Then, courtesy of the Hathor Legacy, I found an interesting series of reviews that explain a lot of problematic aspects that I hadn't quite put my finger on.
From Rebecca Wanzon:
One of the three narrators, Aibleen, says that she realizes she is more free than the racist character that destroys her livelihood, a claim that encourages readers to feel better about segregation because, in this logic, nobody can take real, psychological freedom from anyone. Freedom is really about how you feel, not about, you know, the law. It makes Jim Crow an inconvenience, not an obstacle.
I read an Amazon review of the novel that told a reader not to worry that they would have to read over 400 pages of depressing oppression. This is true -- "The Help" makes Jim Crow palatable. I don't think this is a good thing.
African American women had voices before Miz Skeeter gave them the idea
From Duchess Harris:
So instead of incorporating a real Black woman’s voice in a novel purported to being about Black domestics, the Skeeter/Stockett character is comfortingly centralized, and I can see why white women relate to her.
Her Black characters lack the credibility reflected in Coming of Age in Mississippi, a 1968 memoir by Anne Moody, an African American woman growing up in rural Mississippi in the 1960s. Moody recalls doing domestic work for white families from the age of nine. Moody’s voice is one of a real Black woman who left her own house and family each morning to cook in another woman’s kitchens.
Sounds really interesting -- maybe I should pick up a copy of that book...