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Racial and Ethnic Conflicts in “The Help” Film Report

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Updated: Jun 21st, 2020

A social problem is a major issue that affects the lives of many people in society (Macionis, 2011). It results from factors that are beyond the control of the individual. Scholars use a number of sociological perspectives to analyze these social phenomena. The theories developed by the researchers help individuals to better understand the complex nature of the environment they live in. In this paper, the author will discuss racial and ethnic conflicts as examples of social problems. The phenomena will be analyzed in the context of the movie “The Help.” The causes and consequences of these issues will be examined from a real-life point of view. In addition, two sociological perspectives will be used to analyze the elements.

“The Help”: A Synopsis

The film is set in 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi, during the Civil Rights Era. It is about a 23-year-old white lady, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, and her relationship with two African-American maids (Columbus, Barnathan and Green 2011). The two bits of help is Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson. Phelan is a recent graduate from the University of Mississippi. She hopes to become a writer. All of her girlhood friends are already married and have families. However, she is not happy with the manner in which they treat their African-American maidservants. At one point, Celica Foote, a white lady, refuses to use Elizabeth’s toilet just because Aibileen has used it (Columbus et al. 2011). She claims that African-Americans carry many diseases than Europeans. Hilly explains the Home Health Sanitation Initiative she hopes to get passed in the state legislative assembly. The bill will make it mandatory for white-owned homes to have a separate toilet for the Negro house helps.1 The conversation between the socialite ladies is held within Aibileen’s earshot.

Phelan is asked to write a Miss Myrna Housekeeping article for the local newspaper. Since she had never been involved in house chores, she seeks Aibileen’s assistance. The maid acts as the de facto mother of Elizabeth’s young daughter, Mae Mobley. The toddler’s mother shows less concern and cares for her child. Phelan gets back home and informs her mother, Charlotte, about the new assignment. Charlotte is worried that her daughter will never get married. She asks her whether or not she is attracted to other women. During dinner, Phelan rudely talks about the issue of liking girls (Columbus et al. 2011). Charlotte excuses herself and gives her daughter the opportunity to go to her favorite spot outdoors. At that moment, she recalls the caring and loving nature of Constantine.2

Hilly’s maid, Minny Jackson, is unfairly treated, and she gets fired. In addition, she is battered by her employer as Aibileen listens on the phone. Aibeleen accepts Phelan’s offer to participate in her writing assignment after attending a church service. The reason is that the sermon highlighted on courage. Hilly’s new house help, Yule Mae, suffers a similar fate as Minny. However, her case is worse as Hilly gets her arrested at the bus stop in the presence of all the other servants. Aibeleen manages to convince Minny to take part in the book project. Elaine Stein, an editor, based in New York, explains to Phelan that the book will need more stories, including hers and Constantine’s. The arrest of Yule prompted most of the local maids to participate in the project. To hide the identity of the volunteers, Phelan changed their names. However, she is still afraid people may recognize the Helps.

With the help of the volunteers, Phelan’s book gets published. Within a short time, it becomes the favorite of almost everyone in Jackson. However, Hilly is afraid of her embarrassing incident with Minny will be revealed. As a result, she tries to convince her friends that the book is not based on Jackson’s help. To return the favor, Phelan shares her advance equally among all the maids who participated in the project. She is offered a job at the New York Publishing House. In spite of this, Stuart Whitworth breaks up with Phelan after discovering that she was the book’s author. Hilly also figures this out and storms into Phelan’s house drunk and full of rage. However, she is kicked out and insulted (Columbus et al. 2011).

In the end, Minny gets employed by Celica. She also separates from her abusive husband and takes the children with her. Aibileen is fired by Elizabeth, leaving Mae Mobley heartbroken. Finally, she (Aibeleen) decides to pursue writing after she is encouraged by her son (Columbus et al. 2011).

Racial and Ethnic Conflicts in “the Help”

The causes of racial and ethnic disputes include the negative attitude that the European employers have towards the Negro community. Others are superiority complex and social status (Lawler, 2007). Elizabeth and her friends consider African American maids as inferior beings. They regard them as individuals who need the help of the whites to survive. In addition, socialites treat them as disease carriers. It is the reason why Hilly has at least forty toilets in her compound. She believes it is not right for a white to share a sanitation facility with a Negro (Columbus et al. 2011). The maidservants are not considered worthy enough to appear in parties reserved for the Europeans. They only appear when offering their services. Charlotte, for example, fires Constantine because her daughter declines to use the backdoor. Charlotte considered the moment to be very embarrassing because she was hosting a DAR luncheon. Generally, European women regard their matters to be of utmost importance compared to those of their servants (Macionis 2011). Their ill-treatment of the maids illustrates their belief that the servants were born to act as helpers.

The racial and ethnic problem portrayed in the movie has a number of consequences on the masters and their maids. To begin with, Aibileen loses her only son to an accident in the workplace. He was run over by a truck. The white driver did little to save his life. He took Aibileen’s son to a colored hospital, dumped him on the ground, and drove off (Columbus et al. 2011). At the time, it was too late to save his life. Aibileen just carried her son home where he died on the couch. The servant is a victim of ill treatment as Elizabeth’s employee. However, she plays a key role in helping Skeeter with the book project. Elizabeth’s decision to fire her deprives Mae of a good and caring mother figure.

As a result of the racial and ethnic conflicts, Hilly is humiliated by Minny. A heated argument ensues after Minny uses the family’s bathroom since she could not access the maids’ toilets. As a result, Hilly fires her. To retaliate, Minny spikes a chocolate pie with her excrement and offers it to Hilly. The latter eats the pies without knowing what they contain. However, she is finally told the truth behind the sweetness. She lives with this shame throughout the movie. Hilly’s new maid, Yule, is arrested for taking a ring in order to sell it and raise $75 for her son’s tuition. Her employer had initially failed to help her raise the money in spite of her request to work for free until the debt is cleared (Columbus et al. 2011).

Racial and ethnic disputes also make Charlotte experience regrets and guilt (Walters 2012). She fired Constantine for no good reason. Her efforts to make up for her mistakes did not work. The reason is that Constantine has died by the time Charlotte’s son reached her new home in Chicago. The act made Phelan lose a great friend who had brought her up.

However, the conflict also has positive consequences. The maids get an opportunity to lead better lives in the end (Walters 2012). The book project acts as a breakthrough for them and Phelan.

Causes and Consequences of Racial and Ethnic Conflicts in Real Life

Racial and ethnic discrimination is a major human rights problem in the world. Both minority and majority groups are affected by this social challenge (Walters 2012). Prejudice refers to the irrational attitudes and opinions held by one group of people towards another (Lawler 2007). On its part, discrimination entails unequal treatment of a certain group. The numerous racial and ethnic groups in the world hold unequal powers, prestige, and resources (Walters 2012). Power in the society is enjoyed by majority groups. They create a system of inequality by dominating and oppressing the less-powerful. The dominant cultures maintain their control through the use of social forces. The minorities are not fully represented in the economic, social, and political institutions.

The main cause of racial and ethnic conflicts in the world is power. Power brings about the issue of superiority complex. Conflict arises when the oppressed groups attempt to revolt, demanding for equal treatment. Racial and ethnic conflicts take various forms. They have numerous impacts on the society (Walters 2012).

Today, the social challenges are not limited to the interaction between whites and blacks (Walters 2012). They are experienced everywhere in the world. They lead to civil wars, ethnic cleansing, genocides, and violent separatist movements. They also result in oppression and less organized violence. As a result, lives are lost, properties destroyed, and the economy disrupted. The most rampant acts experienced are hate crimes and racist movement activities. Examples of groups involved in these evils include the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nation.3

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Canadian social life was disrupted by the violent acts carried out by the French Canadian separatists of the Front DeLiberation du Quebec [FLQ] (Walters 2012). Mexico has also experienced phases of fierce upheavals instigated by native communities in the southern state of Chiapas. The descendants of the indigenous population of Central and South America continue to fight back in spite of violent subjugations. Britain and Germany have also been faced by the problems of anti-immigrant and anti-minority riots (Walters 2012). Apart from the European countries, racial and ethnic conflicts continue to wreck havoc in Africa. Examples of the affected countries include Congo, Darfur, Nigeria, Somalia, and Kenya.4

Analyzing Racial and Ethnic Conflicts From Sociological Perspectives

The Functionalist Perspective

According to the functionalists, the society operates like a living organism. Each part of this collection plays a role to promote the survival of the entire being. The components of a society are set to maintain its stability. For example, the helps and the masters in The Help play specific roles to maintain social order. An aspect of social life that does not contribute to the promotion of culture is not passed through the generations (Lawler 2007). The existence of different races and ethnic groups results in the numerous problems experienced in the society. Social balance is disrupted when a new group enters the scene (Macionis 2011). However, the levels of dysfunction are reduced if the newcomers share some common attributes with the natives. If the group is different, integration will be a challenge. The element of race creates problems for a short period of time. Generally, the functionalists stress on the importance of assimilating minority groups into the dominant society.

The Conflict Perspective

According to this perspective, social structure is clearly understood in terms of conflict between groups competing for power. A society is characterized by the struggle between the dominant and subordinate populations (Macionis 2011). The whites and the blacks in The Help are in conflict. The conflict approach considers the social world to be full of tension and rivalry. It seeks to ascertain the main causes of these strains. Some groups have more power, money, and prestige than others (Lawler 2007). The group with more resources works hard to maintain its status. The one with less power fights to secure more resources and gain some level of control. The need to control others is what fuels the racial and ethnic conflicts.

CONCLUSION

Racial and ethnic conflicts are prevalent in human history. The clashes persist in spite of the high levels of modernization. The social problems have been the root cause of some of the most inhumane acts in human history. In the movie The Help, these issues are highlighted in detail.

REFERENCES

Columbus, Chris, Michael Barnathan, and Brunson Green. 2011. The Help. DVD. Los Angeles: DreamWorks Pictures.

Lawler, Stephanie. 2007. Identity: Sociological Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Macionis, John. 2011. Sociology. 14th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson.

Walters, Sue. 2012. Ethnicity, Race and Education: An Introduction. New York: Continuum.

Footnotes

  1. This is an indication of widespread racism in 20th century America.
  2. The loss of Constantine and the ill-treatment of Negro help compel Phelan to write a book about the daily lives of Jackson’s maidservants.
  3. These are just examples of violent groups operating on the basis of racial and ethnic profiling.
  4. The major causes of the problems in Africa are ethnic conflicts. However, in the western world, the major problems entail racial discrimination.
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