Tag Archives: Zora Neale Hurston

You’re not race-less yet?

UnknownStill signing up and showing up for the role of colored people, black, brown, red, yellow, white and otherwise?  Well, here are a few words of wisdom from two of my favorite writers to get you to choose differently and to say something more about who you are as a human being.  Because race is just a word albeit systematized, politicized, capitalized on.

But there are many other words that can be said about us and our neighbor.  We need only seek them out and speak them out loud.  A new tongue is required along with a taste for full freedom and authentic being. It’s a stretch to get our mouths around words like racelessness and aracial; however, it is well worth it.  For if we are to build another world, it will require new words that equip new structures on which to construct our shared humanity.

Anyone who knows me at all, knows that James Baldwin is a must in this conversion experience.  This master- teacher, healer and word- therapist says,

“If you’re treated a certain way, you become a certain kind of person. If certain things are described to you as being real, they’re real for you– whether they’re real or not.”

“From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed no religion is more important than the human being.”

“What you say about anybody else reveals you.”

“It is not a romantic matter. It is the unutterable truth: all men are brothers. That’s the bottom line.”

“The American ideal, after all, is that everyone should be as much alike as possible.”

“What one does realize is that when you try to stand up and look the world in the face like you had a right to be here, without knowing that this is the result of it, you have attacked the entire power structure of the Western world.”

Zora Neale Hurston is another deliverer from this death of individuality.  She says,

“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

“Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less.”

“For various reasons, the average, struggling, non-morbid Negro is the best-kept secret in America. His revelation to the public is the thing needed to do away with that feeling of difference which inspires fear, and which ever expresses itself in dislike.”

“At certain times, I have no race.  I am me.  I belong to no race or time.”

Are you race-less yet?  If not, say these words again… and again until they become your own.


Sending word

See the source imageLife is filled with false starts, abrupt stops, detours and wrong turns. We didn’t know it would take this long to come to ourselves, that there were so many copies to choose from, that being original is harder than it looks, that it is easier to repeat, to nod in agreement with the majority, that in going along to get along, we never find ourselves. We wake up one day and question aloud, “How did I get here?”

“Stop this ride; I want to get off.” I told Jesus to take the wheel so why do I feel like I want throw up? Hands in the air, we sing, “I surrender all.” But today, I worry about what I will have left.

When will things go right? When will all things come together to work for my good? When will this all make sense and come into focus? Because I can’t see what’s up ahead; I’m just tired of these raindrops falling on my head.

Tearstained faces, life is not a commissioned pretty picture and we don’t hold the paintbrush. We receive the brush strokes like everyone else—sickness and death, depression and debt, heartbreak and pain. In the course of our days, life can get ugly. And what we say in those moments can make or break us.

Henry David Thoreau said, “A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate in us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; — not be represented on canvas or in marble only but be carved out of the breath of life itself.”

We are a collection of words. Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “Language is a form of life.” Whether we know it or not, we are a spoken word, words that both define us and diminish us, question and answer us, love and hate us, attack and defend us. We are who we say we are. This is why we must choose our words carefully.

Because words can make you or break you. Because one wrong word can cause you to lose your place. Because one word can set us back and set us up for failure. Because the world capitalizes on us forgetting ourselves, on losing ourselves around here somewhere. They squeeze out our voice so that we can’t get a word in edgewise. Oscar Wilde said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Because “life and death are in the power of our tongue.”[1] Because I learned a long time ago, good words are hard to come by. So, I carry my own. I call them journey words.

Some people collect rare stamps and coins, dolls and cars. I carry a deck of 3×5 cards that remind me of who I am, what I believe, what my work is and where I am going. When I cannot find the words or my way, they take me to where I belong. They are words of commission and calling. They are words of clarity and certainty. They are words of direction, pointing me back to the track I sometimes I get off of. Tripping on the tongue of others, they have picked me up on more than one occasion.

They are my conversation partners, my guides. They are words from the living and the dead. They are words past, present and future, words outside of me, that call me inwardly, words behind me that propel me forward, words that I desperately wanted to hear as a child, words that I listen out for as an adult.

They are words that sound like me, the woman I have heard of but have yet to meet.   They are words like:

“Voyager, there are no bridges; one builds as one walks” (Gloria Anzaldua).


“I must see my understandings produce results in human experience. Productivity is my first value. I must make and mold and build life. As an artist, I must shape human relationships. To me, life itself is the greatest material. I would far rather build a man than form a book. My whole being is devoted to making my small area of existence a work of art. I am building a world” (Jean Toomer).


“The time is always right to do what is right” (Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.).


“Give me a place to stand and I will move the world” (Archimedes).


“Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul” (Mark Twain).


“Treat people as if they are what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).


“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.27-28, NRSV).


“Do the work your soul must have” (Katie Geneva Cannon).

Zora Neale Hurston coaches me, struts alongside me saying, “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.” Frederick Douglas is with her and chimes in, saying, “I prefer to be my true self, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false and incur my own abhorrence.” Thomas Merton nods in agreement, adding, “To be a saint means to be myself.” Less I be tempted to lose myself in the crowd, James Baldwin tugs on me, saying, “The effort not to know what one knows is the most corrupting effort one can make.”

Because it is easier to walk away, to take what is offered and leave ourselves on the table, on the cutting board, to erase the image emerging on the drawing board. Because we have reached our word limit and “if they say one more word…” This is why we need words like Abraham Joshua Heschel’s who declared, “Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible. … To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Because what you say will determine what you see. Because in the words of Mary Anne Evans, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Jesus’s words are a journey in themselves. We cannot read them and not be moved. And if we carry them, they will carry us home to our true selves, our new selves in him.


End notes|

[1] Proverb 18.21


It’s All About How You Look At It


Recently, my husband and I wanted to break from our normal routine and add another restaurant to those we would frequent in the District.  Named for Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown, Eatonville was established in 2009 and is near Busboys and Poets on 14th and U Streets.  The restaurants are strategically placed near each other as a way to bring Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes back to the table so to speak.  They drifted apart after an argument arose over copyright privileges to a collaborative work, Mule Bone.

Brightly colored and beautifully decorated, Eatonville had me at the door.  When we entered, I was met and greeted by the words of Hurston:

“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against but it does not make me angry.  It merely astonishes me.  How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company.  It is beyond me.”

As soon as we were seated, I rushed to my bag to find a scrap of paper and a pen.  I was not able to see the words but John had a good view so I asked him to read them to me.  I was more interested in the words on the wall than the menu at this point.  I had already been fed and I wanted to take a plate of her words home with me.

Hurston’s take on discrimination reminds me that it is but a matter of perspective.  It’s all about how you look at it.  Her words do not apologize for the practice of social exclusion and denial.  She makes no excuses for those who practice prejudice or stereotyping neither does she find the reason for it within herself.  Hurston does not make light of it but she also does not blame the person being discriminated against.  It is not her, his or my loss but that of the person who chooses to discriminate.

And because she has a healthy sense of self, she is not angered but amazed that a person would deny themselves such a pleasure.  She does not allow how she is treated by others to determine her self- perception.  For Hurston, when it comes to discrimination, she’s not the problem and she doesn’t have the problem.  It is my prayer today that we would begin to look at discrimination through the lens that her words provide.  Can you see it?

Race Is Not My Reality

“I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.”

~Zora Neale Hurston


Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, wrote these words in a letter to the poet Countee Cullen.  But, much like Paul’s letters to Timothy that speak to me as a believer and as a Christian leader,  Hurston’s words strike at the very heart of my convictions regarding the race-less life.  It does in fact take nerve… guts… spirit to walk my own way when there are ways that are easier, their paths paved and familiar.  And there are even fellow travelers.  But, sometimes you have to walk alone and it is often for the better as this journey toward racelessness will bring out the very worst in you.  It certainly has in me.  As I have realized that the race-less life is a patient work and the first person that needs work is me.

I’ve wanted to stop, not wanting to go the all of the way… alone.  But Leonard Sweet, in his introduction to Spiritual Leadership in a Secular Age: Building Bridges Instead of Barriers teaches me that “you can’t build a bridge by starting in the middle…. There are no halfway measures in the body of Christ.  Jesus always went the whole way.”  So, I keep on walking.  Besides, Sweet says, “The middle-of-the-road is home to only one thing: road kill.”  I don’t want to die in the middle.

I keep on walking because I don’t feel that I am moving away from someone that I am supposed to be.  Instead, I am walking toward the person that I am to become,  with each step no longer searching but creating my reality, one that does not include being ruled by race or its minion.  Sometimes, I get tired of walking, searching, seeking, knocking.  Sometimes, I want to just jump on the bandwagon and get whereever they’re going as quickly as possible.  I want to lose myself in their illusions and never be found.  Because it is often easier to live in the reality of others than to find and participate in our own. 

Finding my reality, finding myself is hard work but it is a good work.  It is a blessed work.  My other option is the reality of race and I simply cannot go back there so, I’ll keep on walking.