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Refusing [The] Help

Wednesday marks the release date of the latest book to film, The Help. I was made aware of this book when the Lil Sis, whose favorite hobby isn’t reading, made mention that she was reading it. I couldn’t figure out how this had happened, that she’d been in a bookstore & purchased a book. Don’t get me wrong, she can read, it just ain’t her favorite thing to do. Me, Da Mudda, & even Big Sis can lounge around the house for an entire day or weekend doing nothing but reading, but it’s never been Lil Sis’s twist. Again, her making the trek to the bookstore was monumental; an event worthy of family phone calls & such. In my mind, sitting on the arm of her sofa, I needed to know what this book was about if she was bothering to read it. I read the back of the book, cracked the back flap & saw a white woman & walked away.

If you’re unfamiliar, now’s the time for me to tell you about the book. As per the author, Kathryn Stockett’s website, here’s the synopsis:

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women--mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends--view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

Now, fast-forward some months & I get a message from Lil Sis asking me to give a friend of mine the book when she drops by. My friend is actually the older sis of a friend of Lil Sis from back in the day but we were good & grown before we made the connection. Somehow through the power of Twitter, my sis & my friend have connected & are trading books. Now, this friend is the best at finding racist plots. For instance: whack gear is racist; weather busting up good plans/parties is racist. Not your standard racist plots but being the uppity & persnickety coloreds that we are, they make for good laughs. So, said friend wasn’t gon’ spend no dough reading such a book for her book club & the library was fresh out so she went to her Twits-end to see who could hook her up. Irony=Lil Sis.

This all took place when we were still rockin’ coats so it was Fall or Winter. A short minute ago is the point. So, I hear of this book, written by a white woman about a white woman who writes about 3 black women. In Black face voice. Nah, Son, I’m good. It’s not because I can’t, don’t, or haven’t read works by white authors. After all, I love literature. Good writing is good writing. Some of my favorite books are by white people. My issue is around the whole damn concept.

If you were to scan my personal library you would pick up on various themes. I won’t break them down for you, but trust that you would. All the books I own have not made it onto my shelves because I don’t have enough shelves or space to house shelves…& I’ve misplaced a couple boxes of books. I have & have read a wealth of books around The Black Experience before [what y’all refer to as] slavery, during it, & post. I’ve LOVED the pace & language, the languid (loogidup!) approach to storytelling. Hirsute (loogidup!) stories of trials I can’t imagine with the simplest & sweetest overtones of smiling through & making it. Folks lived through overt & covert humiliations that many of us aren’t smart enough to survive today. Washer-woman? I have the luxury of saying I don’t have to put my dignity on the clothesline like that. Although…I’m beginning to see the similarities just in a different setting (time & place). I’ve not had to endure having my children snatched from me or living away from my family so that my family may live. I’ve not had to share a 2-bedroom apartment with 5 married couples, all trying to get a leg up during the Great Migration. I’ve not had to clean anyone’s toilet & return home to the room I barely make rent for to find the man who claims he loves me drinking my wine in MY bed with the tramp from the bar.

Anyone who’s read any of those kinds of stories or even just talked to a black person who tells stories at all, you know the voice is nonpareil (school’s almost in…sue me). It’s sing songy, rhythmic, full of dips & sways. Those of us who live it can’t always capture it in text. For those of us who have, our (& not necessarily including myself here) work has been around for eons &…no movies have been made. Why, because the industry doesn’t truly care about our stories. This is not knocking Kathryn Stockett at all. The book, from what I hear, is very well written. Brava, authoress, brava!! As I refuse to read the book OR see the movie, it’s a protest of the industry’s double standard. It’s as though the powers that be or the purse-string pullers find it romantic to share a story of black women through the doe-eyed white ‘oman’s scope, who’s worried about her maid. Maid. One more time. Maid. The Secret Life of Bees comes to mind right now. Oh how the Coloreds rise to the occasion to raise all of gawds chilluns as their own parents just focus on being…white…I guess. Friendship through oppression. It’s how we all love it, right? These movies give the dangerous impression that these relationships are wholesome, right even. At no point is there ever any real discussion or light shone or which evil garden these relationships sprung forth from. Dare I mention the S-word again. Guess not. After all, we still treat it like Voldemort of the Harry Potter series & call it something like The Shame That Shall Not Be Named. Can Prince make us a symbol? #imjessayin

I did consider going to see the movie, despite refusing to read the book. Part of me feels like I want to support the actresses that are in it. Another part of me felt like if I’m going to write about it, I must see it, right? Nah, Son. Spin. & here we are. I’ve vowed, despite being dragged to the theater for 1 Black Sambo Tyler Perry movie & seeing another 1 speculatively (read: involving a high risk of loss), that I would never put money in his pockets again. There are more than enough of us making that happen. I said I would never put another dime in Jay-Z’s pockets either (around 1998), & I actually like him, because he doesn’t need me. My stance here is simply that there had to be some other way to bring this story to film, if we must continue to engage this storyline in film at all. For those of you who choose to see it, I’d love to know your thoughts on it, especially if you read the book. If you disagree with my private protest, feel free to voice that too. I’m not afraid of disagreement. & if you think this is bad—which it really isn’t—let another movie about a white teacher/principal who comes to an underserved urban school (read: hood den a mug) & rescues all the little Brownins from themselves & I WILL LOSE MY FLUTHAMUCKIN MIND all up & thru this blog.

Seriously…I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Watch me move.


  1. Now, you done caught me on the right night. You know I'm already fiyahed up 'bout the pathology of the Basketball Jump-Offs. How dare you trouble my spirit with the other bane of my existence – thinly veiled pathetic ass attempts at assuaging white guilt aka The Help, The Blind Side, that dumbass teacher movie with Hilary Swank! You smell what I’m cookin’. Not only do these books and films serve as cheap therapy for white liberals but they also keep us in check. See, these sista girl book clubs that will be at the theaters in throngs this weekend don’t seem to understand that Katherine Stockett is not only working out her issues but she’s keeping us mired in ours.

    I fully support your protest and will join you. I also will pop the fu$k off if another one of them “nice white lady teacher comes to save your savage asses from yourselves” movies is released.

    Thems my thoughts.

  2. Hey, I actually obtained this book using my newly acquired library card!!! I finished it and had a similar discussion online w/some of my sorors about it. So here it goes. I agree with you for the most part; although I believe that the story itself is authentic being that the author is writing based on her childhood. The white women characters were a well-written nuanced bunch. My issue is that the two major female characters fit the noble black and the sassy black to a tee. There was an attempt to shade these women with a little gray (I think the "sassy" one got the better end of that). However, it was an enjoyable summer read, but this is the feeling that I got from it. Follow my logic. You know how when somebody is cool with the popular girls but they are kind of peripheral to them and then they do something that gets them kicked out of that clique. Then they get accepted by another, less cool clique. They then put all of the business of the cool clique on front street, but they never quite fit in with the other clique either. Anyhoo, that's what I feel about the book. But I did hear that this book went to about 60 publishers before it got a deal. Even writing about black people is a problem. Dang. My 22 cents.

  3. Hey Aweez,

    So I haven't seen the movie but I did read the book. Part of me wants to support the mostly black cast of the movie to show that black stories, are relevant. At the same token this is very much akin to the Blind Side, Dangerous Minds of the world. There's always some white savior coming in to rescue us. I don't know about you but I don't need rescuing and the last person I'd reach out to in a time of need would be some random white person. That's just me tho.

    At the same token to discredit a story about black folk that is well written only because some white chick wrote it is kind of childish. I mean we want to promote the black experience and let people know we care about our stories but we don't want to support our stories. We must do better. Not saying this is the best avenue, meaning from the mouth of a white woman, but it is a start. If we continue to body block everything we will be right where we are...complaining because there are no stories out there that speak to our experience.

    Is the book somewhat stereotypical, yes! Does the book take a look at the relationships that exist between blacks and white, yes. It might not take a hard look but it begins the conversation. I think a better book to become a movie would have been Wench by Dolen Perkin-Valdez. It examines black and white relationships in the context of slavery...and there are no saviors.

  4. I'm not mad at Kathryn Stockett for writing The Help. She has a right to tell any story she chooses. My protest comes in at the fact that this book has been damn near fast tracked to production. & that pisses me off for the same reasons you just mentioned: Blind Side, Dangerous Minds, The Principal... The list is extensive. We keep saying that we need to tell our stories but I'm telling you the stories HAVE BEEN TOLD. No producers or backers are trying to get those stories made. Why? I'd imagine because they're hard, they point fingers, they force folks to take sides/stands & be about something or another. These stories are often unapologetic & therefore seemingly non-inclusive. In The Help, from what I've gathered from the book jacket & the previews, we all get to feel "good" about these relationships coming to light & being addressed in such a playful manner. Nope. I'm not saying don't produce The Help but perhaps Wench, or any number of books on my shelf.

    Again, don't doubt the book is well-written or even worthy of being considered good. I just can't read it or see it because I've read about us being servants & subservient & don't need to keep seeing it unless it's going to do what you said & really delve into these issues. As we keep claiming to live in some Utopia called Post Racial America we're either going to have to admit that that isht doesn't exist or start hashing these issues out.

    I can feel that there is no end to my response so I'm going to just stop here.