Why “The Help” Hurts the History of Black Domestics

Source for this material came from: http://jacalynsburke.com/2012/01/why-help-hurts-history-of-black/

Sister Citizen: Slave, Shame, Stereotype and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry

First, try to evoke an image of a nanny. Next, think of a black 

nanny. Now, search your mind for a picture of an 
African-American domestic worker.
Most people, at some point, envision a stereotypical 
“Mammy”: a large, dark-complected woman who is 
always smiling because she is so gratified to be satisfying
 the needs of the white family she serves.

Melissa Harris-Perry examines the Mammy stereotype, as well 

as Sapphire, the Hottentot, the Welfare Queen, the Superwoman, and other media-promoted 
images of black women. In her book, the author investigates the debilitating political, cultural, 
and social pressures put upon African American women.

Your interest in this book by Professor Harris-Perry will be piqued by her views on “The Help,” 

which can be seen online on C-Span.

She explains real black women who worked as domestics when Medgar Evers died didn’t 

have aMiss Skeeter. She encourages us to read the facts and explore the history. In reality, 
black domestics walked out of their jobs and protested in the streets themselves without help 
from any white people.

She finds it condescending to suggest that Minny Jackson would find the courage to leave 

her abusive husband only after her white boss, Celia Foote, cooked her a meal. Would 
simply having a white woman’s gratitude lead her to leave her husband?

When Viola Davis’s character, Aibileen Clark walks out of her job in the oppressive South 

at the end of the movie, audiences cheer as if the character is a strong woman. But, Professor Harris-Perry questions why we applaud. In reality, Aibileen was walking into the oppressive 
South and would not have been hired again after being fired at that time and place. In reality, 
she actually may have been arrested because the white character Hilly Holbrook accuses 
her of stealing her silver.

Harris-Perry states her perspective about the book and the movie just past the halfway point 

on the show, but we found the entire hour provocative and insightful. Please click here to see 
the entire program.

The author’s strict adherence to analysis of empirical evidence and data is as welcome as it is uncommon. The concepts of fictive kinship, linked fate, and the crooked room are intriguing 

enough to justify purchase of the book.

Harris-Perry helps you understand race does matter. Gender does matter. She helps you 

see the importance of the structural barriers to individual achievement and the inherent 
inequality of using stereotypes to judge an individual. All women, especially black women, can benefit from reading this book.