Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neal Hurston had the benefit of growing up in a community of Black people, Eatonville. In Eatonville, she was able to see representatives of her own race in positions of power throughout the city. There have been recent debates about representation in the arts. A recent article in Deadline caused a bit of controversy by claiming that the call for diversity was hurting white actors by not giving them enough opportunities. This, despite the fact that women and people of color are not anywhere near proportionally represented on the big screen or the small one. So why is it important to have diversity on screen, some critics cry. And I think that Zora Neal Hurston provides an excellent example of why. When we can see ourselves in a variety of positions, our minds are opened up to the possibilities. There has to be a first, a President Barack Obama, that has the ability to conceive of being in a position that no Black man has ever occupied. But now that he has done it, how many young people of color are now having their world views expanded. How many more children are now thinking that they could grow up to be President?

In “Crazy for This Democracy,” Hurston uses shifts of perspective to present her argument. She plays with the words spoken by F.D.R., turning an “arsenal” into “arse-and-all” (249). Her writing uses a wry tone that does stop short of anger while still retaining a bite. The part of her essay that struck me the most was the description of the psychological effects of the Jim Crow laws. “No one of darker skin can ever be considered an equal. Seeing the daily humiliations of the darker people confirms the [white] child in its superiority, so that it comes to feel it the arrangement of God. By the same means, the smallest dark child is to be convinced of its inferiority, so that it is to be convinced that competition is out of the question, and against all nature and God” (251). Reading that explanation struck me emotionally. I had not before considered the psychological impact of laws.

In the present day, there is a struggle with the legislation against gay marriage. I believe that the numerous marriage amendments that defined marriage as between a man and a woman have similar psychological effects, creating a second class of citizen based on something that isn’t really visible as skin color is, but that is no less controllable. In Idaho, the rights of faith are put above the rights of people. Why? In Indiana, the governor has signed legislation that enshrines the right of people to discriminate based on their faith. I don’t understand how it hurts someone’s faith to engage in business with “sinners” especially considering that no one is perfect and they engage in business with sinners of all kinds without knowing. Just look at how many religious politicians have been caught sinning - how can a religious person that wishes to discriminate against gays have a business at all when they must always be doing business with sinners of some stripe or another?

Neal Hurston is another writer who uses the metaphor of disease to describe the racism in society. She describes society as a patient with small pox being treated by popping the bumps on the body. This treatment is not effective. “So why …delay the recovery of the patient by picking him over bump by bump and blister to blister? … The bumps are the symptoms. The symptoms cannot disappear until the cause is cured” (250). While the cause she highlights is the Jim Crow laws, her metaphor works for many of the societal injustices that continue to the present day. More generally, the cause is prejudice. The cause is the inherent belief in superiority that is the lie of the patriarchy. The cause is, perhaps, exemplified in the fact that the majority of people, when asked, would rate themselves as above average.

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