Glancing Back into the Segregated 60’s with “The Help”
Being a product of the late 60’s but having no memories of the culture until the 70’s when I entered grade school, I thought I’d get a dose of culture by going to see The Help last weekend. I had just finished listening to the audio book, and I just had to see the movie.
I don’t read very many books from the secular market, but this one revealed so much about American thought just 50 years ago. So much has changed and yet, so much has stayed the same. Book or movie, this is an eye-opener for anyone too young to actually remember the civil rights movement of the middle of last century. Now, I didn’t grow up in the segregate south, and my mother didn’t have a maid, but some of the segregated attitudes existed in people in my own community.
The Help demonstrates the depth of irony in America in the 60’s. White women in their country club societies forced their black maids to use a different bathroom because they “had diseases”, yet these same women lovingly cared for sweet little children who hung on their necks all day. These were the women who nursed fevers and potty trained toddlers. These were the women who raised the children while their mothers played bridge with their friends.
Ironically, these housewives raised money for starving children in Africa while the children of their own maids ate what their mothers could afford on shamefully slim wages. Ironically, these women called themselves Christians, but didn’t act like Jesus.
It breaks my heart to see how a person can be forced to enter by the back door, ride in the back of a bus, and shop in a different grocery store simply because of skin color. It blows my mind that the white grocery stores would have the good produce and the black grocery stores would have the overripe cast-offs.
It breaks my heart that women with different colors of skin couldn’t be friends except for in secret or that light-skinned black children could be taken from their mothers and sent to orphanges because they’d be out of place in either black or white society. It enrages me to think of how many of those pregnancies occurred against the will of the mother in the first place.
I wonder if I could have been as brave as Skeeter Phelan (a main character from the story) with my writing. Could I have been the voice to expose the injustice? Could I have given up the only man I’d ever loved because he couldn’t be affiliated with my work?
I said earlier that our country has changed a lot. But so much is still the same. I know that there were many privileged women who grew up in the south who followed the norms of culture simply because it was expected of them. There were some who knew what was happening was wrong, but they didn’t have the courage to speak up and make a change.
It’s a different era. We have different issues. But we have injustice in our culture just the same. Are we going to be like the women of the south and keep silent when we know something is wrong? Or will be be courageous and speak out against that which we know is wrong? We’re faced with the same choice as Skeeter Phelan.What will we do?
A side note: I liked the movie because it left out a couple of incidents from the book that I didn’t think were really needed to illustrate the culture. I liked the book because it didn’t wrap up quite as neatly as the movie, and it had a more real feel to it. So, you see, I can’t decide which is better. If you decide to do either, be aware that there is some swearing in both the movie.