February is Black History Month. As those on the right (and even an increasing number of people elsewhere) know well enough, these four weeks are all too easily used by activists as an opportunity to promote a politics of victimhood congenial to a leftist agenda.
The famed black writer—and conservative—Zora Neale Hurston, frustrates this program.
Born in the early 1890’s in the lower South, Hurston would one day join the ranks of those black writers who became associated with “the Harlem Renaissance.” Unlike most of her colleagues, however, she staunchly rejected the communism and socialism with which they sympathized.
Hurston resented the efforts made by black and white intellectual alike to make of black Americans a new proletariat, a victim class perpetually in need of an all-encompassing national government to ease the “lowdown dirty deal” that “nature has somehow given them [.]” Hurston was adamant that she was “not tragically colored.” She insisted that “no great sorrow” lies “damned up in my soul, lurking behind my eyes,” and she placed a world of distance between herself and “the sobbing school of negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are hurt about it [.]”
For what contemporary black commentator Larry Elder refers to as the “victicrats” among us, Hurston had zero use. “Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves,” she remarked. Much to their chagrin, though, “it fails to register depression with me.” Furthermore, she stated bluntly that “slavery is the price I paid for civilization.”
Our increasingly joyless generation is oblivious to another of Hurston’s insights: a sense of humor can bear most, if not all, painful things. Regarding racial discrimination, she noted that while she “sometimes” feels “discriminated against,” she does not get “angry” about it. Rather, the experience “merely astonishes me,” for how, Hurston asks, “can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
As far as foreign policy was concerned, Hurston was of the old right. She was what today we are inclined to call a “paleoconservative” or “paleolibertarian.” With the Russell Kirks, Patrick J. Buchanans, and Ron Pauls of the right Hurston had much in common—especially when it came to foreign policy.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.