Thursday, September 1, 2011

"THE HELP" - Dear Critics,Unless You Are From Mississippi

You need to refrain from giving an expert opinion on what you think you know about growing up in 1960's Mississippi !!!!!

Recently I wrote a blog post about how people are so quick to form judgements against people saying and doing things these judgemental people don't agree with.In that post, I also touched on jealousy amongst authors. This morning I read a scathing article criticizing author Kathryn Stockett's blockbuster novel "The Help". Everyone who reads this blog knows that I LOVED this book. In fact, when I reached the end of it, I sat and bawled my eyes out for at least an hour.
The reason I bawled hit my heart like a hammer! I was born in Mississippi in 1952. In 1964 when the Civil Rights Freedom Movement formed here I was a 12 year old very impressionable girl. My state, my town, became a hotbed of racial turmoil. There were protest in the downtown streets, riots, bombings, murders. Hattiesburg was a very small town at that time, full of racial hatred and bigotry. What went on here was not something you can or will ever forget.

In Kathryn's book, we don't hear much about the public turmoil that took place here in the 1960's. What we do read about is the turmoil that took place inside the mind of a young white girl trying to find the gray area between black and white where LOVE knows no race boundary.
When it comes to racial turmoil, Mississippi has NO EQUAL! Alabama runs a close second but it's Mississippi who hangs her head in shame for her unspeakable atrocities!
Kathryn came as close as any white author will ever get to capturing that shame in the written word. I left Mississippi in 1974 and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I wanted to raise my children somewhere less prejudiced. I spent the next 30 years in Tennessee but visited Mississippi often as most of my family lived here. Was it different in Nashville? It was still the south but yes, it was different. In fact, my middle son Marty played on an all black baseball team in 1982 when he was 10 years old. The coach, Marty, me and my other 2 children were the only whites on our sideline. We had a wonderful summer! This could NEVER have happened in 1982 Mississippi! There would have been a cross burning in my front yard!

Back to The maternal grandparents here in Mississippi employed a black maid during my childhood. Her name was Ruby. Of course back then...god forbid, she was addressed as none other than N----r Ruby. I cannot tell you how many times in my adulthood I have racked my brain trying to recall having called my beloved Ruby by this horrible name. I can honestly say; " I don't know" but I cringe that I probably in my childhood ignorance did. My sister Brenda and I discuss this and we are so hurt that we didn't know any better. We grieve that we never got to express our love or our ignorance to Ruby in person. Ruby adored us as did we her, Ruby Hurst was my " Abilene". One of my favorite parts of the book and movie is when Abilene tells Mae Mobley; " you is kind, you is smart, you is important".

I started trying to find Ruby around 2000 when I got my first computer. My grandmother had passed in 1980 and my mother did not remember Ruby's last name. Finally, in 2003 shortly before I moved back to Hattiesburg, my aunt remembered that it was Hurst. I went to work.
A researcher at the Hattiesburg Public Library e-mailed her obituary, she had died in 2002. I was devastated! Kathryn Stockett had the same experience with the black woman in her life. It's the reason she wrote The Help.

So this is why I say to all the critics.....some who have yet to even read the book or see the movie, unless YOU were raised in this turmoil in 1960's Mississippi, unless you were raised in part by your own Abilene and never got the chance to say; I loved you and appreciate the love you gave me back, you have know right to critic an experience you've never had. What you do have a right to say is this; I did not like this book, I did not like this movie.

I have been an avid reader since I learned to read. I've read thousands of books! I read lots of different genres. I am a good judge of well written books. I've read bad books, good books, great books and excellent books. I was one of the first to read The Help thanks to an ARC. I told Kathryn this would be a #1 blockbuster! She didn't believe me!

Now to the particular critic named Duchess Harris............

You are correct in 2 things, YOU are not her sister, You are not her help.
I do not care that you are black, that you are an award winning Civil Rights Expert, a Feminist Activist and author, You are not an expert on 1960's Mississippi!
You were raised in Connecticut. Your father was a Traffic Controller. You went to a Northern Ivy League school. You have NO IDEA WHATSOEVER what it was like to live in 1960's Mississippi from a black or white perspective.
What YOU ARE is a judgemental and jealous woman. You are jealous that a young white woman from Mississippi took her own expert experience and turned it into a fictional novel that made her rich and famous! Get over it!

I'm sure that Kathryn is unfazed by this critics opinion of her book, she's too busy to worry about it but it just infuriates me! LAWDY B ! If you read something and you don't like it, don't say anything! I never talk about the bad books I've read. The author spent their time and put their heart into it. Who am I to use my opinion to break their heart? If you can't say something good, don't say anything at all!!

After my daughter and I left the movie which we loved, I said to her; Now do you understand why I wanted to raise my children away from here and WHY I never allowed the N word to be used" ?


Becca's Dirt said...

Great post. I agree with you on that. I have not seen the movie or read the book yet. However from the previews I know what it is about. I am eager to see the movie and hope to soon. I was born in 55 in Mobile and too remember the turbulant 60's. Activity was all around us. I too grew up with people always using the N word. I know that I used the word a few times because I remember how I felt like I had put someone down and that is not me. I felt bad. I still do when people use that word. Thanks for sharing this.

rosaria said...

This is some post! Thanks for adding to the conversation. I enjoyed the film, and it felt quite real to me too, though I didn't live in the South at that time.

Reader Wil said...

There are always people who criticize you because they don't like what yousay, because you are white, because you are rich, because you are poor, because.... you name it. I experienced this more often than not. Especially when I wrote about the Australian Aboriginal relatives of my daughter's ex. I wrote about hem with the highest respect and yet one woman wrote a very nasty, abusive comment to tell me that I offended the indigenous people by calling them Aborigines. I told her that they called themselves Aborigines.
Thanks for your visit. I shall be glad when the lawsuit against the bookkeeper is over.

Morning's Minion said...

A lot of food for thought there! It goes back to the old adage that we can't judge a person til we've walked a mile in their shoes.
I suspect that a lot of people growing up in the south were--and are--GOOD PEOPLE---the tradtions they followed weren't good and its taken a long time and too much violence for change to come about.
I've noticed a similar trend in the bloggers who vent about Christian bloggers/writers--if that's not your genre, leave it alone! It is not up to any one of us to make the case against that which we don't like in reading material--just don't read it!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Great post, Carol. I totally agree with you. What is it with people (not just authors) these days? Everyone is out to get someone else. That is just so sad. I have not heard one single person who read "The Help" or saw it --say one thing bad about it. People LOVED it.

I didn't grow up with prejudice luckily. In my tiny town in VA, we had a black family living across the street from us. They were some of the nicest people in the world.

BUT--I know there is still prejudice still out there ---and now, it seems that most of it is coming from some of the black community... Makes no sense...

Hooray for you writing this.

Kat said...

AWESOME!!!! Good for you!!! I can't wait to read the book and see the movie. My husband's Mother had her own "help" (now and then when needed) and her name was Classy Mae (not sure about the spelling) and you are right, the south back then was very different. It is just the way it was. It is part of our history. I am glad someone wrote about it and I am looking forward to reading the book.
You go Girl!!!

NCmountainwoman said...

Amen to that! It is accurate not only for the "deep south" but also for us here in North Carolina. I remember the first time I visited my husband's house. The basement was unfinished with a dirt floor. Most of the walls were lined with canning jars. And back in the corner was a commode for the help.

I read the book as soon as you mentioned it in your post. I recently read it again in anticipation of the movie. This book will always be among my favorite novels.

Marguerite said...

Great review and post!It was very similar in Southern Louisiana in the 50's and 60's. And I moved away too, (to Maryland) to raise my kids in a less prejudiced environment. And I totally agree with you about "if you can't say something good, don't say anything at all"! Congrats to Kathryn!

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

Hi Carol!
I think this is a really important post. I read it aloud to my husband this morning and I got too choked up about it to leave you a comment then. I've been thinking about this post alot today as I've been busy TCB. I second your opening exclamation! I'm looking forward to reading Kathryn's book...before I see the movie.
Wishing you a glorious autumn, Carol.
Catherine xx

Callie said...

Those were scary times and to tell you the truth the South still scares me... I don't want to visit those States. I was raised with that saying..."if you can't say something nice, don't say anything." My mother's people were from Texas but they taught fairness and respect for everyone. I'm so lucky I grew up with that caring attitude for all. I love to read too... when I wasn't at the movies I was reading. I loved being able to read pre-release books (read them when my daughter worked in a bookstore) and I could pick the pick the ones that would sell too. Fun! Wonderful post, Carol!

Grandma Yellow Hair said...

GOOD for You! Wonderful writing and great post. I too grew up during this time in the south but am a few years older than you. haha
This book and movie broke my heart.
I so need to come over here more often because every time I do I want more of your writing. hahaha
We must talk sometime about our writing.
Wish you would be a Blogazine guest for me so my friends could get to know you too
If interested just email me

NitWit1 said...

THE HELP is the next book on my reading list in Kindle.

Ditto your comments about Mississippi, to a certain degree in Texas and definitely where I am living in Arkansas which still has a large pocket of obvious racial tension + the KKK has a chapter 50 miles from me.

We have a black neighbor couple I'll choose over every block on my house except 3. All of the are white druggies, and I know it positively aa I am still close with police in this small 1890 pop. town after have been on council.

Glynis said...

Your post blew me away, Carol. How wonderful to read someone who can relate to the book.

I read it when it first came out. The cover and premise attracted me and I had it shipped over. I have no regrets, it is an amazing book. I loved it, as I did the film. The author has talent.

Her critic is all mouth and no eyes. Her flesh is green with envy. Not a pretty sight.

I must share this post. x

Anonymous said...

It is an absolutely wonderful novel. Not only with its message and sadness but also a lot of humour. It teaches us a lot about the times and makes us in Europe understands the protest songs we were listening to at the time.

Karen Jones Gowen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KarenG said...

I came here from a link that Glynis put on Google+ and am your newest follower. So glad I found this blog! I love it when someone speaks passionately about books, and most especially this topic because this kind of criticism is a recurring topic.

I've not read The Help but I do know that the author is getting criticized because of who she is-- a rich white woman-- and what she wrote about Blacks and the South. Like she has no right to step into anyone else's shoes, which is ridiculous because that's what writers do.

Have you read Mississippi Cotton by Paul Yarbrough? I bet you would love that book. I put my review of it on Goodreads.

Looking forward to getting to know your better.


Anonymous said...

I loved the part you mentioned too.

For parents to pass on their prejudices to their children... whether it's at home or in a church... is so very wrong.

This was a heartfelt post.

Anonymous said...

I loved loved the book. And while I'm not from MS-and wasn't even born in the 60s-I've read tons of books and that one is one of the best I have ever read. I did not want it to end-ever.

Brenda said...

Oh, Carol, what a GREAT post! I agree with you 100 percent!

I was raised in Kentucky and grew up the same way you did. The blacks in our small KY town lived on "N" hill and they had their own school on "N" hill. In Paducah, where I attended college (in 1959-60), they had to enter the two movie theaters through a side door labeled "Coloreds" and sit in the balcony.

I, too, read "The Help," and I saw the movie. Like you, I cried my eyes out. Such injustice!

I'm happy to say things have changed here in Kentucky. But I wish things had been different when I was growing up.

BTW...that reviewer has no idea what she is talking about! If she had lived through it, as did you and I, she would see that the book is right on!