In the film, The Help, a little White girl sobs inconsolably as Viola Davis in the role of Aibileen Clark leaves her employers house after being falsely accused of theft and dismissed from her job as a maid and nanny.
The scene is iconic, as many African-Americans probably have nodded in silence or rolled their eyes at least once as some White person regaled them with the story of how badly he or she missed the nanny/maid/mammy who used to work for his or her family. Most likely, the listener does not really feel the other person's pain and finds the moment awkward at best.
In the book, Combined Destinies: Whites Sharing Grief about Racism by Ann Todd Jealous and Caroline T. Haskell (Potomac Books Inc., 2013), White people tell similar stories of separation from caregivers and friends that compel the reader to listen and to feel their sorrow, confusion and often anger at the parent responsible for driving away the beloved companion. The stories are part of a larger picture as this book examines how racism and unearned privilege have harmed White people individually and as a race. The book helps the reader to understand racism, not as individual acts against another person, but as a "serf-perpetuating system of advantage based on race ... power plus prejudice." That systemic force affects all of us and benefits the privileged class with no opt-out provisions for "good White people"
The authors invited White individuals to give first-person accounts of ways in which racism against others has affected their lives, and the book presents these accounts in themed chapters, including separation, sameness, guilt, shame, silence and resistance.
These essays are addictive. Each one makes you want to read another and another, as they open a window on feelings that White people might never share with each other, much less with people of color.
One man writes, for instance, about his conflicted feelings toward his father, who had a "crisis of conscience" and ultimately a nervous breakdown, over his incongruous roles as minister of the gospel and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The son grew up to join the Civil Rights Movement and specialize in civil-rights history.
"The shame I felt as a White Southerner, however, that my people had systematically injured and beaten down a whole other people was exponentially worse and of greater magnitude than small shames," writes the contributor identified as "Bob."
Several other stories deal with children's embarrassment and confusion about hearing their parents make disparaging remarks about Blacks or Mexicans, openly discriminate against someone or participate in "White flight" Other contributors write about pain they. felt when an adult forbid them to play with friends of another race/ ethnicity, of having inflicted hurt on someone by using a racial epithet or simply growing up with little or no contact with people of other races. …