Although good intentions may be necessary, they are never sufficient to sustain an authentic conversation about race. Because shame and anxiety are endemic to racially stratified cultures, what may start as well-intentioned discourse typically devolves into dread, recrimination, or escapist sentimentality. Using the best-selling novel The Help as a focal point, this paper discusses the critical relational capacities required to facilitate movement toward new relational possibilities. In addition, the novel provides a case illustration of how the politics of disconnection are replicated in the absence of a commitment toward mutual growth. Specifically, stories that are presented as exemplars of compassion and connection may be little more than re-enactments of power-over. Finally, the paper highlights strategies of relational engagement that lead to clarity, authenticity, and a desire for more connection.- Abstract, Part I

RCT identifies shame as a tool of dominance. In the work of dismantling racist conditioning, shame can play a creative, relational role within white people in cross-race relationships. Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help bypasses this awkward yet liberating process and relies instead on cartoonish fantasy that leaves racial stereotypes in place. But shared reflection about the realities the novel mythologizes can lead to authentic connection.- Abstract, Part II

Maureen Walker is a licensed psychologist with an independent practice in Cambridge, MA. She is Director of Program Development at the Jean Baker Miller Institute of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College as well as Associate Director in the MBA program at Harvard Business School. The author of several articles, textbook chapters and working papers in the Stone Center Works in Progress Series, Dr. Walker is also co-editor of two books: How Connections Heal and The Complexity of Connection.

Christina Robb is an independent writer who worked for more than 20 years as a cultural reporter and book critic at The Boston Globe, where she shared a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. She wrote about the founders of RCT in her history and handbook of relational psychology, This Changes Everything (2006), and is Writer-in-Residence at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute.

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