I’m Curious About The Help

Being a housewife is something that takes a lot of hard work, but I know that I’m dedicated to perfecting it because if my plan works out and I marry into money, then that’s what I’m aiming to be. In a perfect world, I’d like to sit somewhere all day and watch “my stories,” drink some wine occasionally, and spend the rest of my time writing… books, poetry, essays, hate letters… anything that involves a pen/paper or rather, keys/fingers. But I don’t want to be the basic kind of housewife; I don’t want a maid. There are three things that I don’t trust people with: my bathroom, my laundry, and most importantly… my food. Plus, having a maid reminds me too much of human elitism, which reminds me of slavery, which really kind of bothers me.
And you would think that human elitism is something that most of us have come past, but I’m sadly reminded in small ways every day that we’re not. For instance, my friend Jamila used to cut a great deal of people’s hair in the building I lived in during college. Whenever I needed a precise buzz cut, I would consult Jamila and in ten minutes flat, I would have a neat hair do with trimmed up sideburns and neckline. Most people would offer to pay her, but she would never accept it. And then, another one of our friends asked Jamila if she would give cutting her hair a shot; it all seemed pretty normal until she wanted to discuss Jamila’s ability. Just for a point of reference, Jamila is black, so there was a little extra weight when her “customer” sincerely responded, Wow, Jamila. You do a great job cutting hair; did you learn from your mom? Is this something you guys do in your family? Jamila, like a trooper, entertained all of her questions. I sat on the sideline amazed that she would even ask… It was as if the only two times she had ever had contact with an African American was through the movies Friday and Beauty Shop. I mean, did she know that she was playing into a giant stereotype or was she just oblivious. I decided on the latter when she responded, Did you start practicing on colored hair? Like, do you usually just work with colored people? My eyes had to be the size of saucers, as I looked at Jamila. I imagined that she would raise up her scissors and jam them into the back of this girl’s neck, but she maintained her composure, as if these questions were more of a game than anything.
And it only grew from there because it was as if once she knew that the door was opened to use the word colored as a culturally acceptable way to refer to black people, she dropped the word as many times as her mouth would allow. I sat in amazement, wondering what absurd thing would come out of her mouth next… Are your colored scissors colored sharp enough to cut colored hair? Colored, colored, colored. I often found myself very thankful to be living where I was from as the person that I am because most of the prejudice I face is only from the far right… which is actually kind of most of East Tennessee, but whatever. I’ve never had something about myself that I couldn’t hide or pretend wasn’t existent; I’ve never had to deal with something so obvious about me being scrutinized or even ignorantly mocked. Well, until lately.

Yesterday, after coming home with Patrice from the mall, my roommate, Andrew, told me, My friend Jill wants you to cook her fried chicken tonight. She really wants it; she is going to come over tonight. Flabbergasted and exhausted from the day, I looked at him and said, Is she going to bring chicken over because I know I’m not going to go and buy it. I knew it wasn’t just cooking dinner for a couple of friends… this was more like a cultural experience for her and her boyfriend, who may I state… are very nice people… but nonetheless, this was more about being able to say that they’d had “southern fried chicken.” And when someone brings me chicken and offers to give me some in return for cooking it, which is more than Minnie could have said in The Help, then sure… I’ll cook your chicken up. I was never really worried about the cooking of the chicken; it was more of the difficulty of explaining the process.
I knew that the night was going to be interesting as soon as Andrew told me, and Andrew knew it to. He gave me, I’m sorry, I love you eyes because he knew that if someone else was buying this chicken, then I was going to need to not just meet expectations, but exceed them. As far as I was concerned, this was not just another night of making fried chicken… this was the Olympics of Southern fried chicken, with opening ceremonies from Dolly Parton and Kenny Chesney and appearances by Tommy Lee Jones, Paula Deen, and potentially someone connected to the Johnny Cash bloodline. And you know, no one could have really prepared me for what would come last night because, like I said, I’ve never been at a place where I was so noticeably different from everyone else.
Andrew was helping me make dinner as Patrice and Brad watched from the counter, and when Jill and her boyfriend showed up, the festivities began. Everything was essentially done except for the chicken, but considering that there were 14 legs to cook, dinner was hardly ready. And of course, before the first leg hit the egg mixture, they were peering toward the frying pan asking questions, How do you get the breading to stick to the chicken? Oh, the egg? That’s so cool! and Is this your special recipe? Did you come up with it on your own; did you learn this from your family, or have you just always known? And all of a sudden, I realized how difficult it must have been for Jamila to have not said anything because all I wanted to say back was Nope, I just shot out of my mom with a frying pan in hand. Soon, they wanted to know things about the South like if I hunted and fished, which inspired me to do the one Southern tradition that I embrace more than food: fix a rum and coke. They asked if Southern people really had all the regular narrow-minded sentiments, and as I entertained their questions just like Jamila, the grease in the pan popped out and shot onto my hand. I grabbed my hand and said, Ahh! Damn! Jill’s boyfriend responded without missing a beat, That’s the Southern snap I was looking for!
I was never aware that there was such a thing as a Southern snap… actually, the only Southern snap I had was one that I had desperately tried to avoid so not to perpetuate any stereotypes unpopular for a Southern boy. My Southern snap was less of a cultural thing and more of a Tyra Banks inspired masterpiece. But, what made it all okay is that it seemed like they really thought that all of these things existed, and back home, I like to believe that my Dad was sitting on our rickety porch, whittlin’ a piece of wood into toys for my nineteen brothers and sisters, most of whom are married to one another. Sure, there are some things about the South that are a little awry, but all in all, I like to believe that we live like most of the rest of the nation, even if we do have a couple more banjos than the rest of the world. And I think that the biggest lesson is learning not to assume that someone’s identifier is not always synonymous with the stereotype associated with it. Not all black people cut hair, and not all Southerners can cook fried chicken… especially like me.

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One thought on “I’m Curious About The Help

  1. I wish I could say that I taught you how to write like this…but like all great Southern writers, you seem to just have an innate ability to weave a tale. Oh wait…see what I did there?

    Mr. G

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