Why Zora Neale Hurston Was a Conservative

The acclaimed author was skeptical of Democrats, special favors for blacks and the idea of taking racial pride in the achievements of individuals.

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Interesting: If there is one thing that all of the best-known black conservatives have in common when you meet them, it is that visceral resistance to a sense of victimhood or any fear of whites and What They Might Do. The people so often accused of being self-hating -- Michael Steele, Ward Connerly, Clarence Thomas, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Star Parker -- are actually quite markedly proud. It's no surprise to me that Hurston was, too.

That pride extended to her own people -- former Rep. Diane Watson of California could not have said of Hurston, as she did of Connerly, that she didn't like being black. Here was someone who depicted Moses speaking black English as a mark of wisdom and found Fisk Jubilee Singers-type arrangements of spirituals "a determined effort to squeeze all of the rich black juice out of the songs and present a sort of musical octoroon to the public."

And yet -- she always throws you in such welcome ways -- she also refrained from the escapist mythology of painting black Americans as exotically "African." Researching poor whites, she found that their speech almost eerily paralleled that of rural blacks. "After my fit of jealousy was cooled off, I realized that Negroes introduced into N. America spoke no English at all, and learned from the whites. Our sense of rhythm points it up a bit, but the expressions for the most part are English held over from the Colonial period." She's right on this; here and metaphorically, she understood that we are Americans.

She was truly spun gold. I wish her combination of starchy politics and vivid black authenticity could be brought to life beyond ancient think pieces and letter excerpts. Maybe Tyler Perry can think about a Harlem Renaissance movie. I suggest Queen Latifah as Hurston, by the way.

John McWhorter is a regular contributor to The Root. He is the author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.   

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John McWhorter is a contributing editor at The RootHe is an associate professor at Columbia University and the author of several books, including Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.

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