I've just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which was an interesting and indeed eye-opening work of fiction looking at race relations in Missisippi, and the legacy of slavery.
The central story in The Help is that of a young white woman wishing to make it as a writer, who chooses to write about the experience of domestic service for the black maids employed by virtually every family she knows.
When she starts she has no comprehension of the levels of racism she will encounter even within her own circle of friends, and her own family. Nor of the danger she is putting the contributors in. She learns to recognise her privelege in being able to write these stories, and ensures that all the money she receives is split between herself and the twelve women she interviews. They are all anonymised, and yet she has the least to lose and the most to gain.
It was a brilliant book, which I lost much sleep through staying up to read, and I loved that it reminded me of some of the issues about research which I studied at university. In particular the ethical issues around how to honour your research participants' contribution, without causing undue bias in your work.
The book 'Help', which is written in 'The Help' could only, at the time and place, have been considered for publication if it was written by a white woman. But it raises the question of whether a white woman used to being served could really understand a black woman used to serving.
This question is thrown into stark relief when you consider that the author of The Help is herself a white woman, used to being served. In fact, one of her family's staff; Ablene Cooper sued her for basing a character (Aibileen Clark) on her, and doing so offensively - she didn't like the character comparing her skin colour to a cockroach, or the fact that she spoke in black patois. Rather than being forced to share her income with the help though, the case was dismissed because the judge said it was brought too late.
The Help has been made into a film, which I quite fancy watching. Have you seen it?