Reading Series: The Help

I’ve been quiet on this platform for too long about black lives. And that’s a shame. Because the lives of black people do matter quite a bit to me, I believe they have intrinsic value. So even though I’m worried I’ll say the wrong thing, I have to say something.

I read The Help last month. It’s set in Mississippi in the 1960s. As I read about the terror and abuse white people inflicted on black people for accidentally using the wrong drinking fountain or stealing an unwanted piece of jewelry to pay for a son’s college tuition, I forgot what era the novel was set in. Was it in the 1700s when the ownership of other human beings was protected by the law? Or the 1960s when, though technically free, black Americans had to fight to be seen as equal to their white neighbors? Or is it telling the story of today, 2016, when morning after morning I open Twitter to learn another black man has been killed?

In the novel, the white characters are ignorant to the damaging effect their action and inaction have on the black community. Reading these characters, I have to ask myself how I am complicit in the oppression of people of color in America today. And how I can work against that complicity.

The best I know to do right now is see and hear the stories of my black friends, to believe them when they tell me what life in America is like today as a black person.

My friend, Charnell, wrote a poem titled, “As a young black woman in 2016.” She writes about fears she has for her future sons and daughters—fears I never thought to have for my someday children, because I’ve never had reason to believe they will be targeted by law enforcement for the color of their skin.

Charnell also wrote an article for the newspaper at our college about the continued need for Black History Month. It reminded me how much I still have to learn about the influences of black culture on America and how much of that we have appropriated and called our own.

My friend, Julia, wrote about her experiences being racially profiled with her family. Again, this piece forces me to reflect on the privilege I have as a white person in this country.

There is so much work left to be done here and now, and this is just a feeble attempt at saying that I want to take part in righting the wrongs.

Please read the pieces I have linked to. They won’t take much of your time, but let the words sink in. Then continue reading and listening to the stories of people of color as you encounter them in the rest of your life. Let them change you.

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