“Rather than finding herself a good ol’ boy to marry, as all her friends have done, Skeeter gets a job writing a column about cleaning for the local newspaper. But, being a privileged white Southerner, she knows nothing about cleaning, so she asks Aibileen, the maid of her friend Elizabeth, to help. Of course, Aibileen (played with flawless grace by Viola Davis) gets no credit for the assistance she provides. Though Aibileen is the one who is answering readers’ questions, Skeeter, who is simply taking dictation, gets the credit, the byline and the paycheck. No one questions this in the movie: not Aibileen, of course, not Skeeter and — disturbingly — not the filmmakers.”
Review: “The Help,” a feel-good movie for white people | ArtsCriticATL.com
SUCH an important intervention here (and it’s noteworthy that this review is the ONLY place I’ve seen this critique) and later on in the article when the author addresses the fact that one of the maids is shown as a writer and having a daughter who is educated, and for some reason we’re supposed to unquestioningly accept that 1. the white woman is necessary to get these stories out to the world and 2. because the structural oppression of Jim Crow made it so that black women couldn’t do it themselves.
—there’s a whole SLEW of stuff I want to say about this—but the most important being that of *course* the writers didn’t question the need for the white woman to take the words of the black woman. 1. it’s still being done today and 2. it’s *always* couched under the idea of the white woman *helping* the poor colored woman.
this is where the idea of “white privilege” goes haywire and why i’m moving more and more away from the idea of “privilege” as a good critical analysis of the position of white people today in the US.
“white privilege” defines itself on *individuals*. it *gives power* to white individuals—*rather than questioning or dismantling that power*. It always suggests: use that power you have to help!
rather than: deconstructing that power you have *in service of people of color* would be the most important thing you could do.
And of course—deconstructing that power of an individual becomes highly problematic when we’re working through an intersectional lens and recognizing that many white people don’t have unfettered power like a white male straight able-bodied dude does.
so it becomes important to deconstruct that power *as a community* and as a structure rather than as an individual—white women are using their whiteness as a powerful tool to fight their lack of power as women. something I think is fucked up—but also something that I am positive I would do (and have done in other scenarios) as a way to keep my kids well fed and off the streets. it’s not something that’s easy to walk away from as individuals. and the structure we live in *knows* that.
What would’ve happened if the white woman in the movie had understood that what she was doing was making black women unnecessary—rather than “helping” them?
what would’ve happened if the *director* had understood he was making black women directors, writers, cinematographers, etc unnecessary by using the story of black women in this manner? What would’ve happened if instead of using his power “to help’ as he undoubtably thinks he’s doing—he had questioned why he has all that power to begin with?
and had encouraged ten of his white director friends to donate a million dollars each towards the production of a movie created by an entirely black female staff? (for example) or organized his white actor/director/production etc friends to insist that any contract they sign in the future must include some sort of clause (that colored folks within the industry help to create) that challenges the white focus of storytelling/movie making?
this. this. this is why i will not do anti-racism consulting work for free. the last time i got sucked into doing it, with fucking SQUAT magazine, and after i told them both in public and in private that i was not going to do it. after i was insulted, condescended to, and then pointedly ignored. the last letter i received from those brats was to tell me that if i ever wanted to consult them on anti racism issues they would be happy to hear my ideas.
and the whole time they kept talking about how they were helping me. and giving outlaw midwives exposure.