Truth In The Raw
By Jorge D. H. Prósperi, 2019
The essence of what America has been and how its past resonates in the present is often depicted in books and movies leaving us to answer critical questions about its future. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Help are two primary examples. Both portray the angst of needless pain suffered by injustice, inequality and a country struggling to find its soul. The journey has been long and arduous for the oppressed trying to teach the tenets of oppression to oppressors; all the while America asking the oppressed, as the Sermon on the Mount suggests, to turn the other cheek. But at times turning the other cheek is not enough – patience wearing thin on body, mind, heart and spirit. There is a scene in the The Help where the cheek is not turned – when eyes look into eyes as equals – a fait accompli of dealing with truth in the raw.
In The Help, Aibileen Clark is a domestic unjustly accused of being a thief by an insidious racist bully (Hilly) who uses her social power and control granted to her by her status, class and whiteness. She uses her inherited privilege to demean and oppress. Hilly absolves her racism each Sunday morning under the shadow of the cross among her well-intended egalitarian hypocrites.
The book and movie depict the accepted truncated state of “southern hospitality and charm” of the 1950s. Aibileen, empowered by discovering her voice as a writer, challenges Hilly and her loyal followers to own their pathological racist bitterness, hate, constant lies, always trying to perfume over their rotting souls.
Aibileen’s words are deafening:
“All you do is scare and lie to get what you want. You a godless woman. Ain’t you tired Ms. Hilly?… Ain’t you tired?”
Exhaustion, tiredness, fatigue and its lingering multigenerational trauma are consequences created by overt, covert and aversive -isms and phobias. But Aibileen turns the tables on Hilly, and all of us, by asking the oppressor to own her hateful pathology. For once, we see a white oppressor as a pathetic damaged human being participating in a damaged culture.
How fatiguing it must be to constantly be reinforcing – holding on for dear life to delusions of white superiority? Aibileen asks Hilly one critical question – left unanswered by the oppressor that hovers over all of us as an audience. Do we dare to answer or even contemplate a discussion?
Some American citizens would assert that to ask such probing critical questions is to be un-American – a political correctness ploy, followed by a simplistic retort –
“If you don’t like it here then go back to where you came from!”
Ok – so where would that be for most Americans that are not first-generation immigrants? New York? Nebraska? Ohio? Mississippi? Is it un-American to not turn the other cheek and point out that there are still challenging national problems with health care, education, poverty, minimum wage, infant mortality, environment, domestic violence, gun violence, domestic terrorism, quality of life?
It is sorrowful to witness in 2019 oppressors living in the 1950s – still leaving ashes behind – proclaiming without conscience and by choice “Make Oppression Great Again!” How pathetic to witness exhaustive efforts to hold on to delusions of superiority, power and control. How sad to see attempts to oppress others turn into self-oppression. How appalling to have political leaders encourage citizens to live without a soul. How daunting and intimidating it must feel when cheeks are not turned – when eyes meet eyes and ask the critical question…
“ America!… Ain’t you tired? … Ain’t you tired?”