The Truth About The Help

Melissa Harris-Perry hated the film The Help. You can see her memorably scathing, outraged review here. This morning, ahead of the Oscar’s, she had a really illuminating segment on the real history of African American women domestic workers, the economic and sexual exploitation they have suffered, their role in the Civil Rights Movement, and the disservices that the acclaimed blockbuster movie did them.

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In first part she summarized the exploitative economics domestic workers are subject to and then she was joined by Barbara Young of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Micki McElya (author of Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America), and Elon James White for an important round table discussion.

Here is the Amazon description of McElya’s book:

When Aunt Jemima beamed at Americans from the pancake mix box on grocery shelves, many felt reassured by her broad smile that she and her product were dependable. She was everyone’s mammy, the faithful slave who was content to cook and care for whites, no matter how grueling the labor, because she loved them. This far-reaching image of the nurturing black mother exercises a tenacious hold on the American imagination.

Micki McElya examines why we cling to mammy. She argues that the figure of the loyal slave has played a powerful role in modern American politics and culture. Loving, hating, pitying, or pining for mammy became a way for Americans to make sense of shifting economic, social, and racial realities. Assertions of black people’s contentment with servitude alleviated white fears while reinforcing racial hierarchy. African American resistance to this notion was varied but often placed new constraints on black women.

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