Tuesday, August 30, 2011

dangerous white stereotypes?

Video - To Kill a Mockingbird

NYTimes | Not all blacks are unmoved by “The Help.” Indeed, among my friends, relatives and colleagues a wide range of views have been shared, including comments that some of us might want to establish a support group for strong black women who liked “The Help.”

It is unfair to the filmmakers and cast to expect a work of fiction to adhere to the standards of authenticity we would want for a documentary. But we also recognize that precious few works of art tackle the Civil Rights era, and what people coming of age in the 21st century learn about this era often stems from fictive rather than nonfictive sources.

Forty-eight years after Martin Luther King Jr. was accompanied by tens of thousands of black domestic workers to the National Mall in Washington to demand economic justice, it is not all that difficult to render black fictional characters with appealing attributes and praiseworthy talents. What is more difficult to accomplish is a verisimilar rendering of the white characters.

This movie deploys the standard formula. With one possible exception, the white women are remarkably unlikable, and not just because of their racism. Like the housewives portrayed in reality television shows, the housewives of Jackson treat each other, their parents and their husbands with total callousness. In short, they are bad people, therefore they are racists.

There’s a problem, though, with that message. To suggest that bad people were racist implies that good people were not.

Jim Crow segregation survived long into the 20th century because it was kept alive by white Southerners with value systems and personalities we would applaud. It’s the fallacy of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a movie that never fails to move me but that advances a troubling falsehood: the notion that well-educated Christian whites were somehow victimized by white trash and forced to live within a social system that exploited and denigrated its black citizens, and that the privileged white upper class was somehow held hostage to these struggling individuals.

But that wasn’t the case. The White Citizens Councils, the thinking man’s Ku Klux Klan, were made up of white middle-class people, people whose company you would enjoy. An analogue can be seen in the way popular culture treats Germans up to and during World War II. Good people were never anti-Semites; only detestable people participated in Hitler’s cause.

Cultures function and persist by consensus. In Jackson and other bastions of the Jim Crow South, the pervasive notion, among poor whites and rich, that blacks were unworthy of full citizenship was as unquestioned as the sanctity of church on Sunday. “The Help” tells a compelling and gripping story, but it fails to tell that one.

I have dim recollections of watching Dr. King in 1963, with the black maid who raised me — my mother. If my father wasn’t in the room, he was working to make sure there would be opportunities in my future. I have benefited enormously from their hard work and from the shift that American culture has undergone as the scaffolding of discrimination was dismantled.

My parents, and the countless other black Americans who not only endured but thrived within the limited occupational sphere granted them, would have been proud of what has been accomplished since 1963, but they would not have wanted us to whitewash that earlier world.


nanakwame said...

Sorry my man, this is weak. The children of the babyboomers are more self centered and gives rises to looking out for your clan. Hollow wood is worst today than ever before. Just read about my first idol Bogie. The stories not being told is the problem; it is stories that help heal even for a short time angers. The roles for Brown Skin beauties is sad, and we have Fannie Lou, Etta Baker, a good story of Bille Holiday, who actually knock a white salior on his ass for calling her a n_er. And let us not get started with good white stories, or books about  Afro-Americans setting up enterprises after Reconstruction with and against white folks. Hollywood reflects  a weak creativity in our nation. s_t Helen Mirren is doing better in Britan than our elder beauties. 

Tom said...

The piece rings true to me.  I know a number of otherwise 'nice' white folks who are convinced a local company's R&D arm, 99% nonblack, is being ruined by 'affirmative action.'  (It has gone downhill, they have that much right.)   They keep mentioning the same one or two Black guys, who I don't know, and who for all I know may be just as carelessly incompetent as the mass of idiotic white guys who placidly graze on the  tasty budget of every doomed project, like innocent lambs who think the Lord planted grass just for them.  But to clean house, which is the last thing these loyal patriotic drones would ever do, you'd have to cut pale-skinned biomass.  There's no other way to get the tonnage.

OTOH my folks, who nobody could recommend as fun people to hang out with, were absolutely intolerant of any whites-are-better talk or behavior from us kids.    We were not only punished, but ridiculed as freaking idiots, which was even worse.

Temple3 said...

I LOVE how the Times writers put together pieces as if their ENTIRE reading audience is "white."  It's as funny as it is pathetic.

 "But that wasn’t the case. The White Citizens Councils, the thinking man’s Ku Klux Klan, were made up of white middle-class people, people whose company you would enjoy."  

How in the hell is that even possible?  The title of the article should include the lead, "For Whites Only."

I'm still wiping my ass with the Times.  

Tom said...

Oh, the Times is fantastic.  They gave op-ed space to the DA told Black kids in Jena, LA he could end their lives with the stroke of a pen.

nanakwame said...

All news should be previewed - a great word and action I learned from Euro-American males in having a sustainable living. The other is annotated a lawyer taught me that one. The Grim Tales is a good one. He lives in Canada made some good cheddar off the Unions. I have few good friends in any ethnicity. The news is a Stream, created by Heads. Most live on stories. 

CNu said...

so THAT'S the source of your John Brown streak..., very interesting indeed.

CNu said...

What I find disappointing is the featherweight condemnation of the NYTimes whose paying readership across multiple platforms is almost certainly in the overwhelming majority white. This article was posted in the context of a longstanding discussion/argument that's been unfolding over at Cobb's - and - the more longstanding interest CUH-LEARLY expressed hereabouts wrt the temperature and flow of the American mainstream. If you're not feeling the immediacy of collapse political theatre, then you just may not be paying very close attention.


That American knuckledraggers have always had a relationship with the bourgeoisie and with elites seems critically important to me. That this article CUH-LEARLY speaks to the truth of that matter handily rescues it from any condemation as either "weak" or irrelevant to black folks.

Tom said...

I guess so.  Intellectually, it helps to know that the white thing is bull.  But for us kids it was two-pronged.  Our family was not a healthy place to be.  So you learn from that too.  I don't get Black  culture, but I get being fracked at the get-go.

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