"The Help: Part II

Last week I mentioned I was reading the new novel, The Help, about the relationships between Afrian-American maids and their female employers in Jackson, MS in the early sixties.

Jesse Kornbluth at Huffington Post has a good summary of the book. Three women at the health spa I was at last week were reading it. One didn't like it, one was mesmerized by it, and one thought it was funny. Back home, a very Republican woman where I get my nails done said she had started to read it, but she found it just preposterous. She adamantly did not believe that the white employers would build a bathroom for the maids in the garage because they didn't want to be contaminated by diseases black people got.

I'm in the middle of it now, and it keeps me awake at night. It's pretty horrific to think this was only 50 years ago. And it's no surprise these women spawned another generation just like them.

Kornbluth says "The Help" could be the "To Kill a Mockingbird" of our time. I just hope I finish it soon because this is the third night that I find myself up at 3 a.m, still reading.

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    no surprise at all. (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by cpinva on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 08:49:24 AM EST
    And it's no suprise these women spawned another generation just like them.

    contrary to jim's assertions, this continued on up into the 50's and 60's. i know this for a fact, because, as a child, i witnessed it firsthand, while living in NC and VA. i saw the "whites only" and "coloreds only" signs, on bathrooms and water fountains, not in a museum, but in use.

    there was a restaurant, in NVA, on Rt. 1, just north of dumfries, va, called "white's restaurant". named for the owner who, not surprisingly, was a caucasion man. mr. white was so adamantly opposed to integration that, rather than serve blacks, he closed down the place. not only did he close it down, he refused to sell the property to anyone else, lest they integrate it.

    that building slowly deteriorated over the years, overgrown by weeds, vines, etc, most likely inhabited by wild animals, with mr. white paying the property taxes on it. it stayed that way, until both he and his wife died, when it passed into the hands of their children.

    the heirs promptly sold it to developers (apparently, the only color that concerned them was green, my kind of folks.), who proceeded to build houses on it, sold to anyone with the means to purchase them.

    that didn't happen until the late 70's. so you see, old habits die hard in these parts.

    Yes, old habits do die hard... (none / 0) (#10)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 09:01:43 AM EST
    It was around 1976, shortly after I was promoted and transferred to Chicago as a shiny new department manager that I overheard a peer commenting that I had probably purchased a home in "Hillbilly Heaven."

    Looks like a very interesting book (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 06:50:08 AM EST
    Thanks for the heads up.

    Believe it (none / 0) (#2)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 07:20:53 AM EST
    She adammently did not believe that the white employers would build a bathroom for the maids in the garage because they didn't want to be contaminated by diseases black people got.

    But it was also for the use of the sharecroppers and other tradespeople who came to do business. And although the possibility of disease was probably on their minds, remember that STD's were known to be transmitted by contact and the toilet seat was an object of shared contact, it was more of an issue of having people with dirt on their feet walking through the house.

    But the timing is off. I would say this went away in the late 40'S and early 50's as the out migration of blacks and whites, displaced by farm equipment, made the remaining employees more and more valuable. Labor is, after all, a commodity.

    You're maybe halfway making sense, Jim (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by scribe on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 08:20:17 AM EST
    You forget that some of the more deeply-seated prejudices supporting the concept that blacks needed to kept separate from whites, and why blacks were held to be inferior were (among others):

    they're dirty

    they smell funny (and that smell is a function of their skin color)

    if you sit where they sit, that color will rub off on you

    and similar, really offensive crap.

    As to Miss Prissy Cracker McPrissypants the Republican who can't believe what she can't believe, that's not so much a failure of intelligence as it is a requirement of her ideology.  If she were to believe such segregationism possible, then a lot of he precepts supporting her Rethuglican ideology would have to collapse, too.  Stuff like Republicans denying that all people are created equal, while simultaneously mouthing the assertion they are.  Republicans believe that people wind up oppressed or poor because of that person's own failings, not the failings built into and required by the systems atop which those Republicans sit and which they run.


    It was not my intent to issue a tract on (none / 0) (#8)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 08:53:28 AM EST
    the evils of segregation or the prejudices of the time. I was merely noting that what some people can't believe did exist and provide a smidgen of information as to why they believed it.

    And if you want to bring politics into it I must note that it was not the evileeeeeeeee Repubs who were in charge of the drinking fountains, but the enlightened Democrats who decided they must stand in the school house door.


    Timing is right (5.00 / 3) (#9)
    by marcnj on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 08:59:33 AM EST
    I was raised in Louisiana in the 60's and 70's.  My grandparents had a bathroom in their garage but my sister and I only recall the yard man using it.  However, when my parents added on to our house in 1965 they included a bathroom by the laundry room for the housekeeper.  We were most certainly told that we could catch diseases from a toilet seat.

    I thought the book was great and did highlight the complex relationships between the white employers and the "help".  My grandparents were very close to the housekeeper who raised my mother but had no problem using the "n-word" or complaining about the changing times with her in the room.  I also remember my grandmother taking meals to Melvina many times as she was dying.  

    I attended a private (white flight) school.  In the early 70's we received a letter that a black student would be enrolling in my grade.  My grandfather sat me down and told me not to speak to her or even get near her.  By then I had accepted that he was from a different era and the new student fit rather nicely into our small class.

    My political views are probably closer to the Republican woman (Yankee maybe?) who couldn't accept the storyline in The Help but I can assure her that the book is a realistic portrayal of the south in the 60's.  


    I made a factual comment (none / 0) (#6)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 08:44:30 AM EST
    about a place in time about what people believed. That they weren't aware of the fact that bacteria and viruses could not survive any length of time makes them no more or less ignorant than many who are uneducated today.

    Although I omitted it, there was also the fear of body lice and other bugs transmitted by eggs picked up by contact as well as the bug itself.

    These are facts on what they believed, not a comment on "right or wrong." That, to most educated people, should speak for itself.

    Now go to Wiki or some source and give us a 2000 word quote detailing how STD's are transmitted. And don't forget the Mandatory Link. That the subject is not how they are transmitted, but the thought process of the individuals will never enter your mind.


    It's near the top of my pile (none / 0) (#5)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 08:36:55 AM EST
    It was one of the books I suggested to my book group but was not chosen so I will read it anyway as soon as I have a window of opportunity. I will say that I appreciate the high quality of books we pick - and we pick 10 for the year every Sept.

    I'm on the diversity committee at my kids school (an urban public charter that is about 55% black and also diverse in terms of economics, religion, etc) and I may look for a reading from this for our Community Conversations.

    Sounds like a very interesting book (none / 0) (#13)
    by maddog on Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 04:53:32 PM EST
    I like the quote that it was "only" 50 years ago.  I don't know 50 years seems like a long time to me.  50 years ago my parents didn't even know each other.  You know how much has changed in 50 years, how much we know now that we didn't know then?  Heck think of all that has changed over the last 20 years.  Think of things you were taught 20 years ago and what we teach kids now is different.  

    I can believe some of these things happened.  What I cannot do is impose my morals on people who learned these things not 50 years ago but 75 to 100 years ago.  How can a commenter call these people stupid?  Some of the stuff that my grandmother learned when she was growing up in the 20's has been disproven but she still believed a lot of it until the day she died.  I just don't get how you can judge people who grew up in a different time and were raised to believe certain things (we know it was wrong but it becomes group think and everyone thinks it is okay), while at the same not judging some of things people do today.