Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Would I Have Known Better?

"I ain't never had white people in my house."
Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark in The Help

That's just one of the lines from the movie that made me cringe, and then tear up. And it made me think, which, in my mind, makes The Help  a truly remarkable film. Made me think. That's good.

I wonder what I might have been like as an adult in the 1960s South. Would I have set foot in the house of a Black person, or would I have followed the unwritten, and written, laws, that the two races don't mix? Would I have, as an adult in the 1960s, had a Black maid? And would I have treated her so shabbily, all the while praising myself for being a good person?

That's the one thing that kept coming back to me. That no one, at least in that film, and at least no one other than Skeeter, ever stood up and said, "No, this is wrong."

It's wrong to look at a person of another color, another race, another language, another gender, another orientation, as being "wrong," when, in fact, they just are. They are.

I watched this movie and marveled at the idea that these people hired Black maids to cook and clean for them, to do their laundry for them, to raise, bathe, feed, clothe and wipe the asses of their children for them, and yet these maids had to have their own plates and silverware that would not get mixed up with the "regular" stuff.

And, it made me wonder, would I goosestep along like most of those people, or would I say "It's enough"? Would I build a special, separate bathroom, outside of my house, for my maid to use, because I thought she had "different" germs than white folk?

That's one of the things I kept coming back to watching the movie. The white women, and men, who were mostly nonexistent in the film, of that town, of that time, didn't want Black maids using their bathrooms, but they wanted them in every other part of their lives, and never once saw the hypocrisy.

You can raise my child, kiss on my child, love my child, but you cannot use my toilet. I mean, I know this went on. I've seen the "For whites only" signs in old magazines and such. I know there were separate lunch counters. Our local movie theater still has the "Colored" Balcony, though the sign no longer exists, and you no longer have to buy a ticket, go outside, and climb the stairs to access it.

I know that was life in those days, and I know that those men and women didn't know better. But it made me wonder, would I have known better had I lived then?

And that I'll never know, though I do know that I can make sure that we don't go back to that, and that wherever that kind of racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, exists, I can say, now, that "It's enough."


Tivo Mom said...

well said! I did live it. Not to the extreme but we had "help" and I will say this. My mother was the child in the south in the 50's and 60's and she vowed to never, ever be like her parents. Our "Help" was a part of our family. She worked for us sure but she also ate with us, spent the night at our house, we went to her house for Christmas to visit and my mother never (ever) allowed Alberta in the back seat of her car the way my grandmother made Wille Mae travel. As we grow we hope we learn and notice things that we want to change and make better. And I hope that we all do, and our children do as well

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! When I first moved to the south from the midwest I felt like I was stepping back in time. I'm still amazed that people still have "slave walls" and "quarters" on their properties and in their lives. Even more unfortunate is the fact that so many people still think like that today ... they just point their fingers at different people than their ancestors.

Wonder Man said...

This movie is causing a stir in the black community. I will see it just to see what the issues are

Anonymous said...

The anti-black attitudes of that era strike me as being very ridiculous.

In essence the attitudes of the anti-black folks is akin to the whole juvenile phenomenon of cooties.

I will have to see the movie though.

designing wally said...

I lived it...
Not in my family, but in the families of many of my friends.
I will never see this film. That part of my life breaks my heart to this day; some white blonde ladies, like my mother, raised their own children proper. She knew that we were the future and she knew the truth and fought for it.
My father was a zoot-suiter, from the north, which in the '30's & 40's meant that you hung out with black people. They sent him to "bad boys school" for it. He ended up being an electronic engineer with very high clearance from the federal government via NASA. His early work is responsible for the immaculate sighting of missiles for the military.

My Jewish, black & handicapped friends were always welcome at our house and our dinner table.

Thank God, I am blessed.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

I am glad that I can say I have welcomed many people into my home and my life.

Sam said...

Bob, I read this books months ago and recently was able to see it a second time with my spouse, Bill, who is Black.
His reaction was the complete opposite of mine.
The first time I cried from the very second it started to the end, only occasionally laughing at Minnie.
It made me think of the conversations I had with my own Mother before her death. How could we treat humans so poorly for that long?
I still have trouble understanding the lack of compassion.
My thoughts are rampant and I could rant all day about it, I'm just thankful my Mom not once said, "we didn't know better" which for me is the biggest crock of shit excuses ever.

Biki said...

I remember being quite small and seeing maids in their uniforms at bus stops. My mother in law's father would go into the kitchen of every restaurant he entered. If there was a black person in the kitchen, he would leave.

My grandmother was raised in an orphanage, and she was very conscience of being "different" and unliked for something she had no control over, and I think this changed her from her peers. She was always very polite and kind when black customers would come into the grocery store where she worked. And she took some heat for it also.

I read the book, and will most likely watch the movie when it comes out on dvd. We are alike in the fact the movie made me cry too, and I wonder if I had been adult then, would I have followed the flock to such bigoted pastures?