Spinning In her Grave

If Zora Neale Hurston were alive today, she would hate your fucking guts.

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Dec 1 2003, 12:00am

Photo by: Corbis (via time machine) | Sent from: the year 1945



Dear first-year feminist,

If Zora Neale Hurston were alive today, she would hate your fucking guts. She would have no tolerance for your extraneous African headwrap and your reductivist “End Racism Now!” T-shirt. If she knew you had her book next to your bed she would pick it up (thereby knocking your Girlstown DVD to the floor) and ram it up your ass. Zora Neale Hurston was never bell hooks. She was never the “many colors, one love” hippie all you racist rich kids make her out to be. In fact, Hurston had more in common with Trent Lott than anyone in your African-American History class, so get that poster off your dorm-room wall—now!

Academics are naïve and everything they read is filtered through bullshit glasses. They champion Hurston because she was black and proud, but they ignore the part where she said, “Proud enough to avoid self-pity.” Zora Neale Hurston wanted no part of the heavily white civil-rights movement. She saw it as another way for the North to push around the South.

True, she was one of the most notorious members of the Harlem Renaissance, but it was Hurston herself who laughingly referred to said group as the “niggerati.” Where the white New Yorkers and other Harlem Renaissance writers like W.E.B. Du Bois pushed black writers to write about their oppression and their inability to move up the ladder, Hurston wrote about the joys of being black in the 30s, and she did it with no apologies. The Dumb Community was outraged, of course, and criticized her for not taking part in, as Hurston put it, “the sobbing school of negrohood.” If Al Sharpton had been around then, Hurston would have ripped his balls off. One can only imagine his face when she told the press, “Crime in Harlem is rampant, and the police are helpless because the New Deal–promoted Negro politicians immediately let out a scream that Negroes are being persecuted the minute a Negro thug is arrested.”

By the 1950s Hurston’s anger had gone from casual comments in the newspapers to full-on political activism. She railed against the communists for trying to hoodwink the black man into supporting their causes. She wrote articles like “Why the Negro Won’t Buy Communism” and touted the merits of segregationism. That’s right, segregationism. Hurston was in no rush to be encorporated into the white community. She saw no need to be “elevated” to their standards, and pointed out that it wasn’t an honor to be surrounded by whites. As she put it, “How much satisfaction can I get from a court order for someone to associate with me who does not wish me near them?” She was also a passionate critic of the Civil War, complaining that the blacks could handle their own affairs and didn’t need the white Northern liberals to come in and “solve their problems.”

All this is not to say that she would have been on George Bush Jr.’s side were she alive today. Hurston understood that America is a republic, not an empire, and she despised FDR for using the working class’s money to make bombs to kill the working class. When FDR died she wrote: “That dear, departed, crippled-up so and so was the Anti-Christ long spoken of. I never dreamed that so many negative forces could be unleashed on the world until I wintered and summered under his dictatorship.”

Of course, as the civil-rights movement became the most fashionable thing since jazz, Hurston went out of style and ended her career going from maid to substitute teacher to librarian. She died a poor and lonely women in 1960, but at least she died with her boots on. Zora Neale Hurston rejected the communist leanings of her peers right up until the day she died, but, and this is the cruelest irony of all, today she is touted by her enemies as a shining example of everything she hated. The same way Malcolm X is used to promote rap music, Gene Kelly is Photoshopped to promote vacuums, and a postmortem Frank Sinatra is forced to sing with a dumb bitch like Celine Dion, Hurston (the libertarian individualist) is portrayed as the ultimate socialist communitarian. Have you people no shame?

P.S. Fuck off.

JESSICA CROWN