Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Zora Neale Hurston (partly) explained

Over at the Liberty and Power blog (part of the History News Network, which usually has something interesting up), Roderick Long has an interesting essay on Zora Neale Hurston, the Harlem Renaissance writer who was somewhat rediscovered in the 1970s, but sometimes baffles the womens studies and black studies academics who study her because her politics seem to lurch right and left. Rod notes that she can most accurately be described as a quirky libertarian, but that persuasion is terra incognita to most academics, so she remains puzzling.

He concludes with excerpts from a powerful Hurston essay on imperialism and how it sometimes substitutes for slavery now that supposedly civilized people have decided to eschew slavery (this sounds as if it was written in the late 1930s or early 1940s). It doesn't look so bad if you enslave people who are decidedly "the other" halfway around the world, so long as you don't enslave your own kind. Thus people were horrified that Hitler might rule Belgium and enslave its people, but not quite so horrified at -- indeed, preferred to remain invincibly ignorant of -- the slavery and exploitation Belgium had practiced in Africa for decades and decades. And so on. Thought-provoking.

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