“Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever changing, ever moving, but never lost… I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance.”
– Zora Neale Hurston
Happy birthday to Zora Neale Hurston, the novelist, folklorist, dramatist, and anthropologist who was almost lost to our collective memory. Eve Ewing, when reflecting upon this, asked her Twitter-based to “pay attention to where black women are being silenced, struggling, forgotten. Now, today. Who are our Zoras?”
Her question got me thinking — “Now, today. Who are our Zoras?” I thought of my mother, a woman who moved to the United States in her thirties, leaving her warm home in Nigeria and flying halfway across the world to an unfamiliar environment, with only my father as a familiar face. There were countless instances in which she was silenced. Where she struggled. Where she was forgotten. The “Zoras” of today, are not extraordinary. They are ordinary. They are people of color, people in poverty, people confounded by the national, linguistic, geographic, racial, class and gender-based borders that shape our every day lives. They are people like my mother.
I was struck once reading a quote from Zora that said: “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.” It gave me pause. Despite the “swamps of slavery and colonialism” (Weheliye, 2014: 30), those who have been marginalized by economic and race struggles have persevered, have resisted. Yet, we are seen as biologically “non-human” in some way, hyper-masculinized or hyper-sexualized, somehow a deviation from the “full-humanity” of the Western man (Weheliye, 2014).
The fact that biological arguments pertaining to race and intelligence, for example, continue to persist astounds me. The need for some to revisit this question time and time again turns race into a critical category–who does this work benefit? What motive does it achieve? It constitutes an integral aspect of identity-politics. I am a woman of color–am I biologically inferior? Am I intelligent? Or, is research like that another effort to silence and forget the colored bodies whose labor, whose very lives, founded the United States?
I remain without a concrete answer from anyone engaging in research on race-based differences in intelligence explaining the benefits this research provides–what scientific and humanitarian progress or advancement is brought? At what point do we choose to conduct socially responsible research over the impulse to satisfy what at best might be intellectual curiosity and at worst deeply embedded racist behaviors?
Zora Neale Hurston said “there are years that ask questions and years that answer.” So far in 2018, I may have started with more questions than I have answers to. I’ll leave this post with a final one: Who are your Zoras?