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Is “The Help” Racist?

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Along with the typical summer activities, my daughter, Casey, has had her nose in a good book for the last several weeks (just an aside, how great is it to see your kids enjoy reading?).

You’ve doutbless heard about The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s New York Times bestseller that rips the lid off genteel, 1960’s Mississippi society.  I’ll get my hands on it as soon as Casey’s done but in the meantime, I have to make do with periodic reports from her, which have all been in the vein of, “This is SUCH a good book!” So imagine my surprise when I started hearing some people question whether it is inadvertently racist.

At least some of the controversy stems from the fact that a white woman is writing in the voice and vernacular of Southern blacks and whether she could do that authentically. Of particular note is how the black characters routinely drop consonants from the ends of their words while the white characters don’t!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl9LslpxchU&feature=channel_video_title[/youtube]

And now of course there’s a big blockbuster movie in theaters, reigniting the debate. Many have taken issue with the core theme of the movie – a young white girl helping to ‘empower’ black women in the South. And then there’s anger that strong black actresses like Viola Davis are ‘reduced’ to playing maids in 2011.

For me this feels a bit like the big debate a few months back over Tom Sawyer’s classic Huck Finn  and the move to take out the N-word and replace it with “slave”. This may be an unpopular stance but let me stake out my territory right now. Taking a giant sharpie through classic works because they don’t jive with modern day sensibilities is crazy. Rewriting history doesn’t make any sense either. Race is a part of this country; remember that whole melting pot thing? And slavery, though not one of our nation’s more shining moments, also played a role.  But we’ll never move beyond that by sweeping it under the rug. The only real way to deal with an issue like slavery is well, by dealing with it. Getting it out in the open and talking about it is the way, not by hiding our heads in the sand.

That’s my take; I’d love to hear yours. Have you read The Help and if so, what were your impressions?  Did you think it was inadvertently racist? Will you see the movie and will you be comfortable taking your children to it? Let me hear ya!

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