107. Who Was Zora Neal Hurston?

History is filled with examples of courageous heroes who have defended liberty and stood up for what was right even when they faced great opposition. Today, Connor and Brittany talk about Zora Neal Hurston, one of the first female libertarians who helped pave the way for the movement we have today.


Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Brittany: Hi Connor.

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: So history is filled with heroes who’ve stood up for what was right in the face of serious opposition, whether that’s from their own peers or from the government, whoever it may be. Today, I wanted to talk about one of those heroes, who’s one of my favorite authors, and her name is Zora Neale Hurston. First of all, Connor, have you ever heard of her at all?

Connor: A little bit. but this, you know, for example, our listeners know we just put out a book called The TuttleTwins Guide to, courageous Heroes a few weeks back. That’s right. You go to Tuttletwins.com/products and find the book listed there. And, you know, that was a hard thing to do cuz it’s like we don’t want to have an 8,000-page book and all these fun stories. And so we didn’t share, uh, the story of, Zora, in that book. We’ve got a lot of other fun stories in there. So go to Tuttletwins.com/products, check out the book, and I’m excited to get into Zora’s story with you today.

Brittany: Yeah. so what makes her so cool in my opinion is that she is one of the first female libertarians. So we’ll get into that in a second. But when I first discovered her, actually had nothing to do with, you know, her character or even her personal beliefs, she wrote a book. I had to read an English class. And typically, I don’t know about you, but I hated whatever book was assigned to me in school because I’m not really big on being forced to do something. So the second a teacher would tell me to read a book, I just never wanted to read it. I’ve still never read Tom Sawyer. I think that’s the one I’ve never read Tom Sawyer because they wanted me to read Tom Sawyer. And so I said no.

Connor: And you haven’t watched Lord of the Ring, right?

Brittany: I haven’t watched Lord of the Ring. So the public school system failed me. but I had to read one of her books, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which is probably her most famous. and I had no idea when I read that book that I was going to love her in other ways. But that was one of the few books that I read in high school that I actually reread as an adult because I liked it so much. So there are a lot of jokes, about like libertarians and how there’s no women in libertarianism. And part of the reason that’s funny is cuz there are no women in libertarianism. I’m kidding, that’s not really true but there didn’t use to be, there used to be only a handful and we have more of them today, but back in the day when there weren’t that many when there was female libertarian was really important. Part of the reason is because that paved the way for people like me to enter this movement. So I would not be here today if it weren’t for people like Zora Neale Hurston. So that’s what makes her unique. And aside from that, she’s also a really integral part of black history and black culture as well. So, but let me back up a little bit. So Connor, can you give us a little synopsis of like, just of like where she was born? I think I, think you’ve got some of that information, right?

Connor: Yeah. So, she had seven siblings, so a pretty large family, kind of like you. Yeah. And, her father was a baptist preacher and a farmer and a carpenter and, you know, sounded like a pretty handy guy. her mom was a schoolteacher, uh, and she was born in Alabama. They moved to Florida. Now a lot of her stories are set in the south for this reason. Right. She kind of grew up there and kind of understand, understood, what it was like to live there from her experience. And so her stories kind of have that setting. so she became an author and even a filmmaker. And what she’s often known for is she would portray, you know, racial struggles of, black people and the tension of, racism in the early 19 hundreds in American South. And so of course, you know, slavery has been abolished, but there’s still so much racism and racial tension. And so she’s got, foreign novels as I recall. The most popular one, as you mentioned, is their eyes were watching, God, this was published in like 1937. So you know, way before your parents were born, kids even before your parents were born for the adults listening probably so a long time ago. but she wrote a lot of short stories, you know, and essays and stuff, and was even a leader in what was called like the Harlem Renaissance. So she was kind of like, you know, kind of an activist, you might say a storyteller. and so she’s most well known for their eyes. we’re watching God, but that’s not the only reason why she’s well known, nor why are we gonna talk about her more today.

Brittany: Exactly. so back in her era, which late thirties, early forties and early fifties is when she was big, the term libertarian. I actually don’t even know if that was a word back then. I know that the word started being used more in like the Ayn Rand era and we talked about her in another episode. but that was more in like the sixties. I don’t know if you know the answer to this, Connor. I don’t know when the word started being used.

Connor: Yeah, I don’t know.

Brittany: That’s something we’ll have to look up

Connor: Yeah, yeah. I wanna say, yeah, it was kind of the seventies and eighties. Cuz the weird, issue here is that liberal, Libertarians used to be liberals. I mean, the founding fathers would consider themselves maybe except Alexander Hamilton, but.

Brittany: we don’t like him anyway, he’s

Connor: The founding fathers would consider themselves libertarians. And at the time it was liberals, that was the word liberty, the same root word. And of course, like many things that word was co-opted, and now liberal means kind of progressive and big government and so forth. And so seeking to rebrand themselves, you know, libertarians first I think they started saying like, classical liberal yes. versus neoliberal or neoliberal. and so you’ll hear people sometimes say classical liberal, all that means is like the liberals, like the founding fathers and libertarians. I think it would adopt that same thing, but kind of coined that term I think several decades back just to kind of give it some distinction. So, yeah, like, you know, here we’re talking about, Zora’s story and even though the term wasn’t really used at the time, she kind of falls under that same classification.

Brittany: Absolutely. I think they would’ve called her conservative. In fact, there’s been a lot of essays written about her in modern-day about her being conservative. John, I always say his name wrong, I just saw him speak to John Mcwhorter, I believe it is his name. He has a great podcast. He talked about her being like one of the most integral and famous black conservatives who ever, you know, lived in this country. So there’s a lot of different words or, labels being thrown around. What’s cool to me though is she hated labels. So I kinda like that about her is she would not have called herself any of those things, but that didn’t make her any less opinionated. So, and, what’s funny to me about the conservative part, and this is why I bring her up, cuz to me this is important as somebody who’s kind of a conservative libertarian and a female, her example meant a lot to me, especially because a lot of people try to hide that part of her because she’s so integral to, black culture and to the south. A lot of people don’t want her to be clumped in with Republicans and conservatives, but that’s actually a really re kinda like a big part of her life. So that’s, really, really interesting to me that so much of that is hidden. It’s actually hard now to find it on Google. 10 years ago I did not have a hard time. When I was in college, I did a project on Zora Neale Hurston and I did all this work, this like research on her political work, and it’s not as available today as it was 10 years ago, which I thought was really, yeah, interesting. But so anyway, a lot of people in literary world tend to be more odd. I don’t wanna say the left, that’s kind of the word. Like, which we say liberal on the liberal side of things. Yeah, yeah. And they tend to see conservative libertarians as their enemy and they, you know, they don’t wanna think of, any of their heroes being on that side of things. So that’s why it happened. But without labels excluding all that herson was above all things an individualist. And that’s what she gets remembered as. And she once even said, it’s time for us to cease, to allow ourselves to be delivered as a mob by per persuasive friends and become individual citizens. So that is like her whole thing. That’s what her whole prerogative was. And she was also really against affirmative action for this reason, which was very controversial within her own community. Connor, can you tell us what affirmative action is? I know we’ve talked about it before, but it’s kind of a big term.

Connor: Well, it’s kind of funny. it’s people who don’t like racism come up with policies like affirmative action, which are racist.

Brittany: Yeah. Right.

Connor: The people who say they don’t like, racism or racist. In other words, let’s say you’re, in charge of college and you’re deciding who, which applicants are going to be admitted as students. Affirmative action would say, well, you need to admit more, let’s say black people because black people have been disadvantaged. And so you need to give them a leg up. Well, rather than looking at your applicants for your college and ignoring what people’s races are and just admitting them based on their merits, based on their knowledge, based on their essays, based on their portfolio, whatever, right? And just letting the best people kind of be admitted regardless of race, affirmative action says, Hey, because I am black or because I am, you know, American Indian or, or even a woman,

Brittany: even females, I think are part of that. Yeah,

Connor: Yeah. Cause I’ve been historically disadvantaged, therefore, you should disadvantage other people to benefit me. And that’s a very backwards way. But there’s a lot of people today who share similar views in what’s called reparations, right? Like, oh, black people were once enslaved, therefore black people should get checks from the government today, for reparations. It’s like, okay, like we, we understand that, those bad things happened a long time ago. I had nothing to do with that. Why should I have to pay, you know, to subsidize your life just because, you know, you feel that reparations are in order. So affirmative action is kind of like focusing on people’s race to manipulate their chances of success and support them, or force employers or colleges to, you know, hire them or admit them. And so that broadly speaking is affirmative action.

Brittany: So perfect. Cause that gets me into my next quote. So something that she said of this whole system. So this is her quoting. Now, if I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that if others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways. So she was a very staunch individual. She also hated the idea of victimhood. And so she really believed that individuals could, and I hate to say like pick themselves up by the bootstraps, right? That sounds so cliche, but, she really did believe in that. And that’s similar to other people like Booker t Washington before her time, but similar as well.

Connor: And we do have booker’s story in our courageous heroes book.

Brittany: Oh, he’s so great.

Connor: How many people like that who right? They’re trying to shed labels and say, okay, yeah, I’m black or Yeah, you know, whatever I am, don’t focus on that. Focus on me and my abilities and my skills and my ambition. And that’s kind of like the quote you just read, right? Like, give me a hand, give me an opportunity and I’ll rise or fall on my own merits. And that’s where the chips will fall, right? Don’t admit me or not admit me based on some superficial characteristics. It’s very odd that people who, you know, decry racism and oh, white supremacy. And we’ve heard a lot of that in this election, this past election that we just got through. you know, the very people who are often the most vocal about these things and pointing at other people and saying you’re racist tend to be, racists themselves and guilty of the very things, that they’re talking about. I remember a few weeks back, I had an exchange, I, wouldn’t even call it an exchange. I, retweeted a video from N B C and by this woman I’ve never heard of before. Apparently they gave this, lady a talk show. She was black woman.

Brittany: Do you remember her name?

Connor: Amber Ruffin.

Brittany: Oh, okay. I’ve never heard of her.

Connor: So her Twitter handle is Amber m Ruffin. Yeah. No one’s heard of this woman. And so she had this clip that was going around and it looks like she’s since deleted it. I’m going to look at it now, but it was getting a ton of views and she was in there talking about, this was before Thanksgiving. She’s like, you know, a lot of people say we need unity and, you know, if you have a white supremacist in your family or you have a Trump voter in your family who are all racists by the way, that you should talk to them, but no, I’m giving you permission to not talk to them and not have any dealings with them. You don’t want to give people, people a safe space who are just gonna breed their white supremacy. And, so she’s just like being extremely, painting with a broad brush is kind of the term, right? She literally made a claim that like all Trump supporters are racists and, that conservatives are white supremacists and that we progressives, we Biden supporters, we black people should be mean to them, cut them off, have no dealings with them. And I was just like amazed. And so I retweeted that and, this is my tweet. I said, here’s exhibit 3,286 that the people who decry racism so vocally are the actual racists. and so then this lady who I’d never interacted with at all, other than just like doing this little quote tweet of, her tweet, she blocked me. Like, like what does that say about dialogue if you can’t stand by your beliefs when, when someone pushes back, you know? And so, it’s interesting to think of Zora’s story as well. Here’s, someone who’s black. You know, I think of like, Candace Owens as a pretty popular conservative commentator. Not everyone loves her and I have enough to quibble with, but here’s a black woman saying, don’t focus on that I’m black and not all blacks are, you know, liberals or progressives or big government. Let’s focus on people as humans and their, abilities and, their personalities and not the color of their skin. You know what, I find interesting about Zora is she was, also very critical of,  FDR, right? Yes. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we’ve talked about the New Deal and the Great Depression on a past episode, right? This is a lot of economic problems because the government had intervened and, they were manipulating like the prices of things and whether you could hire people. So the new deal was like, Hey, government created this problem, so government’s gonna come fix it for you. Right? So here’s FDR doing all these things and what did Zora say? She said, Roosevelt can call names across an ocean for his four freedoms, but he did not have the courage to speak even softly at home. Basically, she’s kind of poking at him and being and calling him a hypocrite, like his four freedoms, like all these economic new deal things. And, she’s saying like, yeah, okay, Roosevelt’s saying all that, but you know, he doesn’t even have his own affairs in order. what I kind of like about her is she was somewhat sympathetic to non-intervention, which we, like we talked about, yeah. Non-aggression principle we’ve talked about. So having a kind of a humble foreign policy where you’re not bossing other, countries around. She thought it was ironic that, and this is a quote she says, the people who claim that it’s a noble thing to die for freedom and democracy, wax frothy. If anyone points out the inconsistency of their morals, we too, she says, consider machine gun bullets good laxatives for heathens who get constipated with toxic ideas about a country of their own.

Brittany: I love that.

Connor: And being like very barbed there to be like, oh yeah, all those people who think that they wanna rule themselves and have their own country and sovereignty, like, you know, shooting them and controlling them, that’s a great way to get them like no longer constipated on their ideas with freedoms and stuff that, you know, like, just an effective visual, I guess if nothing else to be like, let’s not be hypocritical. The very idea of America was self-sovereignty and independence and we celebrated every year. Why would we not want to, you know, butt out of other people’s, countries and they’re trying to seek the same thing when, Truman, dropped the bomb, on Japan, the bomb?

Brittany: Well, Truman have to talk about that in another episode. Cause that was a big deal. Foreign policy-wise.

Connor: Let’s do that. you know, she called Truman the butcher of Asia, which of course now you look back and everyone’s like, oh, the bomb stopped the war. It was so great. We go drop the bombs. And history often gets simplified, like that in a way that, avoids kind of the actual like meaning and, importance and so here’s this like a liberty-loving person, right? Like calling the president a butcher of Asia. you know, anyways, there’s a lot of other stuff to her story. We’re gonna link to a couple of links on the show notes page where you can learn a little bit more about this very, interesting person that a lot of people have never heard of before. And she didn’t make the cut unfortunately in, courageous heroes, but on her own right. She was very outspoken and trying to, advance the ideas of freedom, in a climate that wasn’t very receptive to them. So very worth checking out those links. Head to Tuttletwins.com/podcast. Brittany, thanks as always for chatting. It was great talking to you. And until next time, we will talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.


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