As I looked around the room, with women of color not even matching the number of fingers on one hand unless you counted “the help,” I also asked how honest that conversation–across race, class or region–could be even now. Is there still a divide? How can it be closed? From the murmurs that greeted my politely asked question, the prospect of a frank exchange of opinions looked none too good.
Stockett said another black woman once told her that Demetrie didn’t really love her (not sure why she brought that up or why someone who wants to take color out of the picture had to identify a past critic by race). Stockett said she told her she believed Demetrie did love her, “because she said she did.”
To my question, she replied, isn’t it our job as writers to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes? True.
I wondered about a different book. What if Demetrie wrote her version of The Help? If it had been written by Demetrie, with her vision, in her voice (and with all the white characters speaking in a dialect), would her message of life in black and white been as warmly received by all the ladies in the room?
After Stockett’s talk, I spent time with a lovely luncheon guest who wanted to share her story. Sidney Lancaster grew up in the low country of South Carolina. The 75-year-old said she remembers seeing black children walking the long distance to school in the cold, fine rain, and thinking, “Why don’t they have a bus?”
When Lancaster read The Help, she said to herself, “I was never like those women.” Then she remembered a promise to her maid of many years who retired with diabetes. Lancaster told her she would visit, but–in eight years–she never did. Prompted by that memory, she made the trip. Lancaster said she started to cry as she said: “Eunice, I could not have made it without you.”
Lancaster took a shot at answering my question. Her solution: “Don’t see color; see another person.” Isn’t it possible to see–and respect–both?
Mary C. Curtis is an award-winning Charlotte-based journalist, a contributor to PoliticsDaily.com and NPR. Her “Keeping It Positive” television commentary airs weekly on Fox News Rising Charlotte.