The Authentic Voice

I’m the co-founder of a book club whose members are varied in age and ethnicities. This weekend, we discussed Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” and the eponymous screen adaptation of it that debuted last week. (If you’re wondering, I’m not quite sure how we ended up committing ourselves to that, actually.) A guest spent time with us that evening, and I expect to be able to share her thoughts on her time here in the Magnolia state with you soon.

During the discussion, there were tears, a few laughs and plenty talk about hope and hopelessness. One of the things that sticks out in my mind, however, is a comment one of the women made that’s resonated with me since that night.

Ms. Smarter than a Tack talked about “our stories” (people of color, but specifically negroes). When we tell “our stories”–an authentic voice relaying an authentic message–the story isn’t accepted or validated by the mainstream. When they (in this case, white folks) tell “our stories,” they’re not only accepted but chewed up, swallowed and regurgitated for the masses, packaged in “Look, we’re not so bad after all” tupperware.

I’ve been wondering, however, since the woman with the beautifully sharp mind made the point, if that’s the excuse we (people of color, women, dedicated Christ or Mohammed followers, those who’ve been victimized–whatever it is that makes us different than the crowd) make to not tell our own stories.

Much earlier in the day Saturday, before the book club gathering, I did a creative non-fiction writing workshop with a small group of high schoolers. We talked about why writing is important for them. A few of the take-home points: Writing is everlasting; should compel you to act; keeps a record of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you intend to go; and it tells your story because no one can tell your story the way you can.

If we are validated or not, if “our stories” are affirmed by the mainstream or even our own people or not, we can’t stop telling them. There’s always the chance that someone might get it. And isn’t one better than none?

I guess there’s a bit of an optimist who lives somewhere in me, after all.

***

Check out Melissa Harris-Perry’s take on “The Help,” which she calls “ahistorical and deeply troubling” here.

One more thing: Is it poetic justice or egregious that I typed “black woman voice” into the Google images search and one of the pictures that came up before shots of Oprah Winfrey, Ledisi, Angela Bassett, Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen, even that “Real” Housewife of Atlanta Nene Leakes is the cover of “The Help”?

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~ by MsInklination on August 17, 2011.

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