The Help by Kathryn Stockett
published 2009 chapter 11 events in the early 1960s
[Skeeter, a young southern white woman, is visiting a black maid at home to try to gather copy for a book she is writing.]
“…I have on my darkest dress, dark stockings. The black scarf over my hair probably makes me look more like Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia than Marlene Dietrich… I knock softly.. Aibileen opens the door. ‘Come on in’ she whispers and quickly shuts it behind me and locks it.
I’ve never seen Aibileen in anything but her whites. Tonight she has on a green dress with black piping. I can’t help but notice, she stands a little taller in her own house.
‘Make yourself comfortable. I be back real quick.’
Even with the single lamp on, the front room is dark, full of browns and shadows. The curtains are pulled and pinned together so there’s no gap. I don’t know if they’re like that all the time, or just for me. I lower myself onto the narrow sofa. There’s a wooden coffee table with hand-tatted lace draped over the top. The floors are bare. I wish I hadn’t worn such an expensive-looking dress…”
It’s Oscar day today, and the film of The Help is up for four of the top awards. The shiznit website has a page entitled ‘If 2012's Oscar-nominated movie posters told the truth’, which is possibly the funniest thing on the internet right now. Once you have seen its taglines for this film – ‘White People solve racism. You’re welcome, black people’ – it is difficult to see it any other way. But at least the film gave us a chance to see black women in major roles, and it is a film about women. The book is a mixed bag – it’s very readable, the story gallops along. But the tone is very odd and uncomfortable. The story it tells is dark and sad, but the trappings are weird: black voices talking in dialect (through the white author), a white woman ‘helping’ them, a white woman who is shown as being frightened and endangered when it doesn’t seem she’s risking much more than losing the boyfriend. And she can always leave, and does. There are some strange slapstick and farcical scenes, and some of it is quite funny. It is not a book that you would ever for one second think had been written by a black person.
The picture is from a collection of 'Artworks by Negro Artists', held by the US National Archives and Records Administration. The artist is unknown.