You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays
You Don’t Know Us Negros and Other Essays by Zora Neale Hurston is a must read, even though the collection is daunting. At four hundred pages, with an additional fifty pages of notes, the book isn’t attempting to be easily digestible in size or scope. Split into five sections, some essays read very quickly.
Those in Part One: On the Folk and Part Five: The Trial of Ruby McCollum have the same snap and speed as Hurston’s fiction. The other three sections—On Art and Such; On Race and Gender; On Politics—are headier works and reveal an observant and critical mind at work at the turn of the Harlem Renaissance that has not been given the credit she is due. Hurston should be lauded in the same way as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, but she often isn’t.
One of the shortest essays in the book, “The Ten Commandments of Charm,” speaks to this double standard though the use of a biblical vernacular that bites as often as it hits home. As Hurston writes, “Whatsoever thou doest, forget not that femininity.” The statement is delivered tongue-in-cheek, but the implication of the need to never step beyond traditional gender roles is all too real.
Those who teach read and teach Hurston will likely fall in love with this book, as I did, but even if you’ve never encountered her, You Don’t Know Us Negroes is an important read that chronicles a time and place in America that is most often viewed through the white, male lens. Thank heavens Hurston gives us another perspective.
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