My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Kathryn Stockett may be a white female but she also grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and observed the town that is notorious for its racist beliefs and discrimination first-hand. She based parts of this story on her real experiences with her black maid that helped to raise her and, just like Skeeter, moved to New York to become a writer. I believe that she did enough research to at least respectfully represent the struggles and dangers associated with being a black maid in Jackson in the 60s and, even if the book didn’t focus on the racial violence directly, consideration of it was omnipresent.
The Help was a unique presentation of the lives of black maids of Jackson in the 1960s. It was set in a time when the civil rights movement was in full swing in major cities, but hadn’t yet hit small towns. Towns like Jackson were so accustomed to their traditional separatist structure, that even to shake it would result in serious consequences. Nowadays people joke about how politically correct this world has become, and as being PC becomes more common, the appreciation we have for the risks taken by civil-rights activists diminishes. When topics of race are brought up, I’ve even seen people wonder why there weren’t more Rosa Parks back in the day, and sometimes people will even say that whites are the underprivileged race. The truth is that it’s much easier to be an activist these days; people are often given instant gratification for their support of a cause through something as simple as a Facebook post. In contrast, many early activists risked their lives if they even hinted that they were a part of the movement. Thank God for these people, as they pushed through some of the initial inertia and into the modern age, where it is encouraged for us to use our voices.
Still, I’d like to talk about the modern age. Everywhere you look today, whether it be on your Facebook feed, an advertisement, or a news article, you will see people “standing up for their rights”, and often times these people are acting like they are brave, and sometimes even comparing themselves to the activists of the 60s. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that we have so much freedom of speech that we can so often “stand up against the man”, even if it’s simply against a Starbucks coffee cup that is an “offensive” color. In situations like this, we can just go running to the comment section, and there will be minimal to zero consequences for expressing our new-found passion for or against the article. To these people, I would say choose your battles. I know you have heard this argument before, but I am going to reiterate it again here: our strong urge to be politically correct can be just as, or more, suffocating to free speech than the ads that we are trying to discredit. Why? Because being politically correct does not allow us to acknowledge differences.
I have noticed that people often equate racism with the acknowledgement of differences. In my opinion, this is a fallacy that’s often made because some people still think of equality as the same as equity. On the other hand, I believe that it’s okay to acknowledge differences simply because they exist. We could hope that society would push forward without doing so, but that would be to ignore history. The Help reminded me that racism in small towns like Jackson was upheld because it was not socially acceptable to say that differences between social classes relative to race existed, and this was what upheld the whites’ privilege. If you think about it, this is the problem that the #BlackLivesMatter campaign faced when #AllLivesMatter started to appear in our newsfeeds. #AllLivesMatter doesn’t acknowledge our histories relative to race, and thus ignores the struggles faced by the black community in the past and present. In other words, #AllLivesMatter is confusing equality with equity by assuming that the black community needs no more support than the rest of humanity.
Once more, when insignificant movements (like the one against the Starbucks cup) are thrown into our newsfeed along with significant movements, like the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, it makes it more difficult to differentiate between important issues and distractions. The Starbucks cup didn’t align with our ideals of what should be considered politically correct, but those who used their energy to fight against the cup forgot to listen to the other side of the story. Political correctness often acts as that barrier that prevents people from spreading how they really feel about something. Then, when those people with an unpopular opinion have an opportunity to express it through something like a vote, they do so by voting for a candidate like Trump. As it turns out, however, there were enough people with an unpopular opinion to actually put Trump in the White House. Maybe we would’ve prevented this if we had only listened to the silent majority’s opinion, and had a healthy debate. Instead, we built our own wall out of our desire to only listen to politically correct ideas. It is important that we learn from history and remember that social change never came from suppressing anyone (including and especially those with a different opinion than the blatant majority).
There are still many obstacles to overcome as we work towards a society that values equity over equality, but we will overcome them a lot faster if we can listen to the opinions that we sometimes don’t want to hear. It is only through listening that we can even realize that these different opinions exist. Lastly, it is important to remember that it is not racist to acknowledge the differences between one another, but it is if we let these differences divide us. Like Aibileen in the book says, “there should be no boundaries to kindness”.