The Help

I read the book and I have seen the movie three times. I am drawn to it really. It is one of those movies that speaks to the deepest human place in me. The place of compassion. It is also about my era. I was born around the time the movie is set. I was born in Atlanta, not Mississippi, but the South in the 60’s was a tumultuous place no matter the city. I was a young child when Martin Luther King had his dream. I don’t remember much of the Civil Rights movement, but I remember my maids. Ola Mae was first. Then Odessa came next. They did not raise me, but they were very much a part of our family dynamic. I only have vague memories of Ola Mae, because I was very young when she was around. There was a time that comes to mind when I was in the playpen with my sister and she was ironing. I must’ve been 3 or 4, so that is a foggy memory at best.
However, I clearly remember Odessa. She arrived in street clothes, and within minutes was changed into her white uniform. She didn’t babysit us, nor did she do the cooking. She was in charge of cleaning and laundry. I remember her standing in the laundry room (right across the hall from my room) folding clothes and hanging them. I distinctly remember her singing hymns and humming while she worked around the house. She loved us and we her. She helped us prepare the house for parties and such. But more than that, when my grandfather was too sick to get out, she helped to care for him, allowing my grandmother a break. When her husband was ill, we took food. Over the years she aged as we did, but she always came to visit us for major events. I never forgot her.
This movie has brought back all those memories in vivid color. The set of the movie has the same floor plans, glassware, and kitchen items that we had in our house. The hair, cars and clothes are authentic as well. It is amazing how it captures the time period. Watching it with adult eyes I can see it differently now. I think the movie portrayed both the ugliness of racism, as well as the unique relationship between maids and the white children they loved.
I thought it a sobering thing to see one of the main characters talking about how there are “real” racists in Jackson. It caught my attention because she didn’t see her own views as racist. How much like that are we? If you think you are not prejudiced, you are not looking deep enough at your heart. It is the fabric of the human condition. It may not be a black white issue, but prejudice is not only found in colors. Prejudice means simply to pre-judge. To think you know something about someone from appearances alone, never considering their point of view. Race is only one dividing factor. Try young and old. I know I think a certain way about the pierced, tattooed young people. Just being honest here. That is prejudice. Now that I have met some of them, by way of my children, I find that my view was not entirely accurate. In trying to fight my own clouded perception I see God’s grace, showing me his mercy when I do not love as he does.
What about rich and poor? The poor resent those with money. The rich (that would be most of us) think the poor should try to be more like us. We rush in to rescue and make ourselves feel better rather than just to be a friend. Democrat and Republican? Yikes. I am not going to open that can of worms. What about churched and unchurched? Am I stepping on toes yet? The unchurched feel they know all about the “hypocrites” while we sit back and treat them as projects rather than people. All in all, it is comical how much we all point at each other while not looking at ourselves. There’s a scripture about that in Matthew 7. “Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” Well said.
The Help dared to take on a volatile time and put it into context so that everyone who sees it is softened by its message. We are not so different. We feel. We hurt. We love. I owe a debt of gratitude to the women who cared for me and my family. They were precious women. I can only hope that I have learned something about prejudging others that I can apply to all my relationships and my views of others. “You is kind. You is smart. And you is important.”

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