Kathryn Stockett Knows Black People???
For motivation sake, I purchased a copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett for my mother (who I knew would read it because she doesn’t have cable) and told her that I would start the book over again. I’ve had the book since February and kept picking it up and putting it down. With the help of mother’s worrisome phone calls and texts, I managed to finish the book in 3 days the second time around. I am willing to admit that I really enjoyed it. I didn’t skip a word, sentence, or page (yes, I do this sometimes when I want to get to the point with various readings). I read the acknowledgments, the author’s note and bio—and I even checked the book binding just for the hell of it.
My mother and I got into a debate about white authors writing about black characters and subject matter. Bernice McFadden even touches on this in a recent Washington Post article. Stockett addresses many of the concerns that some African Americans might have with the book in her “Too Little, Too Late” section. Now, I’m not presenting this information to defend her, but rather to give her a pass of sorts. She doesn’t claim to be the authority or expert, nor does she pretend to have a special relationship with us darkies (well, maybe one in particular). Not to mention, I don’t remember reading any notes like this at the end of The Secret Life of Bees (which I also enjoyed but had more issues with than this one). In “her own words” Stockett mentions that she grew up with help of her own. She also notes just how in the dark she was when it came to understanding the reality of her domestic’s situation. Here are a few notable quotables that I spliced together:
“There were several years when I thought [Demetrie—the help] was immensely lucky to have us. A secure job in a nice house, cleaning up after white Christian people. But also because Demetrie had no babies of her own, and we felt like we were filling a void in her life[. . .]I was scared, a lot of the time, that I was crossing a terrible line, writing in the voice of a black person. I was afraid I would fail to describe a relationship that was so intensly influential in my life, so loving, so grossly stereotyped in American history and literature[. . .]I am afraid I have told too little. Not just that life was so much worse for many black women working in the homes in Mississippi, but also that there was so much more love between white families and black domestics than I had the ink or the time to portray. What I am sure about is this: I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of the black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand.”
When I asked my mother if she would read anything else by Stockett, she said probably not. I have to disagree. I definitely would. Of course, my mother also made it clear that she would not read Margaret Walker’s Jubilee with me either. “Why would I want to read about black maids and then read about plantations and slaves?” She wants to read about Tananarive Due’s immortals instead. I’m ok with that.
Happy reading, y’all.