Last week in my Psychology of African Americans class, a student presented a PowerPoint on the latest book she had read: The Help. When I saw the movie this summer, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a White woman speaking on behalf of Black women—which is ironic as White women have been a source of oppression to Black women. In blog post by Miss Caldonia—which was written on the blog “The Ladner Report”—the author expresses similar sentiment. She writes about her experience as being a maid to a White woman, Jo Lee, and describes being asked to perform disgusting tasks, such as cleaning the period stain out of her underwear. Miss Caldonia writes, “There is nothing glorious about cleaning up after dirty people and nothing like being exploited by people who don’t give a damn about you…can you imagine Jo Lee writing a book about me, my feelings, dreams, thoughts, aspirations and goals? Can you imagine Jo Lee being able to step out of her role of racial superiority long enough to give voice to me and my family? (Caldonia, 2011). The author certainly has a point, but why is it that the story glorifies the exploited work of Black women? Why was there such frenzy around this book? Was it White guilt, or something else?
In addition to the story, Dr. Amprey asked us to consider the roles Blacks have won awards for. He urged us to consider if it was a coincidence that the only Black woman to win an Oscar this year was a character that fit comfortably into White’s stereotypes of the Black woman—domestic, aggressive and physically abused by a Black man. The same was true most recently for Mo’Nique, who played the part of Mary Lee Johnston in Precious. Dr. Amprey also mentioned Denzel Washington and how critics have claimed that his best movie was not one that won him an Oscar, while one that did represented him as a violent Black male. Is Dr. Amprey right? Do we choose to only support Black actors in roles that fit in with our society’s stereotypes about Blacks?