American Literature Since the War Between the States
Prof. Jack Morales
April 20, 2017
The Left Out
(A Paper on the Meaning of American Consciousness)
The white Chief with yellow hair!”
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
On Monday, May 4, 1970, as students were changing classes, amidst protesters gathered on the lawn, rifle fire erupted from a line of trees on campus killing four students. In years to come the gunmen were known to sign autographs with glee. The killers were in the National Guard. Kent State unfortunately was a defining moment in the modern world, singularly intimate to Allegheny County because Alison Krause’s parents were known to attend peace rallies on Flagstaff Hill in Pittsburgh, memorably on Mother’s Day. The Community College of Allegheny County where I go to school has the unusual decoration on their main building of peace symbols the upper quadrant of which has been sheared off as though decapitated. It symbolizes for me what this course and research in post-Slave Era American Literature is about: the missing and he Left Ou. Janet Roitman described in her book: nti-Crisi the way in which something very critical to wording can change the wireframe we use to balance our many perceptions into what we take for comprehension and understanding. For her, the tremendous balancing act expected when placing great weight on one thin, eviscerated donkey of a term is found in use and abuse of the word “crisis.” It instills in her a swath of contemplations she takes for useful and even necessary to definition and understanding; like use of this term: he Left Ou for me. It churns every which way, popping out of sight then into vision like a pebble alone in a going dryer. “The Left Out” rattles away; it is both lens and crisis, it is a missing tool when you need it most, and yet like any symbol it can be used to mean its opposite, causing confusion or defining paradox. The Left Out in that sense can be less than invisible truth, and simply testify to the ignored and neglected, even the contrivances of hidden hands and deception. Yet for all its vagaries, it remains a necessary lens when making judgment calls against aporia, that bewildering feeling of being at sea concerning where to begin in a complicated subject.
This paper is about change, awareness, problem-solving at our college and the future. It is also about the give and take between creation and pilfering of our national estate in a troubled world through envisioning a canon of American Literature. Thanks to re-discovery and inclusion of the writer Zora Neale Hurston, the work is here that is necessary to describe and disentangle critically, fact from fiction, meaning from propaganda, and finding the Left Out in the maelstrom of dogma. Roitman says, “I hope to draw attention to the means by which crisis serves as a distinction or transcendental placeholder in the occupation of an immanent world.” Seeking a placemark in the book of time that refreshes memory or inspires awareness sufficiently to turn on lights against blackout is a reasonable expectation to bring to schools, where reading and writing is not only required, but allowed. Roitman points out, “The world is as it is, but it could be otherwis,” raising the challenge of by what means to we assure that our vision of what it could be otherwise moves in the direction of what it should be. “Crisis,” she says, “is a blind spot that enables the production of knowledge.” In this sense my own term he Left Ou can almost be conceived as a substitution for Roitman’s crisis.
In a paper written for school titled, he Liberation of Literac Kiley Austin-Young surmises from reading of Frederick Douglass that Emancipation was closely tied to literacy. “While slavery in the United States was typically considered to be a legal regime”, says Austin-Young, “his conception of enslavement was a more complex status than that defined by law”. “The fit revelatory moment of Frederick Douglass’ life comes when he learns to read—a practice forbidden to slaves.” In this construction the right to an education can be understood as the beginning of the end in a long, terrible argument about race in the United States, but it is also the beginning of a new argument about such questions as Black racism, whether Black Power can be the New White, and where, if anywhere, in Black leadership is a vision of humanity appealing to all people in America as a whole and what does the adoption of a new canon offer to a dying world?
The disappearance of Zora Neale Hurston from our literary community for many decades of obscurity is a singularly troubling instance of what is at risk. Even her re-emergence portends a significant set of unasked questions, led by one question most of all: To what use is she being put by Alice Walker’s coterie who serve as a new age Harlem Renaissance. Does the current publication lobby of celebrity Black writers singing her praises really bring us the dreams of the past to a new age or use the past to fulfill the new nightmares in the name of a former Enlightenment found in the 1920’s? This will be dismissed as hit criticism, even Pittsburgh white criticism. That can’t be avoided because that is what it is, but what does the implication that it should be avoided portend for academic freedom? In his essay, ow Bigger Was Bor Richard Wright, while avoiding saying outright that Bigger Thomas was a fascist in the making, explains that the reason he doesn’t pigeonhole Bigger as fascist is that Bigger Thomas was denied the education necessary for such an ideology to take root. “He is product of a dislocated society; he is a dispossessed and disinherited man,” explains Richard Wright, warning against, “whether he'll follow some gaudy, hysterical leader who'll promise rashly to fill the void in him,” in the manner of German fascism. “Granting the emotional state, the tensity, the fear, the hate, the impatience, the sense of exclusion, the ache for violent action, the emotional and cultural hunger,” leads Wright, “the difference between Bigger's tensity and the German variety is that Bigger's, due to America's educational restrictions on the bulk of her Negro population, is in a nascent state, not yet articulate.” Wright meant that the danger was real and the crisis immanent.
We have to see this prospect of moral inversion taking root in revenge as possible in order to actively engage the livelihood and danger posed by the restructuring of an American Literature into a canon which includes literature in which white people are stereotyped, demonized, de-personalized, bogeyed and white liberals lynched. Zora Hurston herself depicts a white friend in a jazz club as unable to connect emotionally, a laconic type, virtually zombie, almost without soul. Ironically, the white bigots are safer in their disturbing place of siege. In the words of one of them, Mr. Douglas, who said to me derisively after I supported a call for University of Pittsburgh to divest from South Africa, “if you try to help Black people they will only turn on you.” Some of my personal experiences, even at this school where my desire once to marry was lampooned and humiliated, have to be put aside in order to counter that adage. Is it worth it to try again?
The condition of Zora Neale Hurston, her art, her depiction of white friends, her re-discovery by a mainsteam Black literaii who was long shunned her due to her differences with women like Mary McLeod Bethune, who was strong in advocacy for the victimized condition that Zora Hurston wanted no part of; Hurston made her stand by talking down the expulsion of her white friends from Ned’s nightclub in Harlem, and what it speaks to concerning later Black Power aggravations like the banishment by Stokely Carmichael of white students from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights Movement. This is a warning to the direction of academic freedom made by the margins of Black Power where white people try to help them and face bigotry from both directions.
This is not to say that I disagree with the structure of a class posed as an exercise in the notion of a new canon. I don’t. I think, and aim to persuade, that Zora Neale Hurston’s work is magical and necessary to American Literature, and that this course is very singular in importance for putting her in a poly-context after being so long Left Out. Black writers are not shy of the dramatic issues raised by their call to arms in school where those who promote Black literature are sometimes informed, appreciative, talents white people, nor do they always shun the perverse questions being raised, but the potential to hide blame or at least mutual responsibility behind the firebranding of finger-pointing is disturbing, and someone other than white bigots needs to take an appreciative stand about it. Hardship can make one open-minded, but on the subject of Black Power there is also a stopping point beyond which Black liability is never entertained. The riot that attended the death of Martin Luther King was born in tears, but not every act of Black rage has been moved by fine emotion. If rage indeed is the light of liberty in academic freedom we may face book burning as well as martyrdom. Is that our way out?
Although the Civil Rights Movement was scripted as tragedy, all walks of life were affected, including American relations around the world. Changes were made on the streets and in schools, labor and employment, correctional facilities and their processes, among corporations and high estate, government and politics, glamour magazines and Wall Street; new minds entered the marketplace of ideas and front lines of academics. Yet throughout the 50’s and 60’s the iconoclastic Zora Neale Hurston and her works of literary genius were buried in the unmarked grave of obscurity. She isn’t obscure anymore of course but that presents us with a problem of explaining her disappearance and what it means that she has risen to the forefront of a covert canon, attracting our interest as a frontal challenge to our magic of learning and depth of appreciation. Can she make a difference? If so, why and how?
It seems disingenuous to mark her place as among advocates for Ebonics in her distinctive 1920’s Negro vernacular, or to cast her newly marked grave in the question David Cameron, former Prime Minister of Britain raises in announcing that inclusion of minorities will lower standards. Is the issue of lower standards a mask for double standards? Who familiar with Zora Neal Hurston can doubt the brilliance of Black dialect and therefore the genius being smothered in illiteracy? With challenges to traditional standards existing in schools where developmentally different, sometimes irregular or stubborn students can bring both energy and havoc to class, Hurston’s appeal goes beyond affirming Ebonics into the question of overlooked powers of expression and wisdom among the marginalized. This is not her only role, merely her most conspicuous.
In his book on the dimensions of the literary imagination, Wm. Lynch writes, “We must, then, look for a form of order that orders indeed, but leaves reality, every iota of yours and mine, intact, multitudinous, different and free, but together at last.” Richard Wright, we know from his ravings about Hurston, didn’t like what she was doing. He ridiculed her work and accused her of offering up caricatures. Yet the Harlem Renaissance was not an island unto itself. It took place in a country where women were gasping for the oxygen of suffrage. “The status quo was threatened by women’s bold strides into all-male domains at the end of the century. When women pressed to enter elite institutions...male conservatives lashed back.” Although the dispute between Wright and Hurston can easily consume us as issues of heritage, taste and literary imagination, the social dimension mustn’t be overshadowed. “There is one large lesson we can still learn from the battle over “the woman question,” it is that a change in physical relations and conditions changes mental and emotional states beyond what even the most revolutionary of reformers can begin to foresee.”
Due to the historic fact that School should be open to anyone and that minorities have been excluded, it is our school’s duty to redress the exclusion of culturally relevant content vital to our heritage Left Out due to segregationist tendencies. For Filipino American Carlos Bulasan, “this task was not only to understand America but also to make it a just society, to realize the
America of his heart.”
If bigotry makes it unsafe our society unsafe for diversity it is reasonable to ask if our exclusion of Zora Neale Hurston in the past speaks to a bigoted response towards her among her contemporaries predicated on their own social agenda and this is a particularly salient and thorny question given that New York literary power, Black Power and male, was a major factor behind her disappearance. Roy Wilkins, suit and tie gentry of the NAACP, offers such a picture by his scorn and distaste for Fanie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper’s daughter who was battered on the front lines of the Mississippi Voter’s Rights drama, whose singing of: his Little Light of Min is featured on Smithsonian Records with songs from the Civil Rights Movement. It amounts to what Bobby Kennedy called “sordid dishonesty” about the price paid by the downtrodden for the aloofness of the thoughtful. Zora Neale Hurston then provides a symbolic dimension regarding intractable socio-economic problems, what Tolkien called the wish to do what we do not dare. In the struggle to find out what is right, and do right, in our society’s capacity and obligation as teachers, and to learn what is necessary as students, we need to understand the root conflicts that give rise to the desire to learn not as certain and sure paths, fixed and homogeneous, but as best guesses based on our study of our society and hope for its destination. “People seek knowledge for many different reasons, and curiosity about unfamiliar things is certainly among the possible reasons.” When unfamiliar students are coming to school how does a teacher enlighten them about their own relevance in light of their obscure past? What is buried and Left Out in an unmarked grave?
In finding talent, provocation, beauty, drama, fascination, entertainment, soul, enterprise, enrichment, education and hope in Hurston’s corpus we are allowing the perfectly logical question of disoriented young persons, “Are we no less human, no less wise, no less capable of rising to protectiveness, Promethean gestures and virtue?” despite being poor and having fewer educational opportunities? She speaks for the silent weak by pulling the plug on their verbal suppression. She seems to answer Richard Wright and all he has to say with her beautiful syllables, “I knowed you was gonna crawl up in that holler!”
In reading Richard Wright’s condemnation of Zoe, without one single word against his profound and High German contribution to the architectural foundation of American Literature, matching the skill of anyone in the world, without one ungracious word concerning his toil to present the tragedy of black youth crushed beneath the white wheel and his fabulous power to make you feel the tragedy and loss, when it comes to his rejection of Zoe “the nasty taste it leaves in the mouth is due to its failure as a work of art, its obsessive caterwauling about the weakness of the human condition.” Richard Wright seems to prey on her for not being him.
Stokely Carmichael, a figure known for lashing out at well-meaning white peers, points a caustic finger in a similarly biting way at people who mean well, genuinely, “If indeed white liberals are going to help their only job is to get the gun from the man and talk to him, because he is in fact the sick man. The black man is not the sick man, it is the white man who is sick. He is the one who picked up the gun first.” Carmichael misses the fact that you don’t need a gun to be sick and that legendary Black man Richard Wright played a huge role in pushing Zoe Hurston out of the picture. Carmichael, perhaps not so coincidentally, notoriously said, “The place of women in the Civil Rights Movement is prone.”
“Slaves were always buried in the night, as no one could stop to do it in the day.” It is as if Zoe was buried in the night. Her destination wasn’t nightfall, it is daybreak. “Hurston could be read...as a commentator on the dynamics of any encounter between an insider and outsider, any attempt to make a statement about difference.”[Gates/Johnson]
Events in the history of the United States can be terribly obscure. Unearthing the truth about the eras of Native American History, Slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction are difficult tasks in part due to the long shadow cast by segregation and racism which buries the victims in the nightfall or leaves them out to rot. Even honest literature by dignified women and men sometimes has to be seen in light of changes of heart and empowerment of new forms of hatred. “How do we know anything?” can be a philosophical question that leaves one truly uneasy.
The goal of looking at post-Slave Era Literature in an inquiry into the meaning of America Consciousness, cultivated in school, is to reconcile a diversity of opinions and legacy of text into a majority consensus affirming the civil right of respectful disagreement providing a hope for mutual progress in the context of the magnanimous idea of consent to be governed by rightfully established law through democratic processes in a pluralist society disallowing rights violation, foreign attack and according fair hearing, habeus corpus and due process. By reading writers who were previously Left Out who now enrich our society’s foundations, I sought to arrive at a junior understanding of the meaning of American Consciousness which does not ignore direct attacks on that meaning, particularly by unenlightened, but newly empowered minorities. What is Left Out can be disturbingly revealing about what is really there. The idea that white power created the old canon of literature is a powerful and sincere call to arms. In recognizing conflicting attitudes and beliefs vying for recognition, in the presence of nihilism, lampoon, cynicism, skepticism, devil’s advocacy and shrewd, paper-shredding lawyers, the meaning of American Consciousness faces a combat of terms, and this is how it should be. Dissent is no crime, and shouldn't be taken for one. Crime, conversely, is not dissent. It was understanding of this fact that Frederick Douglass brought to the table in refusing to praise the Fourth of July. It wasn’t Flag-Burning, it was protest against burning innocent men at the stake or spitting, “have faith,” at their nameless graves.
The role of American Literature is critical to this process of definition an learning. So are the stirrings of moral demand leading to political action, all of which presupposes the value of an education and the value of an inclusive, timely, relevant one. Certain questions are not easy to shake in approaching the hope for definition of American Consciousness such as: How did segregation happen? What is the meaning of violence in American society? Are there legitimate reactionary forces who have rejected the United States beyond mere dissenting protest? Is American Consciousness today a re-thinking of old notions or is it simply the right to contradict old guard values and authority? Can such an identity crisis be constructively resolved by the American literature that addresses these issues? Can such literature ever be avoided? Zora Neale Hurston’s brilliant use of language shows that the identity crisis in the American arts is occurring on the margins as well as the center. It is as necessary to speak truth to the powerless as it is to the powerful, and arguably as dangerous.
American Literature can be such an elite pre-occupation that people on the street in community access program environments often see it as virtually an encounter with strange, awkward, unknown others, a place where literacy and familiarity are themselves an alien landing. Some of our best writers have issued warnings that fell on averted or occupied ears. If you don't already know about something is it because it has no value? The danger in leaving too much out is the assumption that it was sidelined because irrelevant. Zora Neale Hurston’s work contradicts this premise by showing us a deep portrait of our potentials in a state of dismissal. The art of teaching, and professionally questioning and retelling a creative digest of educational foundations is up against the ostrich effect of a Commonwealth where many people don't want to know what is Left Out for fear of unpleasant truths, so revisions of the canon may in fact fall into the hands of an unenlightened minority by default, as Hurston’s work did for a long time. Academics are to some degree a public lifestyle. Comprehending, eloquent, dexterious of method and research, selling practical ideas for the study of literature to a society with poor reading habits, teachers are expected to have considered and contemplated everything and smoothed the road for simplified learning. Dialectical matters can be hard. Who? When? What? is the cultural legacy of Stokeley Carmichael, Dick Gregory or anyone else overlooking Zora Neale Hurston? Does the notion of a dog eat dog world explain why bad things happen to gifted writers? In a world gone wrong what happens when it happens to me? How safe is ignorance? This all comes into focus when you look at the convenience to which social continuity is put by token advancement in compliance with demands for symbolic victory by Black Power rather than substantive ones by a people united. The idea that sound government is making progress against racism by tribute to a few overachievers can sound true when it isn't. Can you escape being American? Are we American? Were we ever when the Flags of our identity are everywhere being burned, buried in the dark, destination: nightfall?
This paper has shown that a caustic evolution of terms pushing Zora Hurston out of the picture continues in a threatenin and degrading way that threatens educational culture and against which we, as a society, must openly conspire to obstruct: the subjugation of magnanimity impaled on the host of grievance and hatred leaving out the key words: Mutual Appreciation. The white bogeyman is openly set upon, even by Hurston, to serve as a cathartic purpose, a cowhoove to gnaw on as a ward against injury to the power structure behind slavery and racist cruelty. The sale of this new stereotype to minorities enthralled with the intellectual zeitgeist based on disgracing white liberalism foremost serves the white elite so they campaign to orchestrate the denial of the role of villainy in Black Power notions that rage against a machine that they want to be in charge of for the same malicious ends. The silent majority of Blacks know what grudge is, so they ignore the issue for emotional satisfaction, playing quid pro quo with the reasoning of rights as a due. Is that proper in academic discourse? Is it to enter from the streets without being addressed meaningfully? Just because it is there? To herd us into alarming advocacy for Black bigotry? Some real haters make it dangerous to say anything in defense of white liberal values. Even Zora Hurston depicted her white friend in a bar as soulless and incapable of fully appreciating the spirit of jazz. Such a diversion to a white liberal bogeyman may seem like a giant step forwards for Black letters, but it is really capitulation to a new Confederate intrigue. Found out for this, we are warned not to evaluate the Black enlightenment for evidence of object lessons in reverse hate crime, being openly dramatized in such books as Alice Walker's Meridia where a white girl is degraded into kissing a black man’s stump of an arm in a hustler’s rite of passage, and this asks our schools to enlist a fever of Black racial justification in acts of such voodoo bein justified in the language of Neely Fuller as “compensatory coding”. Exactly who is the removable singularity? Maturity and sensibility are apparently no salve against such extremism. Are they demanding a consent decree for voiding everything we stand for?
Alie forces, not least Black Africans in their deals with White Supremacy, which nevertheless do shape the habits and thoughts of our people, while often evading notice for their commercialized distortions, affect our schools in ways not properly analyzed. Not all of the world's people are menacing just because they can think and feel very differently from what we do, but having a sound comprehension of American consciousness can help hold a slipping place in the world’s esteem. Not everyone is in a position to look at our National pride as their own but most people know what it means to be consistent and respectable. The logic of disallowing Black racism to deny itself and then serve as an intellectual construct is based on the mean-spirited idea that it is logically impossible for a Black constituency to commit an organized hate crime and that just isn't so. Those who do not love the United States have a good deal to gain by advocacy for the fallacy. Loving Black people is simple enough, they care, they wrote treasures to inspire us. Teaching them is a joy, as well as a duty.
In order to accept all this it is helpful to pry the truth from the jaws of darkness in which white power has buried it. James Baldwin writes, “That sinners have always, for American Negroes, been white is a truth we needn’t labor, and every American Negro, therefore, risks having the gates of paranoia close on him. In a society that it entirely hostile, and, by its nature, seems determined to cut you down – that has cut down so many in the past and cuts down so many every day – it begins to be almost impossible to distinguish a real from a fancied injury,”[New Yorker] and thus an injury can be invented.
Although the themes advanced by Black pedagogues and demagogues are often thoughtful, enlightening and speak to real things, it amounts to smoke and steam in light of the deal Obama cut for power in the AIDS attack. The AIDS attackers anticipated and easily secured Black villainy. London brokered The Elders Project and release of Nelson Mandela in return for cooperation and a strategy of deception arranged by the Reagan Administration and their Federal Emergency Management Team at the University of Pittsburgh. There isn’t any doubt about it, although it is pointless to argue the facts or try to present the evidence. The Honors Department at CCAC has records of the entire tragic farce.
The women at my school, of course, helped Obama. They profiled me based on the straw man character of my utility as a deaf white suck targeting an impacted neuroplasm I did not even know was there which their high science boyfriends had impacted through severe battery and nerve agent poisoning when they nearly killed me forcing me to swallow things as a crying child, a horrific ordeal about which I could not even remember much less speak. Thus began years of homelessness and toil, having seizures in the streets, and being poisoned in the heart by a hospital orderly punishing me for snitching, but that didn’t matter because I am a white defsukke.
Ta-Neishi Coates’ already far-fetched scheme demanding reparations and damages from innocent people implodes in the face of such mania and Black collusion in the AIDS attack, even though they will bang on in denial and heartless Black bigotry, building their own scaffolds as crooked Germany did, with a ladder of their own victims leading up to the sun, but destination: Nightfall.
Baldwin, James. "Letter from a Region in My Mind." New Yorker, 17 Nov. 1962. James Baldwin describes the unsettling feeling of being among Black leaders whose certainty about things he doesn't believe unsettles him and forces him to question his choices.
Clinton, Catherine. The Other Civil War: American Women in the 19th Century. Hill and Wang, 1984, p. 145. Presents the struggle for women suffrage as having magnitude and dimensions that are kept hidden.
Fabrizio, et al., Ray, editor. The Rhetoric of No - Black Power Essay by Stokely Carmichael. Holt Rinehart, 1970, p. 77. This collection of essays was used in the 70s as primary text for readings of political rhetoric by beginning English and writing students in college; ranging from Martin Luther King to Adolf Hitler.
Gates, Henry Louis, editor. Race Writing as Difference - Structures of Address in Zora Neale Hurston by Barbara Johnson by. UC Press.
Hurmence, Belinda, editor. Before Freedom (When I Can First Remember) Essay Elijah Green. John F. Blair, 1989, p. 66.
Lessing, Doris. A Small Personal Voice. Vintage Books, 1956, p. 115.
Lynch, William F. Christ and Apollo: The Dimensions of the Literary imagination. N.Y., Sheed and Ward, 1960, p. 108.
Sen, Amartya. The Argumentative Indian. Penguin Books, 2005, p. 143.
Takaki, Ronald. Strangers From A Different Shore. Little Brown, 1989, p. 351.
Wilson, Colin. The Outsider. Houghton Mifflin, 1956, p. 152.