, the HSN (Home Shopping Network) has launched its on collection, inspired by ‘The Help.’ This is SO egregious and inhumane. In my opinion, it’s another example of how a painful part of African-American her/history (and what should be an embarrassing part of American her/history) has been sanitized and commodofied. To quote my Sister, Patricia Lesesne, “What are they {HSN} selling? Bullets, rape kits, nooses, tear-stained blouses, men’s dress shirts with blood spattered on them? Exactly which pieces from this time in US history are going to be sold on the HSN? Are they going to bottle up the essence of fear, terror, and humiliation in 6oz bottles and sell them as a fragrance trio gift set. What the hell is going on?  Yes, Patricia, what the HELL is going on in 2011?

One way we can resist this insanity is by supporting (non-Hollywood supported/funded) Independent Cinema.  There are many, many filmmakers who are creating powerful narrative and documentary films, which depict the complexities of lives of people who, based on their race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, class and/or religion, are too often marginalized or worse, dehumanized by the Hollywood system.

If you see ‘The Help’, be an engaged spectator. It’s important that there is critical engagement and interrogation, even if, sigh and gasp, you LOVE the film. I think it’s important that all movie goers take time to really reflect upon the inherent messages not only in ‘The Help’ but all movies because there are always overt and covert messages that each one of us absorbs. 

~Aishah Shahidah Simmons~


Beah Richards’ (unfortunately) timeless  (one-woman) play “A Black Woman Speaks of White Womanhood” is in my opinion, the best response to Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help”. Written in 1951, it is still most appropriate.

List of Critiques of “The Help” by Black Women, which are listed in alphabetical order. (I know there are more than those that are listed. This list represents the ones that I read).

  1. Association of Black Women Historians’ Open Statement to Fans of ‘The Help’

  2. ‘The Help’: A Feel Good Movie For White People by Valerie Boyd

  3. “The Help” and White Female Identity by Stephanie Crumpton

  4. Kathryn Stockett Is Not My Sister and I’m Not Her Help by Miriam Harris

  5. Melissa Harris Perry Breaks Down The Help: ‘Ahistorical And Deeply Troubling’ (by Frances Martel)

  6. Chocolate Breast Milk: A Review of ‘The’ Help by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

  7. No thanks Kathryn Stockett, I don’t want to be “The Help” by Joyce Ladner

  8. I’m Good Why The Help Isn’t Needed by Tonya Pendleton
  1. Why I Will Not See ‘The Help’: A Rant by Rosetta Ross

  2. Second (and Third, and Fourth…) Helpings: A Big Black Woman’s Thoughts on “The Help” by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan…-helpings-a-big-black-woman’s-thoughts-on-the-help/ 
  3. Why I’m Not Looking Forward to ‘The Help’ by Jennifer Williams

  4. Love ‘The Help,’ But Please Stop Asking Me To Do The Same by Rebecca Wanzo

List of Critiques of ‘The Help’ by White Women, which are listed in alphabetical order. (I sincerely hope there are more than those listed here. This list represents the ones that I read) 

  1. Reading The Help by Susannah Bartlow

  2. ‘The Help’: Softening Segregation for a Feel-Good Flick by Alyssa Rosenberg

  3. On ‘The Help’ And Moral Reckonings by Alyssa Rosenberg

(via mylovelylifelongings-deactivate)

I remember my first women’s studies class at Stanford, when there was a conflict when one of the white woman students was talking about the Black maid at her home, and how much they loved her. And I raised the question, “But does she love you? What do you really know of what she says about you when she is home? What have you done to earn the right to talk about her?” Of course, I remembered that when my mother came home, the critique that she brought to bear on the white people that she worked for was fierce. They would not have been able to imagine it. She would come home and do a gendered critique, or do a critique of the idea of female freedom, of the white female leisure-class model in a way that the white people she worked for did not see because of their racism and classism.

bell hooks, in homegrown: Engaged Cultural Critique in the chapter “Feminist Iconography,” p. 39.

Funny I read this this weekend after hearing and reading so much about The Help.

The Help & “love”

White people need to find ways to form relationships with people of color, based on what white people perceive as love, that are not also relationships where their own domination over the person of color is unacknowledged or taken for granted. That ain’t love! Is The Help a book and movie about real love, or is it about how wonderful white women are, to the point that being their nanny means being blessed, and how could anyone not love and covet white children?

The majority of my friendships with white people have been based not on real love, but on circumstance, and as such have been totally lopsided. You can ask those white people about our friendship, and they will have good things to say about me and how we got along, but I don’t have similar good things to say about them, if they never checked the dynamics in our friendship, they never checked what things they were saying to me that might be racist or erasing people of color and would make me less psyched about hanging out with them, if they acted like their presence was a blessing for me to bask in, if they never really listened to me (at least not when it was difficult), if there were always reminders that I was their “black friend.” If you never thought about these things and how they might play out in our friendship, we were not friends and there was no real friend-love.

None of what I’ve seen about The Help screams “friend-love story!” to me, having had white people think I was their “black friend.” If anything, it screams the awkward extent to which white people take their delusions of grandeur and the humiliation black women will suffer to feed their families. Again, doesn’t sound like love.

I am not convinced that a white person, most of the time, is going to actually love their first or only POC friend. I have been in the unfortunate situation of being white people’s first/only black friend way too many times, and I never felt loved. I felt like a testing ground.

The Real Help


Posted on Jezebel on August 11, 2011 by Irin Carmon (highlights mine)

Whatever you think about The Help, at least it’s sparked a larger conversation about domestic workers’ lives — and maybe even their rights.

The domestic workers rights movement had the smart idea of capitalizing on the conversation around The Help to talk about their rights campaign by and for actual “help” today. Supporters of California’s domestic workers rights bill — similar to the one passed in New York last year, the first of its kind — had a rally yesterday outside a mall showing the film, which opened yesterday. The bill has already cleared the state assembly, and the next step is the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 15.

That the right to basic work protections has had to be fought for state-by-state is no accident. Historically, domestic workers were excluded, along with farmworkers, from New Deal-era labor protections, in a deal made as a concession to specifically racist concerns.

Then there are the structural problems of regulating a workplace that is inherent, informal and intimate. A Houston Chronicle piece that manages to tie together The Help, Arnold Schwarzenegger fathering a child with his housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo’s rape case against Dominique Strauss Kahn, and the News Corp. hacking scandal (because a computer in a dumpster was blamed on a “cleaner”) has a quote that neatly sums it up:

In part, the struggle of domestic workers then and now stems from the false notion that cleaning, cooking, even caring for children and the elderly isn’t really work, says Eileen Boris, who chairs the Feminist Studies Department at University of California-Santa Barbara.

By design, it’s “an invisible job in an intimate space - a home or a hotel room - where the outside world doesn’t look in,” Boris explains. Typically, domestic workers are “vulnerable women with little power.”

It’s a chicken-and-egg situation: Do we implicitly believe these jobs are less worthy than say, construction or lawn work because women, especially women of color, do them, or are women relegated to them because of their general disempowerment? Is the work devalued, because, like sex work, the work occurs in intimate spaces, because it’s conflated with care and affection that in other contexts are uncompensated?

The entire point of the Domestic Workers United Movement has been that this work is valuable and deserves to be accorded with dignity. The mantra has been, “Women’s work is real work.” And though affordable child and household care can feel like a zero sum game for working parents who aren’t millionaires or cheerful bigots, they’ve gotten organized support from employers who organized to have less ambiguity — and as a result less guilt — about the parameters of the arrangement.

The relationship between contemporary upper-middle class women who work outside the home and the women they employ to work inside it can be fraught — Caitlin Flanagan even argued in 2003 that feminism had defined work as a means to self-actualization but achieved it on the backs of black and immigrant women. (There are no black feminists who ever made a similar critique of white, middle-class, careerist versions of feminism! Also, Barbara Ehrenreich never existed!)

In a profile of one of the lead organizers of the Domestic Workers Movement, Ai-Jen Poo, Ehrenreich wrote, “To my knowledge anyway, there has never been a successful career woman — or man, for that matter  who’s responded to being praised for “doing it all” by saying, “Actually, [my nanny] does most of it.” Maybe we’re getting closer, thanks to the work of the activists bringing the job out of the shadows, and other ways it’s creeped into public discussion. At the Time 100 dinner, Amy Poehler did just what Ehrenreich said she’d never experienced, thanking her own nannies and “every sister and mother and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child…I celebrate you tonight.”


My grandma’s review of The Help

My grandma is in her 80s, black, retired schoolteacher, life-long Chicagoan. She went to see The Help today with one of her friends. She said it stayed pretty true to the book, so she appreciated that. Otherwise it was fairly uncritical. We talked about the way being trusted to care for white people’s children would be seen as making it, like field slaves versus house slaves, and she said there was no critique of that idea that being close to white people is an accomplishment.

The main thing she said she was curious about, that was left out of the movie, was the impact on black children whose mothers worked as domestics for white women. She said she didn’t understand why black women would (or would be portrayed as such) love the white children they care for, to the extent that they cannot then give enough attention and care to their own children.

Her friend who she went with grew up in the south, and her mom worked as a domestic, and her friend ended up having way more responsibility as the oldest child. She said the families of the black women were pretty much left out, and that it really should have been written by and about a black woman, to show how the situation impacted black women and their families and the psyche of black children, instead of just being about white people. She’s so smart!


“Rather than finding herself a good ol’ boy to marry, as all her friends have done, Skeeter gets a job writing a column about cleaning for the local newspaper. But, being a privileged white Southerner, she knows nothing about cleaning, so she asks Aibileen, the maid of her friend Elizabeth, to help. Of course, Aibileen (played with flawless grace by Viola Davis) gets no credit for the assistance she provides. Though Aibileen is the one who is answering readers’ questions, Skeeter, who is simply taking dictation, gets the credit, the byline and the paycheck. No one questions this in the movie: not Aibileen, of course, not Skeeter and — disturbingly — not the filmmakers.”

Review: “The Help,” a feel-good movie for white people |

SUCH an important intervention here (and it’s noteworthy that this review is the ONLY place I’ve seen this critique) and later on in the article when the author addresses the fact that one of the maids is shown as a writer and having a daughter who is educated, and for some reason we’re supposed to unquestioningly accept that 1. the white woman is necessary to get these stories out to the world and 2. because the structural oppression of Jim Crow made it so that black women couldn’t do it themselves.

—there’s a whole SLEW of stuff I want to say about this—but the most important being that of *course* the writers didn’t question the need for the white woman to take the words of the black woman. 1. it’s still being done today and 2. it’s *always* couched under the idea of the white woman *helping* the poor colored woman. 

this is where the idea of “white privilege” goes haywire and why i’m moving more and more away from the idea of “privilege” as a good critical analysis of the position of white people today in the US.

“white privilege” defines itself on *individuals*. it *gives power* to white individuals—*rather than questioning or dismantling that power*. It always suggests: use that power you have to help!

rather than: deconstructing that power you have *in service of people of color* would be the most important thing you could do.

And of course—deconstructing that power of an individual becomes highly problematic when we’re working through an intersectional lens and recognizing that many white people don’t have unfettered power like a white male straight able-bodied dude does. 

so it becomes important to deconstruct that power *as a community* and as a structure rather than as an individual—white women are using their whiteness as a powerful tool to fight their lack of power as women. something I think is fucked up—but also something that I am positive I would do (and have done in other scenarios) as a way to keep my kids well fed and off the streets. it’s not something that’s easy to walk away from as individuals. and the structure we live in *knows* that.

What would’ve happened if the white woman in the movie had understood that what she was doing was making black women unnecessary—rather than “helping” them? 

what would’ve happened if the *director* had understood he was making black women directors, writers, cinematographers, etc unnecessary by using the story of black women in this manner? What would’ve happened if instead of using his power “to help’ as he undoubtably thinks he’s doing—he had questioned why he has all that power to begin with? 

and had encouraged ten of his white director friends to donate a million dollars each towards the production of a movie created by an entirely black female staff? (for example) or organized his white actor/director/production etc friends to insist that any contract they sign in the future must include some sort of clause (that colored folks within the industry help to create) that challenges the white focus of storytelling/movie making?

(via radicallyhottoff)

Bolding is mine.

My awesome grandma is coming over tonight after going to see this movie. She already read the book, and joked about the race dynamic when I talked to her on the phone this morning. I’m excited that the first review I’ll be getting is from a black woman who was around during the time period.