Sometimes I am left just breathless from a conversation with a customer. The thing is, you never know just where it will go and what you will learn. I especially enjoy it (as we all do, whether we’ll admit it or not,) when the conversation supports my own ideas, theories, hunches and philosophies and can add dimension to these. For example, I have been worried for a long time that our young people are not getting the reality of how things were before the Civil Rights movement and de-segregation. Yes, they probably all know about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and could recite facts about him and Rosa Parks, but are they integrating that factual information into a true picture of how things were and how they should never be again, regarding any ethnic or racial group.
So, I was greeting a lovely customer the other day who happened to be African American and happened to pick up a copy of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, off the shelf.
“This is not just a good book. It’s a must read book,” I said. “It should be required reading for every woman of every age to read.”
“Why so?” she politely asked.
“Well, although it’s written well enough, it’s an important book because it can raise the consciousness of women who didn’t live in that era (1960’s) or who lived in the north where the situations were sometimes different. This is a fictionalized version of what went on everyday in every city in the south and parts of the southwest. It shows exactly how white women of means lived and how their black housekeepers lived–and most of their counterparts were just that. It’s filled with tension, laughter and truth. Young women need to know this part of history,” I concluded.
Then the customer, I’ll call her Ann, told me about a woman friend of hers who had an advanced degree, yet thought the Civil Rights movement happened sometime in the early 1900’s. Ann said they got into a rather lengthy discussion and her friend, who is white, had no idea that she and Ann, who was raised in the south, could never have been friends in the days before 1960, that their lives would never cross, they would never have met in school, never lived near one another, never listened to the same music, never had sleepovers, never had much in common at all. Her friend said she had no idea about that, since she hadn’t been raised in the south or southwest. I was astonished that in all of the education her friend had received she had no sense of the history of our country in this regard, but I’m afraid she’s not alone. That’s why I’m so glad when books come along like The Help or, earlier, To Kill a Mockingbird, to help us understand better the ugly issues of our past so that we might guard against them in our present and our future. More than that, we need to understand the cultural stories, which form the psyche of a people, which has helped shape who they are, in order to be able to truly connect with the stories and, therefore, the people.