Friday, August 12, 2011

The Help - A Light But Poignant Look At The 1960's South

Last night I took my daughter to see The Help. I laughed. I sighed. I shook my head. I said, "Amen sister!" I was embarrassed. By the time the movie ended, the audience was clapping and my heart ached for the characters in the film. It ached, in great part, because the story was all to familiar.

I was born in Georgia during the great social upheaval of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. But I didn't know that. I lived in a middle class, white neighborhood. I rode my shiny blue bicycle in the driveway and played Matchbox cars, house, and Little People with my best friend, Jeanne. All my parents friends were white. All my school mates were white. Until I entered 4th grade the only black people I knew were two little girls whose mother cleaned for my Great-Aunt Bell.

I remember a picture of the three of us little girls sitting on the wide front porch steps of my Aunt's home. They were beautiful, smiling girls. I wish I could remember their names but I vividly recall my mother telling me that the girls were fascinated with touching my skin and my silky blond hair. It was many years before I realized all she was passing down to me in that one seemingly innocent statement.

I remember going with my uncle, who lived in South Carolina, to visit a black woman who worked in his home. He took her some vegetables from his garden. Even though he was very kind to her and she to him, we stayed in the dirt driveway. He commented later that he'd never been inside her house even though he'd known her for years. It just was not done that way.

I can also remember singing "Eeny, meeny, miney, moe catch a n----r by the toe," on the playground and having no idea what I was actually saying. I remember my family sitting around telling jokes about black people....What did one n----r say to the other n----r...the kind where any so called inferior racial group can easily be inserted into the punch line. And still I did not understand it was wrong. Oh, I felt it in my gut but this was my family, my friends, my world and they thought it was funny. I remember feeling that it must be me who didn't understand how everything worked.

I remember how a young woman I knew was ostracized because it was the gossip that she dated a black boy from across town. I remember the day my mother's favorite soap opera made the disgraceful decision to air an interracial kiss. She said, "What is the world coming to?" and quickly flipped off the switch. I remember a boyfriend asking me if I'd ever consider dating a black boy. I knew the wrong answer to that question would end his affections for me.

I was in high school before I knew about Martin Luther King. One of my first recollections, even though I grew up less than 50 miles from where he is buried, was frustrated adults saying that they would never celebrate a holiday honoring that ungrateful upstart. Sadly, I was in college before a teacher ever told me about Medgar Evers, Soujourner Truth, or Malcolm X.

I remember, as a teenager in need of a way to rebel, I would coax my father into an argument by asking him why he never considered hiring a black mechanic to work alongside him at his auto repair shop.

I never had a close friend outside my race (except for the one I was told I couldn't have in the 6th grade) until I was 30 years old and living in Massachusetts on an Air Force base. Even then I found myself trying to show my family that my friend was somehow "different" than the blacks they knew. That is shameful. Like Skeeter's mother, I didn't have the courage to tell my family just what they could do with their prejudices.

Watching the white women in The Help brought the stinging shadows of my past to the big screen. Thank God for that. Thank God my 7 year old son pays no attention to the color of his friends. Thank God my older children know whomever they love will be accepted into our family.

And still seeing this movie makes me painfully aware that there are still prejudices passed onto the next generation. Sadly, it's always been that way. Who are our children being taught to fear and hate? Who are they told they are superior to? And even if you say it is not so, that prejudice no longer exists....think in terms of subtlety....eeny, meeny, miney, moe....then ask the question again. Who are our children being taught to disdain?

At this point in my life, I'd much rather eat humble pie than Minnie's special chocolate version.

If you don't get it, go see The Help. Then you will. I promise.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

3 Levels of Peace -Centered Living

Peace starts with me. It's true but what does that mean? To me it means that in every aspect of life I must be an agent of peace and love. After much thought, I've devised a plan that works on three levels - personal, community, and world.

Personal - My family deserves unconditional love. When my children and my husband go to bed at night I want them to know they are cherished not for what they do but for the simple fact that they exist and are worthy of all the good in life. My words to them should come from a place of compassion and guidance, not from anger and control.

This picture is a visual reminder of how important it is to give this kind of love to my family. Last year I learned I needed Chemotherapy to cure my cancer. That meant within two weeks of beginning treatment I would lose my hair. In an attempt to confront this problem with a little grace, I decided to shave my head. My husband, who'd had long hair since college, shaved his head too. This is what I think of when I need a reminder of how I wish to love my family.

Community - My community needs my involvement. It needs my smiles and words of encouragement. It needs my vote and my voice. It needs to know what I care about and that I care enough to not look the other way, otherwise egregious laws against humanity will go unchallenged. My natural community needs me to protect it and to teach my children to respect it. It needs me to recognize and honor our symbiosis.

There is happiness to be found in working toward goals that make my surroundings a peaceful place to be, a place that respects life, justice, and equality. There is happiness in insuring that future generations will be able to enjoy places like Rainbow Falls in Mammoth Lakes, CA. Sometimes this may require going against the accepted point of view. It may require civil disobedience when an unjust law or social norm needs to be changed...and oddly enough, in those acts I expect to find peace in honoring what I feel is right.

World - My world deserves peace. Not one child needs to die because there is nothing to eat or because a government decided to drop bombs on his playground. World peace means valuing human life and liberty all over the planet, not just in my country. I want to live in a nation that is a humanitarian superpower instead of a military superpower (quoted from Howard Zinn). I can only imagine what this world would be like if we never again gave into our leaders cries for war and never stopped demanding true equality.

I do not believe that war is our nature. Compassion is our nature but culture makes it difficult to act on our natural disposition. A society is backwards when it's beating the drums of war in the name of freedom instead of freeing those in the bondage of starvation, poverty, and discrimination. I'll use my energies looking for ways to behave with love instead of participating in a government's reasons to kill righteously.

Here is Ashley Jo Farmer singing a haunting version of John Lennon's Imagine. Peace does start with me, and you, one person at a time.