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Last night, I attended a book club to discuss The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Stockett, who is white, set the book in civil-rights-era Jackson, Mississippi and writes in three voices: Skeeter, a white woman fresh out of college who is puzzled when her beloved African-American maid, Constantine, disappears; Aibilene, an African-American domestic worker for Skeeter's friend Elizabeth; and Minnie, another African-American domestic worker, with a tendency to speak her mind, which often gets her into trouble with her employers. The book is excellent for a book club, since it addresses a number of issues, including race and regionalism.
I lived most of my life in the South and one of the things I've noticed since moving to California is that anti-southern regionalism is often considered acceptable. In the book club I attended, I noticed how easy it was for some people to want to distance themselves from Southerners, without realizing that it bias is unfortunately a part of our own reality. There were no African-Americans in this group of 20 people. That fact in and of itself should have been the first clue that there is not as much distance between the South and Northern California as some people might assume.
Segregation in California?
Someone in the group asked if racial discrimination has existed outside the south during the 60s, and there were myriad examples from the Bay Area in the 60s of homeowner's associations and even housing titles that prevented the selling of houses to African-Americans and disallowing African-Americans from spending the night in certain parts of town.
Fiction as Mirror
I think it is a disservice to books like The Help to consider them as reflecting one part of history or one part of the country, without interrogating how the attitudes reflected in the book can be found everywhere.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: School friends by woodleywonderworks
Meredith Burke Hammons works mostly behind the scenes at the Central branch, supervising the department that buys and processes library materials to get them out on the shelves. Her reading interests are varied; right now, she's focused on international fiction.