Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” continues to draw controversy with the movie now reaching a greater audience than the book. I own the book. Thanks to , I have a signed hardcover first edition. I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Stockett at the . But nobody cares about that.
People want to know what I thought about the book. They lean in close to me. They look in my eyes. They are careful what they say until they know my opinion. I will tell you my thoughts later. But I’ll tell you this now. Everyone asks me about the book because:
I am a Woman.
I am Black.
I am a Mother.
I live in The South.
This makes me an expert on the book “The Help.” In fact, it makes me an expert on all racial issues. My terrible secret is that I’d rather talk to my kids about sex. In detail. With diagrams. I’d rather explain why we go to war. War and sex make far more sense to me than race, so I avoid the topic.
My children have no concept of Black and White. They are tan. Their dad is pink and I am brown. They lack the harsh divisions that we adults have, and I’d like to leave it that way. Just for a little while.
As a mother, it is difficult to hear that your child feels different. That she wishes her hair or skin or eyes looked more like someone else. Someone whiter. I have to explain that any girl who spends more time on her looks than her brains will end up in a sad life. It has nothing to do with race now. But it will later.
I have to tell my children that they are beautiful every day.
Sometimes I have to tell myself the same thing. How critically do my children look at me when they look at themselves as “other” in a white world? I run around town in my pajamas and no makeup. I have brown skin. Is race always about skin color? Sometimes I think it is about beauty and our changing perception of it.
I will tell my children that they are beautiful. They will love their curly hair someday.
Racism is. We cannot end it with a pep talk or a hug or a smile. And I did read, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, but I read it as a Reader and a Writer.
Should a white woman write a book in the voice of a black woman? Yes. I plan to write a book from the vantage point of a cyborg one day. I am not a cyborg. Fiction is about exploring the voices in a writer's mind. They aren’t always our own voice. If I one day write a book as a white man, I hope you don’t find fault with me for trying to be the voice of an entire race or gender. On this point, I defend Ms. Stockett.
Were the issues of race oversimplified? Yes.
Did the book make me mad? Yes. I wish there had been characters that broke out of stereotypical roles. There weren't.
Was the portrayal of black characters acceptable? Yes and no. There were a few times I felt insulted. But I don’t think that was her intent. A lot of books that make me mad are my favorite books. This is okay.
Is this one of my favorite books? No. My favorite books are "Beloved," by Toni Morrison, "Love in the Time of Cholera," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham and "Frankenstein," by Mary Shelley.
Would I recommend this book? Yes. I could not put down the book. I had to find out about the "terrible awful." I laughed out loud several times.
Will I see the movie? I don’t know. I prefer explosions and aliens and heard there were none. So probably not.
Any words for Ms. Stockett? Thank you for writing this book. I’d rather have people reading a book that makes them mad than not reading at all. Fiction isn’t meant to be a literal historical truth. Even history is complicated by different perspectives; we should expect and appreciate the same in literature. And the "terrible awful" was awful. P.S. It would be great if you would write the cover blurb on my novel!