White Guilt and The Help [FB]
August 1st, 2011 by Dan

Listen, this isn’t going to be a detailed, well-researched piece on white guilt. Heck, it isn’t even slightly researched at all. I have neither seen the movie nor have I read the book, but I find this kind of thing troubling, so I’m gonna speak on it for a few seconds.

The Help is being advertised in such a way that it appears to be about a bunch of mean old racist ladies in Mississippi who are enforcing segregation and keeping black women down. Yes, something like this probably happened in Mississippi and, hey, perhaps enlightened women like Skeeter did exist in the 1960s South. Regardless, I still can’t get over how movies like this exist to show how wonderful white people are for helping black women.

It would be unrealistic (maybe? I don’t know) to have the main character and main writer of this movie be a black woman. In the 60s I’m sure she wouldn’t be able to get a book published in the scope that this movie (and book) is showing it getting, but the underlying message is still the same: black women are in a tough spot, but they can’t do anything to help themselves out of it. It takes an enlightened white woman to give these poor black ladies a voice and bring awareness.

Again, maybe it is realistic. Would a bunch of rich white women listen to any equality-based message a black woman wrote? Probably not. It doesn’t change what I see as a string of movies, rather like The Blind Side, that seem to imply that black people cannot help themselves.

I know it’s supposed to be a feel good story and we’re supposed to be in post-racial America, but we’re not. This movie (that I haven’t seen!) is troubling to me, at least based on advertising. I don’t know what else to say about it. Maybe it’s just my stereotypes and prejudices coming into play, but I don’t think we get to have movies like this yet. Slavery, segregation, inequality…these are things that are much more serious than bathroom privileges and silly, spoiled, rich women. It’s patronizing and offensive.

4 Responses  
  • Kailyn writes:
    August 2nd, 201113:45at

    Interesting! I sat and tried to think of movies that portray social inequality differently. But it was hard to think of a situation where there’s a large oppressed white group (and be relatively unable to overcome it alone). The only situations I came up with are the holocaust and maybe women’s rights. So it’s almost impossible to have a reverse racial dynamic and a realistic story.

    That being said – this book is suppose to be really good.

    • Dan writes:
      August 2nd, 201114:06at

      I was thinking about this just now and two movies came to mind for different reasons:

      Remember the Titans – It does whitewash most of the ugly epithets and insults away, but it’s notable to me in that Denzel Washington does not need the white coach’s help and white folk are mostly adversarial through this whole thing. Will Patton’s character tries to do good, but is rebuffed by Denzel throughout the movie and his attempts are often naive. Same with some of the white players, like Ryan Gosling and Kip Pardue. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s also not The Blind Side where Michael Oher is portrayed as unable to play football until Sandra Bullock’s character teaches him. He’s gone on the record saying that he knew how to play football and the movie makes him look dumber than he is.

      Save the Last Dance – I mention this because it’s not a movie where a white person learns a minority skill and then becomes the ultimate embodiment of that skill(like Avatar or Last of the Mohegans). Julia Stiles does add hip-hop to her repertoire, I guess, but I don’t remember her all of a sudden being better at it than anyone else. In fact, I remember her dancing remaining primarily classical. The funny thing about this one is that Stiles is the one who is socially unequal in the movie. It should also be noted that Derek is plenty smart enough to get into Georgetown on his own without any help from Julia Stiles’s character. He does not need to be uplifted.

      Having not read the book or seen the movie, I’m sure I’m oversimplifying things, but what I like about these two films is that they don’t have white people rescuing anyone from anything. Remember the Titans most definitely softens the racial hate and prejudice, but I still think that Denzel comes off as plenty capable of achieving that season on his own.

    • Dan writes:
      August 2nd, 201114:17at

      There was a Women’s Suffrage TV movie called Iron Jawed Angels back in 2004 that I watched in school starring Hilary Swank. I didn’t get to watch the whole thing, but I think the major turning point came when one of the women was able to use her husband to leak details about their imprisonment to the general public. Yes, they need a man to help them, but I don’t look at it the same way where the women were just listless until a man came and exposed the injustice.

      As a side note, all of this reminds me of a funny Cracked After Hours video where they imply that Marty’s “Johnny B. Goode” playing is secretly racist because it portrays Chuck Berry as a plagiarist and gives the white man credit for one of the great black rock songs. Not to mention that the black mayor of the city doesn’t get the idea to run for mayor or have political aspirations until Marty gives him the idea. It’s all very silly and tongue in cheek, but it goes to show how complicated this all can be.

  • I Bring Nothing to the Table » Blog Archive » More on Why “The Help” Is Whitewashing The Past [FB/YCQMOT] writes:
    August 15th, 201113:48at

    […] article on Slate expresses what I was trying to say about why The Help is so troubling to me as a whitewashing of the past. I knew it was prevalent in […]

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