l.i.b.e.r.a.t.i.o.n. theory

love, life, and the pursuit of liberation

On shame and “The Help”

As the Academy gets ready to award movies, artists, and technicians the prestigious Oscars, heated feelings have been surfacing about “The Help.” While some of the commentary has to do with the lack of Black presence in Hollywood unless it’s to depict us in servitude, I suspect that much of the strong feelings comes from deep rooted shame, shame about Blacks in service, as if to be in a service job is something to be embarrassed about, as the play Stick-Fly explores.

This shame is nothing new to us, and it manifests itself in many ways. At the turn of the 19th century, straightened hair and lighter skinned were valued as ways to separate ourselves from the “shame” of slavery. I remember my grandmother being disgusted about the idea of reparations. “I am NOT a slave and don’t need to be paid off,” she responded when I asked her opinion on the subject.

This shame continues today when those of us who have “made it” cringe at the “creative” names that some of us bequeath to our children. That shame continues when we hear about the latest crime spree on the news and pray that the offender isn’t black.

We attempt to mask the shame and call it race uplifting when we are the first to call out blacks and browns for standing in line for the newest Jordans (though we do the same for the newest Apple gadget), and when we lambast Lil Wayne for wearing a t-shirt to the Grammys (though the singer from Coldplay had on a ripped, bleached up tee as well).

We cringe at Blue Ivy and Puma but expect nothing less than Apple Martin or Pilot Inspektor because their parents are artists and white, and that’s just what “they” do.

Underneath the shame is fear and desire to prove that we’re the good kind of Blacks. Not the same as the “ghetto” ones, the n*ggas (don’t pretend you don’t differentiate behind closed doors or screennames.) We may never admit that fear is the driving force, but I wonder what might you feel if you were to simply accept that 1) someone’s values, jobs, and choices aren’t the same as yours or reflective of you and that 2) those who would judge you because of what they see on the news or the name on their student roster will STILL judge you even if your name is Elizabeth, not Keisha and even if you graduated from Harvard, not for-profit-nursing university.

While collective responsibility and brotherhood are vital to the health of Black America (and I don’t pretend that there is a monolithic black community), I don’t think we will ever attain out true potential as long as shame is out motivating factor.

Note: At this time, I’m purposely not getting into the historical roots of the shame and other external factors. The purpose of this post is simply to name the elephant.


2 comments on “On shame and “The Help”

  1. Chocolate Mom
    February 26, 2012

    It is a sad state of affairs. Just as when Halle won her Oscar and Denzel won his, neither one of them was in a role of upliftment to the “race”. We may have our Obama, but people still want to see us as maids, drug dealers, rappers, addicts, and slaves.

    Shame? The word is an understatement.


  2. liberationtheory
    February 26, 2012

    But I don’t feel shame– personal or otherwise. I’m not denying that there’s a clear bias in the types of roles where black performance is rewarded. However, I don’t feel there should be a shame in portraying maids because, for me, that would be akin to being ashamed of black women that did serve as domestics, women like my grandmother and others.

    And I think that Viola played the hell out of her role and I felt no sense of embarrassment or shame in her portrayal either.


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