Well, it’s confession time. There have been movies I know I should have seen over the years and books I should have read (like “Schindler’s List.”) It took me forever to watch “Iron Jawed Angels” but it gave me a respect for precious women who helped carve the path to the polling booth for me by their blood and tears, literally, but I have kicked and screamed in protest to watch others. Day after day in the counselor’s office, I hear stories of brutality and horror, and frankly there are nights when I get home when I just don’t think I can hear any more. So I don’t open the books, or I don’t watch the latest movie. Call it cowardly, but I call it self care. In the big scheme of things, perhaps, these time of ‘rebellion’ have been minor, but I finally fought through one of them last night. I watched the The Help, a 2009 novel by American author Kathryn Stockett. The story is about African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960’s.
I’d read plenty of reviews, ranging from praise of a story of hope and dignity, to those of absolute disgust at the lack of accuracy of the true extent of the brutality African American maids endured. I had a friend who had read the book, and said that the movie didn’t portray it accurately. All is knew was that I HAD to see it, to try and to get a glimpse into a world I had never personally experienced, and let this knowledge change within me whatever had to be changed for the better.
Where can I begin? What words are there to say to all the women like Aibileen who loved and cherished, installed dignity and self esteem in the little white children given into their care when their own precious children were being raised states away from them, never to know their own mama’s love. And then there was Minny, whose proud eyes flashed and spoke loud and clear when she bit her tongue so that the words she longed to say didn’t lose her the pitiful job she needed to feed her family. Then there was the gracious, loyal, dearest Constantine, who had given her life, literally, to her white employers and their children only to be cast aside as an elderly, fragile little woman, because her mistress was a bigot and a coward.
I don’t know how accurate any of this movie was. I doubt I shall ever know. Apart from a couple of incidences of discrimination in, of all places, Detroit and Johannesburg, I haven’t got a clue what it is like to be treated worse than a piece of property, a “thing”, an object to be disregarded and discarded when I no longer have use, simply because of the color of my skin.
I realized, too, that the time setting of this movie was in the 1960’s, just after President Kennedy was assassinated. I was 12 years old and in sixth grade at Edmonds Elementary School in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. A little girl, clueless as to how this awful event would change history. All I knew is that I could go home and sit with my Mum and Dad and have them explain to me, in as simple terms as possible so I could understand, that evil people did not believe that God created everyone equal. Maybe that day a seed was planted in my heart that has grown strong and tall to long for the dignity, respect, right of loving protection and safety for every single child, woman and man I have come to know.
While these atrocities – and far to many more to list- were happening south of the Canadian border, there were countless others happening in Canada and the United States to native born tribal children, ripped from their birth homes, being ‘cleansed’ of their ethnic roots and being made “white”, stripped of the beauty of their First Nation’s status, simply because someone believed they knew what was best, and that was to rob a human being of who God had created them to be.
Words can’t express my sorrow, my shame for my ignorance, my heart break for my brothers and sisters who have personally lived every minute of their lives with the shadow of the hatred of racial discrimination over them. All I can say is, “I’m sorry, so sorry, and pray your stories, and those of your ancestors, will be heard, honored and revered by generations to come. Every one of them.”
I woke this morning with a song gently playing in my head. It’s called “He knows my Name” by Tommy Walker, and I pray that every person, wherever they are, whenever they lived, who have suffered at the hands of another human being, could know these words, and hold onto them in their hearts:
“I have a maker, he formed my heart. Before even time began, my life was in his hands.”
“I have a father, he calls me his own. He’ll never leave me, no matter where I go.”
“He knows my name. He knows my every need. He sees each tear that falls, and hears me when I call.”
And in the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do.” Father, forgive us.