Sunday, August 21, 2011

From The Help! Obama Needs a Tillie Tour

The Help has hit middle class America, perhaps just in time. I accompanied 2 northerner friends the other night to watch what has to be one of the more promising movies of the summer. At least I recognized its title, having read the book a few years ago.

Watching, as I did while reading, I couldn't help but be caught up in memories of Minnie Sanchez (sp?), pictured here. While growing up in the South, Pompano Beach, FL, in the early 60s, with hard-working parents who needed help watching their 5, um, precocious kids. We were under Minnie's capable supervision who for $1 an hour got to rein us wild ones in while cooking and cleaning.

As a now sorta mature adult, I reflect on Minnie's role in shaping my character. I give her huge credit for my value system. She gets no blame for my flaws. In addition to keeping the 5 of us out of the emergency room or juvie hall, she managed to do the fried chicken thing much like Minnie in the movie. And raised her 13 children, with a husband that I have no recollection of, and a dog, Did-He-Bite-Cha, in a small concrete block house on the edge of town.

The Help identifies "acceptable" slavery of the 20th Century, which continues in different ways today. Although the film is a refresher course for how far we've come in overt race relations, it raises the third-rail issues of racism and classism that still ravage the poor and bottom layer of the middle class today. Don't hit that delete button yet.

Sure, we've made progress on issues like minimum wage, working conditions, and even let people of color sit on any seat in the bus. But looking at options for the transportation-challenged segment of the population, I'd suggest buses, adequate sidewalks and bike trails, as the Atlanta area (and many communities) demonstrate, have a long way to go.

A blatant case of who-cares-about-the-poor blues can be seen in the case where Raquel Nelson failed to keep her 4-year-old boy in check as she, with 2 other children and a load of groceries, tried to return to their public housing abode on foot, crossing a 5-lane highway with no pedestrian accommodations. Horribly, the little boy was struck and killed in front of them by an impaired, inebriated driver. He got less jail time than the courts gave her. Read Yolanda Pierce's post about it...and share my outrage.

Barbara Ehrenreich, acclaimed author of Nickeled and Dimed, recently penned an update to her insightful and accurate book which came out in 2001. Ehrenreich reflects, "The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalized in America." It's another book, Barbara.

I'm disgusted, but not surprised, by the righteous, misguided indignation of opinion-spewers who parrot the Heritage Foundation's recent much-skewed dismissal of poverty in this country.  And mean ol' Governors like Scott (FL), Walker (WI) and Snyder (MI), continue to do their fair share fueling the anti-poor, kick-the-dog venom we witness everywhere today. Nice.

No matter that many of the ranters are in the endangered middle class, as pointed out in Donald Beck's thoughtful article in Atlantic Magazine. He suggests, "Yet if that period [post-war 20th century] was unusually kind to the middle class, the one we are now in the midst of appears unusually cruel."

Which brings me back to The Help. Most folks cringed at the mean-spirited treatment the colored maids got by their entitlement-distorted masters and mistresses (is that the right word?!). Hopefully our collective progress on socially acceptable behavior makes the most flagrant, unfair actions, well, wrong.

But I'd suggest that today's version of The Help could include the wage-slaves and unemployed, homeless families and those facing foreclosure, ex-offenders and petty criminals, welfare parent and undocumented immigrant. They could, I'm afraid, all write of their disdain for their situations and their distaste for society's priorities. But we've closed libraries and emasculated public education, out-priced television and internet access and enfeebled public broadcasting, and removed pens and papers from the incarcerated while compromising access to higher education.

Help! Now's when I wish I had a big ol' rabid dog named Did-He-Bite-Cha. But Minnie's ghost wouldn't let me do what I'm thinking....guess I'll have to be nice and offer Obama a real tour of America. Wanna ride shotgun with me? Bring your gas credit card.