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 at least to respectfully represent the struggles and dangers associated with being a black maid in Jackson in the 60s. 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 the 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 when topics of race are brought up we wonder why there weren’t more Rosa Parks if blacks were treated so unfairly. It seems to me that there is a large unappreciation of what was necessary for activists in the early stages of the civil rights movement if they wanted to support their cause. Many of them risked their lives for even hinting 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. In contrast, now if people hint that they are against the majority they will probably be perceived as a racist or misogynist. In other words, we have come to a point where the majority is that of inclusivity and if you are against the inclusive majority, you will ironically be excluded.
So let’s 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 those 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 is great that we have so much freedom of speech that we can so often “stand up against the man”. Hell, whenever we see a Starbucks coffee cup that is an “offensive” color we can go running to the comment section and there probably 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.
Many people will get offended when you identify someone even just in casual conversation with their ethnicity or race whether it be black, white, Asian, or indigenous. I have noticed that this is because people often equate racism with the acknowledgement of differences. This, in my opinion, is a fallacy often made because some people still think of equality as the same as equity. I believe that it is okay to acknowledge differences simply because they exist. And I actually think it is very important to acknowledge differences if we are to move forward as a society. If we don’t, how would we? This is the problem that the #BlackLivesMatter movement faced when people accused the movement of being too exclusive, for example, when it was really a necessary way of trying to adjust the scales towards equity. 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 the important issues at the roots of our society from the distractions that do nothing but make free speech more difficult. If we do not acknowledge differences I would even go so far as to say that we are only giving more ammunition to those who are privileged. Even in the current age I have heard people (yes, usually white people) saying that blacks have more privileges than whites in certain respects because of the movements like that of #BlackLivesMatter. This sentiment may have arisen because, like in the 60s, people would feel uncomfortable if they were to acknowledge that differences exist between races. Thus, they dismissed the movement with the hashtag #AllLivesMatter.
We could hope that society will simply push forward without the acknowledgement of differences but that would be to ignore history. This book reminded me that racism in small towns like Jackson was upheld because it was not socially acceptable to say that differences between social classes existed at all. If we are looking at our society today political correctness, not all the time but often, acts as that barrier that prevents people from spreading what they really feel about something simply because it would make them look like a bad or exclusive person to the popular majority. These same people that are often avidly supporting the importance of political correctness are also those that wonder why a person like Trump was able to become President. I would offer the explanation that it’s because those people who were Trump supporters weren’t being listened too. Apparently they were the silent majority, and maybe if we had been more open to listening to their perspective and being interested in why they wanted Trump as President, we might’ve been able to start a healthy debate where hate proliferated instead. 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). Just as during the civil rights movement there are still obstacles to overcome, but we will overcome them a lot faster if we can realize that they are there and be willing to talk about them openly. 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”.