I am sensitive to racism, but I must confess that I am not understanding the extreme feelings about it in this country these days. I don’t disagree that there is a problem, but I don’t resonate with it. Racism-charged friends (whether black or brown or white), please don’t immediately think I’m intentionally obscuring what you feel. I’m not. Nor am I insensitive to the plight of the disenfranchised. I am one of them, in a different way.
A few weeks ago, I watched the movie The Help in order to learn. The movie also also led me to ponder and reminisce about “the help” in my great-grandparents’ house in Nashville, during the 1940s and continuing through the 1950s and beyond, to a degree. There was a single black woman who took care of children and cooked and probably cleaned, at various times. A black couple lived in a shack at the edge of the property. I took the opportunity to have my mother describe the scenario to my son. She, probably for reasons related to character, personality, and the era/generation in which she grew up, sees nothing but goodness in the family/work relationship with Maggie, the main “help.” She is less clear on the roles of Jeff and Irene. I know those people’s names and met them, and I remember only good, positive feelings all around.
I doubt those three had too many negative feelings, but perhaps their children and grandchildren did. Perhaps they rose above any past injustices and hatred for white supremacy as it might have surfaced in their lives. Perhaps, as the years rolled along into and out of the 60s, there was pain. Pain. Now there’s something with which I deeply identify.
1994. It was a year in which I determined to take a less public face in a very specific way. I was still reeling from life pain. I felt something like this woman from the movie. Ironic, I know, that I should choose a still shot of a white woman. It just happened that way, because. . . .
2020. Sporadically, I have been feeling like the woman in that picture for some time now. The facial expression is all too familiar. And it’s for similar reasons, but made so much worse by the general craziness in the land. One night, I talked to my son to sleep and left two tears on his pillow on the sheet beside him. I was grateful that he heard my calm voice, my heart-voice (whether or not he heard my actual words) as he fell asleep.
To feel like that woman is painful. Those who feel that way might just need help. And it is not physical help (read: Personal Protective Equipment) that is needed the most. We need emotional and spiritual health—and those are elusive.