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- Zora Neale Hurston, American contrarian.
It seems safe to say that no black woman in America was ever simply allotted such strengths, no matter how strong she was or how uniformly black her home town.
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They had to be won, and every victory was precarious. If the peculiarities of a segregated childhood spared her the harshest brunt of white racism, the crippling consciousness of color in the black community and in the black soul was a subject she knew well and could not leave alone. It was precisely because of that scarcity that she took hold of racism not at its source but as it reverberated through the black community.
She had to walk back, and was invariably punished for her boldness. The book has since been reviled by the very people who rescued her fiction from oblivion, and for the same reason that the fiction was once consigned there: a sense that she was putting on a song and dance for whites.
Having been infected by a rabid dog, he lost his senses and came at her with a gun. The black folks who knew the couple have sided against her at the trial, hoping to see her hanged. Does this reflect honest human complexity or racial confusion? In what world, if any, was Hurston ever at home?
Essay about Sweat: Harlem Renaissance and Delia
When Hurston returned to New York, she and Boas agreed that a white person could have discovered as much. So she learned, in effect, to pass for black. In the fall of , in need of a patron, she offered her services to Mrs. Osgood Mason, a wealthy white widow bent on saving Western culture from rigor mortis through her support of Negro artistic primitivism.
For more than three years, Mrs. Mason paid for Hurston to make forays to the South to collect Negro folk material. The fruits of her field work appeared in various forms throughout the early thirties: stories, plays, musical revues, academic articles. By this time, however, Hurston had won enough recognition to go off on a Guggenheim grant to study voodoo practices in the Caribbean.
It was not a happy trip. In her autobiography, Hurston quickly dismisses her first marriage and entirely neglects to mention her second; each lasted only a matter of months. She wed her longtime Howard University boyfriend in May, , and bailed out that August. Apparently unruffled, Hurston wrote her friends that her husband had been an obstacle, and had held her back.
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In , her marriage to a twenty-three-year-old W. It is true that Hurston was never financially supported by a man—or by anyone except Mrs. Without doubt, Hurston was a woman of strong character, and she went through life mostly alone. She burned sorrow and fear like fuel, to keep herself going. Other needs were just as unwelcome. There is little insouciance in the way Hurston writes of the man she calls P. He stood on his own feet so firmly that he reared back. It is hard to know whether his youth or his resentment or his perfection was the central problem.
Her diligent biographer, who located the man decades later, reports that he had never known exactly what had happened. Once there, of course, she wrote a book in which a woman who has spent her life searching for passion finally finds it, lets herself go within its embrace, and learns that her lover is honest and true, and that she is not being played for a fool—despite the familiar fact that he is only twenty-five or so and she is forty.
The paramount ironies, however, are two: the heroine is not quite black, and becomes even less black as the story goes on; and the author offers perhaps the most serious Lawrentian vision ever penned by a woman of sexual love as the fundamental spring and power of life itself. Apprehensive, Nanny marries her off to a man with a house and sixty acres and a pone of fat on the back of his neck.
Those full, lazy eyes with the lashes curling sharply away like drawn scimitars.
Manual WHITE HARLEM: (A Short-Sweaty-Story)
The lean, overpadded shoulders and narrow waist. Even nice! So you sweet as all dat? Why is she always waiting for some man to show her the way? The fact is that Janie was not made to suit independent-minded female specifications of any era. She is not a stand-in for her author but a creation meant to live out other possibilities, which are permitted her in large part because—unlike her author—she has no ambition except to live, and because she is beautiful.
Mason , and she spared her romantic heroine every one of them. With Hurston, though, pride always rushes back in after a fall. These alternating emotional axes are what make her so unclassifiable, so easily susceptible to widely different readings, all of which she may intend.
For Janie never acts white, or even seems to care whether she looks that way.
She is sincerely mystified by Mrs. Standing in St. I saw him in my native Baltimore, while home from Howard University on vacation. The march itself was cathartic. I walked with four or five other black men, and all along the way black women stood on porches or out on the street, shouting, clapping, cheering. So many of us had been jailed or were on our way.
So many of us were fathers in biology only. We believed ourselves disgraced and clung to the march as a public statement: the time had come to grow up. Black conservatives have been dipping into this well of lost black honor since the turn of the 20th century.
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On the one hand, vintage black nationalists have harked back to a golden age of black Africa, where mighty empires sprawled and everyone was a king. What both visions share is a sense that black culture in its present form is bastardized and pathological. What they also share is a foundation in myth. Black people are not the descendants of kings. We are—and I say this with big pride—the progeny of slaves. Ditto for the dreams of a separate but noble past. Indeed, a century ago, the black brain trust was pushing the same rhetoric that Cosby is pushing today.
It was concerned that slavery had essentially destroyed the black family and was obsessed with seemingly the same issues—crime, wanton sexuality, and general moral turpitude—that Cosby claims are recent developments.
Zora Neale Hurston, American contrarian.
Muhammad, a professor of American history at Indiana University. There was the sense that they were committing crimes and needed to keep their sexuality in check. They often saw themselves as reluctant caretakers of the less enlightened. As early as the s, sociologists were concerned that black men were falling behind black women. Franklin Frazier argued that urbanization was undermining the ability of men to provide for their families.
At times, Cosby seems willfully blind to the parallels between his arguments and those made in the presumably glorious past. Consider his problems with rap. How could an avowed jazz fanatic be oblivious to the similar plaints once sparked by the music of his youth? The hip-hop argument, again, is particularly creaky. But gangsta rap can be correlated with other phenomena, too—many of them positive. During the s, as gangsta rap exploded, teen pregnancy and the murder rate among black men declined. Should we give the blue ribbon in citizenship to Dr. Fair enough. Suffice it to say, though, that the evidence supporting structural inequality is compelling.
In , a researcher sent out black and white job applicants in Milwaukee, randomly assigning them a criminal record. The researcher concluded that a white man with a criminal record had about the same chance of getting a job as a black man without one. Three years later, researchers produced the same results in New York under more-rigorous conditions.
The accepted wisdom is that such studies are a comfort to black people, allowing them to wallow in their misery. In fact, the opposite is true—the liberal notion that blacks are still, after a century of struggle, victims of pervasive discrimination is the ultimate collective buzz-kill. Before the speech, at eight in the morning, Cosby quizzed correctional officials on the conditions and characteristics of their inmate population.
I wished, then, that my 7-year-old son could have seen Cosby there, to take in the same basic message that I endeavor to serve him every day—that manhood means more than virility and strut, that it calls for discipline and dutiful stewardship. That the ultimate fate of black people lies in their own hands, not in the hands of their antagonists. That as an African American, he has a duty to his family, his community, and his ancestors. But Cosby often pits the rhetoric of personal responsibility against the legitimate claims of American citizens for their rights.