‘The Help’ Get Real! What do your friends look like?

Part 1: Racial Stereotypes and ‘The Help’ from Nicole and Natasha

The conversation continues…

Nicole to Natasha: What do you think about the white stereotypes in the movie? And do black women think about pursuing friendships with white women, or is that some sort of white-woman vague guilt, a way to rectify the wrongs of the past?

Thanks for sharing the review by the “Association of Black Women Historians.” I read the article on last week and it does confirm the frustrations that I shared in my initial response. I agree with you that I did not see the negative portrayal of Black men in this movie (thank God!), though the images that you mentioned are clearly revealed through Minny’s (the other Black maid) husband in the book.

Again, I have to agree with you that the stereotypes of white women and white men in particular are not good. I don’t think the producers intended the audience to sympathize with the white women. On the other hand, I think we were supposed to realize that the white women were trapped in their own prison, both to themselves and each other. “Aren’t you tired, Mrs. Hilly? Aren’t you tired?” To me, the white men came across as passive, weak, or aloof. I don’t know if that was an intentional decision (some kind of reverse psychology or “got chat” moment) or if the purpose of their presence was to simply be part of the scene, because this is clearly a story about women for a women’s audience.

The pursuit of friendships is a great question. I hope that some of my readers will answer that one from their perspective. From my perspective, I want to pursue relationships with all types of women. The first reason is I find it exciting to learn from and grow with someone who is not like me. The other reason is because I have been called to minister to women, and when God creates the opportunities for me to write, teach, preach, and pray, I do not want to be limited in how I avail myself to minister. In other words, I don’t just want to write books for black women. I want to share God’s truth in a manner that speaks to the hearts of all women no matter their race, ethnicity, or walk in life. To do that effectively, I need to love, know, understand, and trust women and they need to know that they can trust me.

I know that the primary racial issue in America is black and white, but God is stretching me even beyond that reality. I’m in a new subdivision in a city where we have only lived for a year. Across the street is an Indian couple who practice Hinduism. The wife is a very sweet lady. She has welcomed me into her home on multiple occasions to share coffee and snacks (and I’m not a fan of either), but I sit, drink, and eat and we chat. It makes me uncomfortable but she is comfortable in her home and is glad to welcome me there. I, Christ’s ambassador, am honored to enter and avail myself to whatever God wants to do in her heart and home, or in mine.

We recently had a couple move across the street from Venezuela. The wife continues to remind me, “My English not so good.” Her English is actually pretty good, but her daughter’s, not so much. Yet, her four year old (speaking minimum English) and mine (speaks no Spanish yet) play and have fun together like all little girls should. My point here is that if we pay attention and take the initiative, God is dropping opportunities in our laps all the time to be bridge builders, to be what Dr. King referred to as “other-centered,” and to share Christ’s love.

Natasha to Nicole: A commenter on my article said, “I don’t think we realize that while we may not have committed past acts that hurt others, we may be directly benefitting from harmful legacies.” Is this what you meant by “white woman guilt”? Depending on what resource you check, you and I are barely in or barely escape the millennial generation that seem more color blind. All things considered, do you think we should expand our personal friendships (concerning race and ethnicity) and especially considering our call to reach the world with the gospel?

White woman guilt is what I mean about being in the majority. It’s the power position of feeling like if I try to reach out for friendship, I’m doing it as the person who hires help, not as the help. Although I’ve been “the help” in many other families, the only person I primarily interact with that’s of different race and economic background are the (wonderful) women who help me in my house. So I’m the “employer” which can create some weird tension for me. Why is that the case? A series of little decisions—good schools, friendships, proximity to our church—has landed us in an almost all-white corner of Richmond. Which means that everything I do in this neighborhood involves white people. As a friend of mine recently confessed, “on a daily basis, the only people of other races I see are in ‘service’ roles—grocery, restaurants, etc.”

I love what you said Natasha about wanting to minister to women of all colors and ages. I agree that is my heart’s desire. But my intentions and my actions don’t look the same. The situations you describe in your neighborhood aren’t happening in mine. So I wonder if my husband and I have made this problem for ourselves, or if it’s specific to our area. Last week after ‘The Help’ I went out with several (white) women and we discussed the intentionality with which we pursue friendships. We agreed we needed common ground to share to begin this conversation (such as this blog or perhaps another ministry opportunity.) We agreed we were frustrated with the situation in Richmond but weren’t sure what to do with it.

Your thoughts help me process that it is a need in our lives to be cross-cultural, not because it’s “hip” but because it’s the need of the gospel. One of my favorite moments from last summer was when I got to serve on the prayer team for Beth Moore when she came to Richmond. As the large prayer team gathered to be ready to pray for women who came forward, I had the opportunity to join in a prayer circle with two older African-American women. I loved that moment! They ministered to me by the way they expressed their love for Jesus, and by their touch as we held hands. The gospel is a barrier-breaker. It makes us equal in the eyes of the Lord and gives us common ground to relate. I am thankful that we do share the language of scripture and of hearts, regardless of color.

See what Nicole’s friends are saving about the topic as well.

More to come on Tuesday, August 23 – A Message to the Church

Let’s get honest: do you have friendships with those of other races (and for context, where do you live)?

 

© Natasha S. Robinson and Nicole Unice 2011

3 thoughts on “‘The Help’ Get Real! What do your friends look like?

  1. As an Asian-American woman whose family lives in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood, my days are typically filled in the presence of “white people,” so on one level I am in the midst of cross-cultural interactions all the time. I’m not sure, however, if those who are around me think of me as being racially different. (Side note: I confess I get irritated when Caucasians tell me, ‘I don’t even think of you as Asian!’ They typically mean it as a compliment, that they are seeing past my race, but I think it’s important not to overlook another person’s ethnic background, but to embrace it and take the time to understand what it means for that person to be a minority in a majority-white culture.)

    However, I attend a largely Asian-American church right now, and I notice that most of the social interactions that people in our church have (my family included) tend to largely be with other Asian Americans. Meaning, we tend to gravitate to that which is comfortable for us, and it takes a great deal of intentionality and willingness to push past one’s comfort zones to build those bridges with those who are not of your same background, whether that means racially, socioeconomically, etc. When I started noticing that my social circles were increasingly Asian American, I started to take time to gather with other women who were not–coffee dates with two African American women who I had always said, “Let’s get together soon!” but never did prior, for example–and even hanging with my beloved Buds is for me a (good) stretch as I haven’t typically had long-term relationships with a group of non-Asian women before!

    I do think it takes continual effort, and it is far from easy to keep stretching ourselves in this way. But without people in the church who are committed to doing so, without churches that are committed to doing so, the famous line by Martin Luther King, Jr. about Sunday morning being the most segregated time in the church, will remain so.

    Thanks to you both for this gracious and critical conversation on a topic we need to keep addressing and working through together!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, Helen. I agree with you 100% concerning the “I don’t even think of you as Asian!” or “I don’t even see you as Asian.” To me, statements like that (though well intentioned) miss the point of diversity conversation in the first place.

      I love what you shared about being intentional and following through on those great ideas and not leave it at “oh, I’m going to get with such and such some day (which often times never comes).” Instead, pick a day, follow through and do it consistently. That’s the only way that relationships will form. We have to spend time with other people.

      By the way, that’s one of the messages that I loved about your book, The Missional Mom. I love that you shared stories of women who intentionally took action on their personal convictions. While we may not all be called to move to the other part of town, we are all called to seek the Lord about what he would have us to do concerning this issue and then follow through in obedience. One thing I know for sure is that we can’t passively sit by and do nothing and think that somehow things are going to get better.

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