An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help

I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was unsettling about The Help. I read the the book about a year ago, and it was a good read. There’s just something about a white woman telling the story of black women that doesn’t sit right. It felt trite or simplistic or something. Similar to The Blind Side, it seemed white people were the ones doing the saving, and black people had no part, no agency in their own story. Is that overstated? I’d love to hear thoughts from others…

ABC sent me this article tonight with a thoughtful perspective from The Association of Black Women Historians. You can find the entire article HERE. But here’s a snapshot…

On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel versionofTheHelp. The book has sold over three million copies,and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism…

We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent. It is, however, an attempt to provide context for this popular rendition of black life in the Jim Crow South. In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

We’re going to see the movie this week, and we’ll let you know what we think…

“Lost in the World”

If you haven’t already purchased Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, do it immediately. Each song has its own unique vibe, but obviously my favorite is Lost in the World, a mix with Wisconsin-bred folkster, Bon Iver (Justin Vernon)’s Woods. For wannabe hipsters/hip-hopsters like me, it’s a beautiful mash, and I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more press. Here’s some of Justin’s thoughts on working with Kanye. It starts with the Audio-tuned words of Woods, and then the bass kicks in…really you just need to listen to it.


India.aire

The past few days this India.aire song has been in my head (hair?). I watched this video featuring Akon today. It’s good stuff. Rock it and take the trash out, take it to the gym, take it to heart.

I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am a soul that lives within

If you’re not familiar with her, she’s a bit Lauryn Hill-esque–without the hating white people part, and she’s a little bit softer. She is an Atlantan who has played music with a former lacrosse assistant of mine.

Interestingly enough, she has lots of different “looks.” Her hair changes quite often, as you might be able to tell from the video…Here’s one image of her I like.

Black Nationalism and Procrastination

There are lots of things I should be doing today.

1. Finishing writing my exams.

2. Grading students prezi projects about African nations.

3. Creating a check-list for Sunday set-up at church for our upcoming meeting.

4. Planning for my faculty fellow (student teacher) next semester.

5. Scheduling a dentist appointment.

6. Preparing for a Library Task Force Meeting.

But all I really want to do is be at Caribou with a mac writing about my experiences and thoughts over the last few weeks while I sip a holiday specialty drink from mug. I want space and time to think and process. I haven’t been making space for that recently. My reading chair has gotten cold.

sidebar: I feel stifled without a mac, really I do. They are so pretty, and I seem like the type of person who would have one I think.

Most present in my mind is a conversation I was asked to be a part of last week at school. A colleague and friend of mine invited me into a room with the 12 black male eighth grade students at our school. This colleague (G) may or may not be the only black male teacher in our division. It’s not surprising that we have become friends given my affinity for all things chocolate colored.

Here’s the issue:

A teacher overheard the boys calling each other the “n” word on the basketball court last week. The Dean asked G and another black male to address the boys and discuss their use of the word. He asked me to come because a) I’m female b) I’m white c) I’m on the diversity committee…and he thought I could add a different perspective.

The word n____, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America.” –Langston Hughes

I appreciate the space and time our school gives to conversations  that need air. I like that we don’t brush past hard things. In general, we aim to face them head on. I feel like at another school, this would have been dealt with very differently. That being said, I would have dealt with it differently. Maybe this is a gender thing.I would have wanted to hear more from the kids. Put them in a circle and make them talk it out. And we did some of that. They said they use the word because it’s causal, they hear it on the radio, from kids in their neighborhoods, at church (at church!?).  G wanted to preach at them and tell them why it was wrong. He said some good things, such as “when you use that word, you have accepted the stereotype that comes along with it–slave, disadvantaged person, inferior race.” He asked the students “what would you do if a white person directed that word at you?” They responded in unison that they would get violent. G told them about his experiences, how he had to be different, how he had to move beyond settling disputes with his fists. G exposed their double standard.

Three boys in the group told us they don’t use it at all; their parents taught them not to; they think it is degrading. It’s more than the word though. To me, their use of it shows me their desperate need for affinity as they develop their racial identity. In these years, they are learning what it means to be “black” in a place dominated by “whiteness.”

How do we facilitate racial identity development in junior high and high school?

W.E.B DuBois came to mind as I listened to two educated black men tell these boys why they were different. Why going to this school called them to something higher. How they need to rise above and be better men. Are black independent school attendees the new Talented Tenth?

Action step:

Several of these boys were in my history class last year. They got fired up about fighting human trafficking, and we were close. I want to hear from them how things have or haven’t changed since this conversation.

How can we keep the conversation on the table?

Let’s get our hands dirty…talking about race

This is a 7th grade student’s submission for the Power over Prejudice Summit.  I’m getting excited…

“W” is a great school, but we are all guilty of sometimes thinking unkind thoughts about people who are different from us. We are not a racist school, but sometimes we don’t really take the time to learn about other people. Sometimes we just immediately judge them as weird, because of their race or family or social economic background. We are so privileged, and sometimes we get a little too focused in our iWhatevers and our designer clothes and the people who have them and the people who don’t that we don’t look at the person inside.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink there is a study where participants are given words such as good and trustworthy and are given two pictures, one of a white person and one of an African American person. Participants are asked to click on the picture they feel better represents the characteristic. They are just given a second to click on it. Malcolm Gladwell, who is half Jamaican, found he had a slight white preference. This study tells us that even if you think you aren’t racist, your subconscious might tell you otherwise. This is a result of all the conditioning we receive from the outside world that tells us so. I know the truth won’t always be easy, but I want to get my hands dirty talking about controversial issues.

If I get chosen for the conference, I like forward to meeting people who are different than me as well as bonding with the other girl. I also want to able to teach “W” people about what I learned. I want to become a better person, so I will be able to make the world a better place.

*school name omitted, emphasis added by Moxie

Follow up to “The Heart of Blackness”

Most current historical scholarship comes in the form of books, but Harvard Professor Vincent Brown talks about the historian’s responsibility to the documentary. He values the power of visually displaying cultural connections (ie: African Americans to Africa) to promote research.

Here’s the Link

“Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness” will be airing on PBS.