Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Whiteness of Memory in “The Help”

Chauncey DeVega
August 12, 2011.

The Whiteness of memory involves a necessary a flattening of history. Often, in the white savior genre, black agency is made secondary to the opportunity of white folks to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of history. While the Other is included, the White gaze necessitates the centrality of whiteness–and a reframing where the evils of white supremacy are a device for good white folks to show that white supremacy was an aberration and not the norm governing American social and political life. A sideshow in our own freedom struggle, Black people’s agency is muted as a mere means to the ends of the recuperative project that is Whiteness in “colorblind” America.

In my conversations with folks, especially younger, “post-racial” United Colors of Benetton types, about the intersections of race, politics, social, political, and cultural life in America there is 1) a deep avoidance of the role of institutions/structures and the impact of power on their life chances; and 2) a misunderstanding of Jim and Jane Crow as something so long ago, and just an inconvenience that was overcome by a bunch of people marching with Dr. King.

As hinted at by some of the reviews of The Help, there is an avoidance of the true depth and evil of white supremacy in segregated America and how the colorline ordered life from the cradle to the grave–where one could buy clothes (or even if a black person could try them on before purchase), walk on a sidewalk, or be buried upon dying were governed by racialized law whose primary intent was the “preservation” of “social order” through the oppression of African Americans and the false elevation of Whites.

Moreover, the laws governing Jim and Jane Crow were signals to social custom, guidelines for day to day life practices, and a normative project for how the races ought to be situated relative to one another. In black and white, when presented in stark relief, they upset the fuzzy nostalgia of the flattened history offered by the white savior genre of popular films of which The Help is apparently part of.

Read the entire article here.

Comment: It is unlikely that I will ever read Kathryn Stockett's novel, The Help, or see the movie that has just been released.  I know the pathology and want to avoid it best I can.  I did so for the 2004 movie called the Crash too.

The first paragraph of the article above explains why.  It is brilliantly argued and succinct. 

Nuff said.



Erica said...

Was wondering when you were going to do a post about this foolishness.

I think that this movie is degrading, vile, and so predictive.

As a woman...A BLACK WOMAN, I don't need to be validated by some white heffa with "good intentions!"

This shit is getting old. Are we still making movies like this? Hell in my opinion, we're still the damn "help!"

I'm thinking the black women in this movie are either hard up for money or just selling out. These women are great actresses who has done great films only to co-sign on this bullshit!

I've been asked to go see this movie with a white co-worker. Of course I declined and she asked me why.

I simply told her that if WE go see this movie together SHE would probably end up leaving the theater in a body cast.......flashbacks will do that to you!

I know you know where I'm coming from Ridwan.


Ridwan said...

Hey Erica:

I know where you coming from for sure. And I feel your frustration.

What amazes me is that some white folks think it a gesture of goodwill to tell you they went to see the movie (or movies like this).

It is as if they expect to be applauded for their wisdom to sit through 90 minutes of fictionalized crap and yet be so blind to the structure of racism.

Sidney Poiter's "Guess whose coming to dinner" sh*t is an early start for this liberal pathology of re-writing racism.

Morgan Freedman (what an ironic name for such a sellout) has a movie called "The Power of One" that is perhaps the most vile of this genre.

It is set in S. Africa and I used it in my Racism classes to show how whiteness redeploys itself even against historical fact.

Black Hawk Down is another such redeployment but in a different context.

Thank you for saying this here Erica - at times I begin to question my sanity like the other night when I watched parts of Halle Berry as a drug mother fighting to get her son back from a white mother.

You will know the movie: Losing Isaiah. Jessica Lange was the rational white mother taking the burden of whiteness while Berry played the stereotypical black Jezebel.

In the end she gives her son back to the white woman.

I don't need to tell you how traded these racist stereotypes are.

When will Hollywood show black folk in their full complexity?

Why are black folk just bit players in the imagined reality of whiteness?


Erica said...

Not going to comment on Losing Isiah, we're both in agreement about that.

Speaking of Morgan Freeman, he kind of lost me as a fan with Invictus! Wasn't the right fit portraying Mandela, but I read that he is who Mandela wanted so hence a crappy movie.

LuvYa More

Kweli said...

I watched Crash. What a load of bollocks.

Could the "deep avoidance of the role of institutions/structures and the impact of power and chances" be in part because of the way citizenship is now conceived in neoliberal terms (as self care and actualization)? People don't see anymore that contrary to the notion that modern life is deregulated and the state is withdrawing from more and more spaces, the regulations of modern life are abundant (as self censorship) and the state continues to grow stronger and gain more control into ever newer spaces and facets of life (think: war against terror and the erosion of human rights).

Ridwan said...

Excellent argument Kweli. It is as you say amazing that the state can turn its back on providing healthcare yet press that citizenship be defined by submission to its "commonsense".

Freedom of speech and politics does not even consider subversion or real structural dissent (don't pay taxes/don't vote) as viable.

I love the idiots who will explain how not voting is throwing your voice away!


And the sellouts who put Obama into office? How their voices feeling now?

They weren't heard in W's time and they are unemployed and ignored now.

I also find the notion of a failed state laughable.

Is a successful state one that can extract a greater submission?

Just months ago I got a letter from a court in Portland telling me to sit on a jury. I wrote and explained I now live in S.Africa.

The clerk in charge wrote back a terse letter telling me I was in "contravention of the law" and must show up or face arrest.

I wrote back explaining I could not but if Oregon wanted to pay for me to come I would.

He replied with an even more insistent tone that I show up on my own steam.

So I wrote back and literally told him to "fuck off" and gave him a cell number to contact me if he wanted to arrest me in S. Africa.

That was it.

Citizenship is as you say a contrived performance where the state acts like it is your daddy.

I am not buying that, ever.

My life is about resisting the state and its encroachment on my humanity.

Thank you for making me think my brother - loved your Prius post.

Made me laugh.

We just so cynical huh - cool :0)


Kweli said...

This cynicism has reached a critical point, brother ;o) I am losing women by the dozen! I blame it on my unrelenting sense of humor, my dour sense of humor.

Sometimes my comments on your posts lead to blog posts on BMAG. And sometimes your comments lead to blog posts on BMAG. This explanation you have given here has just made my day. (Failed state and all).