A comment I posted at A Critical Review of the Help.
The most difficult enemy to combat is an idea, which is an enemy that must be vanquished unmercifully again and again.
You wrote in “The Help Can Kiss My Ass“: ‘That these black caricatures are almost primary written by white authors should be noted. However, there are authors who have the talent to craft believable black characters. Richard Price, author of Clockers and writer of the critically acclaimed cable TV series The Wire is one notable exception.’–acriticalreviewofthehelp
I’m still trying to work through my issues and criticisms with the very idea of the book and the movie and the facts I know about them. At Racialicious, I was glad to see that I wasn’t the only person ‘boycotting’ the book and the movie and saying NO, JUST NO, the same way I am glad to see this blog and read that someone who has dealt with the book and seen the movie is breaking it down like this with an entire blog and multiple posts. My sister watched it last night and, having read about it, I immediately felt my blood pressure rising when she came to chat about it. It’s NaNoWriMo, I’m writing, and I wasn’t trying to hear that mess.
On a more critical note: I went to school for creative writing [and took up sociology] as an undergrad and grew up and lived in the South until recently, so I was overwhelmed to have it clearly said to me in college that slave narratives were not only edited and cut by white publishers and slave owners but additionally, the Black people whose stories they profited from rarely saw more than a dime of the money. What’s more–though some would argue that it’s better the narratives were published even if heavily doctored and cut by white folks running the show rather than not at all–is that the price for publication was that Black folks (their stories and lived realities) had to be further made into something that was consumable, entertaining, and digestible for white readers and buyers, a gimmick.
I don’t see ‘The Help’ as any different. Another white writer/publishers/producers making [lots of] money off of appropriating and misrepresenting images and portrayals of Black folks, our bodies, experiences, history, and cultures.
Considering the history of slave narratives, for example, it makes all the difference in the world that Kathryn Stockett is a white woman portraying these racist Black caricatures. It should not be overlooked, reasoned out, or understated that “these [B]lack caricatures are almost primarily written by white authors”. <—As a creative artist, Black female, “queen-sized” queen, Southerner, this is why “The Help” can kiss my ass on principle. I mean, why aren’t more people asking why so many of the worst portrayals of Black peoples and other people of color are created and perpetuated primarily by white writers? Will we always turn to excuses of fictional license to let them off the hook? Aren’t we just “letting it slide”, brushing aside, or even willfully overlooking for argument’s sake the truth that the same claim to fictional license by white writers, artists, and producers is rooted in white privilege, methods of acculturation and colonialism, hegemonic practices, and white supremacy? Thinking about Aibilene Cooper’s attempt to sue Stockette in court, I wonder if there can or will there ever be a law that really protects Black women/people of color from this kind of racism.
It’s so important that we speak out, speak up, and stand firm.
We do not need white people to tell our stories, lived realities, and histories. The time for that has passed, whether it’s fiction or not.
So, no, it’s not that white writers can’t write three-dimensional Black characters convincingly, but why is it that so many of them fail and fall back on Stockette-esque stereotypes, myths, and caricatures? Has white racism caused them to pathologize Black peoples as ‘the other’ on such a level that it cannot be mitigated or changed? Honestly, I’m very discouraged by the possibility that the answer is yes.