Fantastic Piece on Zora Neale Hurston

From National Review:

She was not perfect, in matters big or little. Her three marriages (each to a younger man) all seemed to end before they started; she lied constantly about her age; she committed one act of plagiarism (not discovered until after her death); she smoked unfiltered cigarettes, and eventually weighed over 200 pounds.

Her most remarkable quirk was that she was not just interested in voodoo — she was, after all, an anthropologist and folklorist — but apparently actually believed in it. An intelligent, stable, generally level-headed woman who actually took this stuff seriously: baffling. Ayn Rand, when she first met William F. Buckley Jr., declared, “You are too intelligent to believe in God”; a silly statement, but wasn’t Zora Neale Hurston too intelligent to believe in voodoo? Go figure.

So why am I smitten with her? She was, for starters, a serious writer: She would leave Manhattan, rent a small house somewhere in Florida, or somewhere in the out-of-the-way south, sometimes literally in the woods, and for months would do nothing but write. For someone of her station at that time, this was beyond unusual. As Boyd observes, she “had been making her living solely as a writer for two decades by the autumn of 1933. But Hurston, it seemed, was the only black woman in the country still trying to do so ….”

. . .

Hurston had the right attitude, and even if one thinks it was not the right attitude then, it is most definitely the right attitude now. She was not afraid to denounce white prejudice, did so in no uncertain terms, and demanded to know why, if whites were superior, they were afraid to compete with blacks. “She would not allow white oppression to define or distort her life,” however, and she “resolved to stay the course and focus on the positive, as was her way.” Now more than ever, while it is fine to look at the injustices of the past, one should not — as John McWhorter recently warned — stare. If Hurston, who lived in the Jim Crow South, concluded that one should not let bigotry define one’s existence, how much truer is that now? Hurston was even skeptical of whether the integration mandated by Brown v. Board of Education was necessary for black advancement — a position that was controversial then and appears bizarre today — so it is hard to imagine that she would have much patience with the current institutionalization of lowered standards for African Americans in order to achieve “diversity.”


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Filed under Literature, Psychology, Race in America

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