Saturday, March 8, 2014

Zora Neal Hurston’s 1943 Letter to Countee Cullen on White “Liberals”

March 5, 1943

Dear Countee:

Thanks a million for your kind letter. I am always proud to have a word of praise from you because your friendship means a great deal to me. It means so much to me because I have never known you to make an insincere move, neither for personal gain, nor for malice growing out of jealousy of anyone else. Then too, you are my favorite poet now as always since you began to write. I have always shared your approach to art. That is, you have written from within rather than to catch the eye of those who were making the loudest noise for the moment. I know that hitch-hiking on band-wagons has become the rage among Negro artists for the last ten years at least, but I have never thumbed a ride and can feel no admiration for those who travel that way. I have pointed you out on numerous occasions as one whose integrity I respected, and whose example I wished to follow.

Now, as to segregation, I have no viewpoint on the subject particularly, other than a fierce desire for human justice. The rest of it is up to the individual. Personally, I have no desire for white association except where I am sought and the pleasure is mutual. That feeling grows out of my own self-respect. However blue the eye or yellow the hair, I see no glory to myself in the contact unless there is something more than the accident of race. Any other viewpoint would be giving too much value to a mere white hide. I have offended several “liberals” among the whites by saying this bluntly. I have been infuriated by having them ask me outright, or by strong implication if I am not happy over the white left-wing associating with Negroes. I always say no. Then I invariably ask why the association should give a Negro so much pleasure? Why any more pleasure than with a black “liberal”?

 They never fail to flare up at that which proves that they are paying for the devout worship that many Negroes give them in the cheap coin of patronage, which proves that they feel the same superiority of race that they claim to deny. Otherwise, why assume that they have done a noble deed by having contact with Negroes? Countee, I have actually had some of them to get real confidential and point out that I can be provided with a white husband by seeing things right! White wives and husbands have been provided for others, etc.

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