Zora Turns 127 Tomorrow

January 6, 2018 | 1

Not familiar with Zora Neale Hurston or just need to brush up in preparation for her birthday? Liz Dwyer has got you covered. “Through the #MeToo movement we’ve read the stories of how calling out sexual harassment and the patriarchy has ruined women’s careers. Similarly, Hurston was shunned and derided by many of her male compatriots in the Harlem Renaissance for creating one of the first strong, black, and sexually aware female protagonists of 20th century American fiction.”  Hooked yet? After you finish, read this essay by our own Jeffrey Colvin on visiting Zora’s birthplace and his sister.

One comment:

  1. “Hurston was shunned and derided by many of her male compatriots in the Harlem Renaissance for creating one of the first strong, black, and sexually aware female protagonists of 20th century American fiction.”

    Zora was “derided” by many of her compatriots (and by Black readers in general) for caricaturing “Negro” life for the entertainment of White readers. What too many readers now don’t understand, because their reading is, necessarily, too narrow, and their experience culturally lopsided (owing to segregation and the various biases inherent in media) is that such racialist “reportage” is an American tradition… and the victims of the racialist reportage were not just “Negroes” in general but, specifically, the (portrayed as) “lazy, ignorant, brutal, immoral, rape-inclined” Black males. Too many readers are oblivious to the ongoing issue and cyclical controversy, but this piece in the NYT (June 15, 1986) addressed it in some detail:

    “In fact, this phenomenon has intensified to the extent that the harsh portrayal of black males in the enormously popular film version of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ”The Color Purple” has elicited outraged criticism from blacks that is reminiscent of the heated reaction to D. W. Griffith’s film ”The Birth of a Nation” and the film version of ”Gone With the Wind.” According to a news story in The New York Times, the movie has inspired community forums, pickets and heated arguments among blacks in many parts of the country. The screen adaptation has, of course, brought Miss Walker’s tale to a much larger audience, which the increased agitation in black communities reflects. But the underlying controversy over the portrayal of black men in fictional works by black women has been brewing in black literary circles for some time.”

    This tradition continues to this day, of course. In Roxane Gay’s “An Untamed State”, brutal, ignorant Black males (who are referred to as “animals” by the heroine) serially rape a pretty, accomplished, light-skinned kidnap victim whose husband, in contrast to her Black abusers, is a sensitive, handsome, supportive White male… a sharpening of the imaginary racialist contrasts that wouldn’t have been possible in Zora’s day: progress? Ms Gay has, since the book’s publication, revealed the fact that she was gang-raped at 12… but many of the articles reporting this terrible fact are not entirely explicit about the detail that Ms Gay’s rapists were White.

    Monetizing minority stereotypes is nothing new and it’s debatable whether it’s better or worse when a Creative lampoons her or his own “type” for the approbation of the mainstream. I only ask that some *awareness* of the reality (and implications) of this (racialist) practise enters the “critical discourse”… before the “critical discourse” devolves completely into trend-compliant cheerleading and units-pushing hype.

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