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Monday, January 31, 2011

Library Loving: The Help

I finished The Help, by Kathryn Stockett yesterday. Blog, do you ever wish Kathryn Stockett was writing you instead of me? She is much better.  Also, thank you to Cydney for the recommendation.

Embarrassingly, I should admit that for some reason I looked at the cover of this book and decided the book was set in India. The cover just said, "India" to me. I do not know why. I was surprised to find out it was about race relations in Mississippi as seen through the eyes of two black maids that worked for white families and one white woman who wanted to tell their story.  I started reading and because I almost solely read blogs and the last book I read was a novel told thru short poems (Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas - very bittersweet YA novel), I read the first page and a half of The Help and then I threw the book down on the bed and whined about how LONG and BORING the book was already! After I gave myself a stern lecture about my ever dwindling attention span, I picked it back up and kept at it. All told it took me about three hours to read. I liked it. A lot. 

And now for something completely different:

Reading The Help made me think deep type thoughts on racism and other such evils. Here are my thoughts. They aren't very clear.

Here's the big picture: Every single person. Yes, every one of them....the one that cut you off in traffic this morning, the one who gave you a hug yesterday, the one who makes you want to scream, the one who holds your heart. You and they and he and she and we and them are all part of God's creation: humans.

My ex-mother-in-law, Nancy, described it thusly to an inquiring mind: "It's like a bouquet. We get these bouquets of flowers and they are all different shapes and colors and we think it is beautiful. When God looks down on the earth and looks at humanity, he sees a beautiful bouquet."  Beautiful, no?

Imagine the tragedy of an earth filled with monotone flowers. Or people.

To me, the big picture is just that simple. We are all humans. None of the things that divide us (race, sex, religion, nationality) change that.

The little picture is the one on one daily interactions. If you look at every person you meet as an equally fellow human, how do you treat them? You Golden Rule it up, right? Again, for me, that is the end.

But then there is that middle picture. The picture where all the labels and quantifications get marked and pointed out. "That's a short human." "That's a dark human." "That's a poor human." "that human is from Japan." "That one is missing an arm." "That one can't see." "That one is fat." "That one is female."

First of all, thank you oh captains of obvious! Gold star for you! We don't all look the same. I bow before your astuteness.

Here is where it gets complicated: When and where does ignorance end and evil begin? How much of that is ingrained/trained/learned? And why don't people who promote divisions and hatred and prejudice and "isms" see how moronic that is? On some level, I get it. It is easy to have a few bad interactions with a few people all of the same "type" and suddenly we assume that is how all people of that "type" are.

That's not how it works! 

Would it be easier if it did? Maybe. Maybe not. I guess it would depend on where you fell in the scheme of things. Would it be fair? No.

Does anyone have control of where they enter the world and how they look when they get there? I mean, I don't remember specifically my DNA calling a conference and deciding that I would prefer to be a white female born into the middle class in Central Illinois. But maybe I had that option. Maybe I picked all of that and so therefore I am superior to some. Because I made better decisions before fully engaging with humanity. Although it still puts me below the blessed humans who had DNA that decided upper class was, in fact, where it was at in life.

All of that being said, I understand the power of "mob mentality" and fitting in and how all of that stuff that can turn so ugly so fast. Here is my example:

16 years later this story still makes me cringe in shame. I went to a small school. A very small school. My grade had approximately 28 students. All white, generally all on a level socio-economic playing field.

There was this one girl who did not fit. She was poor. She was crass. She wore ugly clothes.  She was what we called, "white trash."  She lived not too far from me. And she biked past my house one day. She stopped to talk. I was playing an imagination game with my little sisters. We were pretending to be birds. On bikes. We were birds on bikes. I explained this to her. Invited her to play. I don't think she did.

One day, a few weeks later, this girl wanted me to be her partner on a science class assignment. I did not want to be her partner. We weren't friends. She wasn't known for doing well in school. I wanted to do well on this assignment. She threatened me. If I refused to be her partner, she would tell the entire class that I still played pretend with my little sisters. Like the total weirdo that I was and absolutely still am.

My desire to "fit" was SO strong and my fear of being outed as "not the same" so deep that I did something I regret to this day. Such is my intense shame. I told her that if she told my classmates, I would tell them all that she was lying. And then I told her, "You know they will believe me and not you."  She did know that.  She didn't tell anyone and I was not her partner.

Was it right of her to try and emotionally blackmail me into being her partner? No. Does that make what I did any less wrong? No.


  • We live in a social hierarchy where some people are perceived as being more virtuous than others simply based on their placement in this hierarchy. 
  • The desire to fit into or stay in or rise to a certain level of that hierarchy is a very powerful motivator. 
  • That I wasn't meant to be a social climber because I can't forgive myself for squishing the people below me.

I wish I had done things differently. I wish I had just been her partner. Maybe that kindness would have meant something. Or that I had been strong enough to just let her tell people. To just confidently be me. To say, I am a 14 year old that plays pretend with her little sisters.  So what?

I wish that we were all strong and wise enough to all the time say, "Yes, this human looks different than me, so what?"

Read Peggy McIntosh's paper, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack."   I am not asking that you agree or disagree with it. Just read it. At least skim it.

Irony alert: A guy that we totally accepted and several times voted as our class president is now on the state sex offender registry.

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