Appreciation for women who worked as “The Help”
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    Juggling Act

    Black and white women talk about “The Help”

    Nearly 300 black and white women here in Charlotte gathered last Saturday morning to talk openly about racial relationships, using the movie “The Help” as a catalyst for conversations that most of them had never had with each other.

    As the women gathered around tables to begin the discussion, the moderator asked the black women, “How many of you have someone in your family who worked as the help?” All the black women raised their hands. Nearly all the white women raised their hands when asked if black women had worked for their families.

    It was a profound experience, one black woman said, to watch the movie that celebrated the courage of black women who worked as the help.

    Three large churches — two mostly black and one mostly white– arranged the event to help create better dialogue and understanding among women in this southern city.

    In two sold-out theaters, the women laughed and cried as they watched the movie about black maids working in a Mississippi town in the 1960s and their willingness to risk their lives to share their stories to a white woman who compiled a book about their experiences.

    One 51-year-old black woman, who grew up in a rural area of South Carolina, said she started working as a maid at age 12, when her mother dressed her in a white shirt and dark skirt and took her daughter to her job. It was the early 1970s. Later, the same white family helped her go to college.

    A 58-year-old white woman stood up and told the group, “I grew up in an area where everyone had a housekeeper. Now, at 34, my youngest daughter works as a maid.” I overheard a black woman say, “Now, they’re called nannies.”

    There were many more stories of mothers and grandmothers who worked as the help, of the irony of the relationships between the black women and white families.

    “We really want to help build better relationships,” one of the moderators told the group as the session ended. Most in the group agreed that coming together around the movie “The Help” was a good start.




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    1 Comment

    1. Thanks, Mae. I am one of the few well-read, well educated African-American women I know who is not upset, taken aback or offended by The Help. I could not resist plopping down my $9 to see it because I had to witness for myself what all the hype was about. I found it entertaining the way a good movie should be, kind of like Fried Green Tomatoes. I laughed, I sympathised, and I was, dare I say, enlightened at some points. Actually, I think I would be more offended if I were a white woman, since the majority of them were portrayed as mean, silly, shallow, pompous, unfeeling, and downright hateful.

      I did not expect this to be an accurate historical account; it is a work of fiction, albeit with heavy flavoring of some of the author’s actual experiences. Most fiction is speckled moments of reality. Nor did I expect the author to include every aspect of the complex relationships between African Americans and whites. That would take a lot longer than two hours.

      I think the sore spot is that this is the story of our grandmothers and mothers, our aunts and sisters, our cousins and perhaps even ourselves. And we feel ownership. We want to tell it, and we want it told right. Some don’t want it told at all. What’s true is this: We’d still be upset if Tyler Perry or Spike Lee told it. We’d protest if an African American writer/director told it, questioning her true motives, especially now. Just some random thoughts…about The Help.

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