Journal of Transnational American Studies
Zora’s Politics: A Brief Introduction
- Author(s): Mitchell II, Ernest Julius
- et al.
In his introduction to reading Zora Neale Hurston’s politics, Mitchell argues that contemporary scholarship has misread Hurston in significant ways, distorting Hurston’s work and reputation to serve contesting political agendas; thus, in recent years, she has been associated with “a bewildering array of affiliations: republican, libertarian, radical democrat, reactionary conservative, black cultural nationalist, anti-authoritarian feminist, and woman-hating protofascist.” Recuperating Hurston from this impossible political melee of labels, Mitchell argues, requires a careful reading of Hurston’s work dating from her earliest pieces in the late 1920s, as well as surveying her many yet to be published manuscripts and letters; it requires recognition of the transnational and comparative lens through which she reported on political maneuvers and military histories, as well as reading not only her strong criticisms but also her silences, ironic phrasings, and nuanced critiques in her writings on global colonial enterprises. Mitchell’s introduction to the two Hurston essays here reprinted, “I Saw Negro Votes Peddled” (1950) and “Why the Negro Won’t Buy Communism” (1951)—courtesy of the American Legion Magazine—is set in the larger frame of his assertion that Hurston’s work should be read with a deep appreciation of her staunch anticolonialism. Tracing her political philosophy through her views of how race and religion are used to valorize an international culture of violence that serves imperialistic and colonial ends, Mitchell takes his reader on a tour of Hurston’s transnational commentary—from the US occupation of Haiti, to the Spanish and British on the Florida peninsula; from Communist Russia and China, to election practices in the US—to set the stage for our encounters with these rarely read Hurston essays. Reading Mitchell’s “Zora’s Politics: A Brief Introduction” provides a firm foundation for a more complex understanding of the impressive range of Zora Neale Hurston’s political and literary oeuvre.