Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Help and My Help

I’m vaguely aware of the fact that there’s a book out there called The Help and that there’s also a movie based on it. I’m also vaguely aware of the fact that there seems to be a fair bit of controversy around both. Something having to do with the fact that this book about black women at the height of the Civil Rights Movement was written by a white woman. Controversy over whether or not a white woman has any right to tell this story…especially from the perspective of the black characters.


I hear things like this and I wonder if anyone would dare say that that I have no right to write a book telling the story of people in medieval England. Or that an Asian has no right to tell the story of a French-Canadian family in Quebec. We certainly had no problem with an American writing about the Dutch, as can be seen by Mary Mapes Dodge’s writing of Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates. But for some reason these days, we seem to have an issue with people writing “outside of their ethnic group,” as if it’s only appropriate for you to write from the perspective of your own…and that assumes that each ethnic group has one single monolithic perspective.

But enough of that, that whole discussion is a little too serious and depressing for me to want to deal with right now. So instead of talking about The Help, I want to talk about my help.

One of the many advantage of being a teacher was the number of students who practically fought over being able to babysit for my daughter, Devra. Once, when Liz wasn’t available for her regular Sunday afternoon gig (because you know, like teenagers have lives), Sarah, a beautiful blond classmate of hers, jumped at the chance to take her place.

So she arrived at our slightly messy house on Sunday afternoon, all set to play with little Devra for four hours, while my wife slept and I got a few things done outside the house. But when she got there, Devra was asleep.

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. Just hang out. Watch TV, eat. If she stays asleep, it’ll be the easiest babysitting gig you ever had.”

When I returned, four hours later, Devra was still asleep, and I almost didn’t recognize the house. Sarah had done some serious cleaning up, and everything had been straightened up and put away. Even the dishes had been washed.

“Sarah, what happened?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “I felt guilty just sitting around doing nothing while you were paying me, so I decided to clean up a little bit.”

“Oh Sarah,” I said, “I wish my grandmother were alive to see this.”

With a puzzled look on her face, she asked, “Why?”

“So I could tell her that a white girl came over and cleaned my house.

We both got a good laugh out of it, and still laugh about it 16 years later.

I think that the women in The Help would appreciate it.

And that, my friends, is progress.

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