Thursday, August 11, 2011

Literary Meanie

by UrbanBelleCouture
I have this problem where I say what I think, sometimes entirely too fast, and I end up sounding meaner than intended.  I can also be sort of a snob.  That doesn't help either.  I'm a nice snob though, and I don't think I'm a snob all the time or anything!  I don't *mean* to be snobby when I am.  Sometimes it just so happens that my taste is what snobs like too, you know?  There's just some unfortunate overlap.

Anyway.  Point being, my self awareness quotient is a little low sometimes.  At least I'm aware of that?  Does that mean it's higher?  I was talking to a friend the other day about books and at first we talked about the grandness of Persepolis and then we were talking about seeing movies and soon The Help came up, and I instantly sneered.  Mostly because I'd been on the Internets all day reading about the controversy and the revisionist history.  

The Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) issues a statement today (clipped):

On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides  historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help.   The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism. [...]   In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities.  Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own.  

Which is all fine to chat about on the Internet, but I feel like I was a big snooty meanie when I brought it up the way I did, right off the bat.  So clearly I need to work on being a leeeeettle more sensitive to the fact that Other People Like Stuff.  Since while I have my opinions, I don't value them as much as I value my friends.  Or rather, I value my opinions a lot (egotistical?) but I value my friends way more.  And I'd rather shut up about The Help and my perception of it, than make people think I'm a meanie.  

Though that brings me to the uncomfortable place of feeling like you bad person, you're not talking about this uncomfortable topic because it makes you uncomfortable and you don't want to make other white people uncomfortable too.  I mean...I live in Richmond, VA.  I feel surrounded by a certain level of uncomfortable race dynamics every day.  And it's not fun.  I doubt it's fun for anyone.  I'm privileged, and I'm aware of it, and I try to act like I'm not, but I am.  And I don't want to ever deny my privilege.  "Check your privilege" is something I try to tell myself all the time.  So is it my privilege getting in the way?  Is it wrong for me to shut up about something when I know it's going to end up being Me Being Mean (I'm not being hyperbole-esque here...I come across mean sometimes when I get all opinionated...sometimes my proverbial horse is a little tall)...or should I talk about it, but nicely, but still end up knowing I'm hurting someone's feelings for liking what they like?  It's sort of tricky.  I don't want to not talk about things, but I don't want to hurt people's feelings either, but then there's the whole "What about the feelings of the people whose histories are being erased and pretty-fied" issue.  And then there's the "You don't speak for them, remember? Check yourself." issue.

My friends aren't ignorant, and I like them and I like talking about books with them!  It's not that I think they *don't* know about these sorts of issues in society.  So I should state that the whole thing is more along the lines of I-need-to-think-of-others-in-how-I-phrase-things rather than to-talk-or-not-to-talk, really.  Like not pouncing and saying "That trailer just screams White Knight to me..." right off the bat.  Cuz that's not the best way to start a conversation.  (I did talk to my friend about being sorry for being mean and we're totally cool, and I apologized for making it sound like I think she's ignorant because such is totally, absolutely not the case!  This is meant to be a self-deprecating post, not a friend-deprecating one!)

I don't think there's a correct answer.  I think I am going to try to be nicer, whatever that may mean.  Dear self, people aren't asking your detailed opinion on everything they read!  Or rather, do talk about stuff (my friends do want to talk about stuff!), but don't pounce so!  Continue being sassy and opinionated but with less butthurt on my part.

Thank goodness for good friends who are happy to smoosh and hug and talk about stuff, because if they didn't, I would definitely have fewer friends since they'd probably all just leave me be!


  1. Ha "Other People Like Stuff." I haven't so much as glanced at this book but yeah, movies tend to oversimplify things. I think that's a given. And I think you should not not talk about things in order to not offend. This is your blog, and it's on an opt-in basis. Anybody not wanting to hear your opinions should, uh, not read your blog. I think that being graceful rather than bombastic is always a good thing though. But you already seem to know that.

  2. Nicer is always good, but I also do think it is important to challenge the things people say and do, but always being a butthead isn't particularly helpful either. People should be able to handle kind and loving criticism/questioning/challenges. Maybe make it about trying to find the answer together instead of telling them what is up. People like working on things together, I know I do. And I appreciate being challenged (kindly).