by Jenny Herron, Cathedral High School

Explore the intricacies of racism in mid-20th century American south, including intra-racial, financial racism and black-on-Native American racism.

Introduction

  The main character in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie, encounters prejudice and racism of many shades and degrees throughout the story.  Light-skinned blacks as opposed to darker-skinned, wealthy blacks as opposed to poor, and racism against Seminole Indians, among others.  The story takes places in the early 20th century American South, but the issue of inter- and intra-racial prejudice exists in our society today, with more people feeling pressure to "define" themselves as one thing or another.

There are many names for a person's race:  white, black, hispanic, mulato, mixed, metisse, bi- or multi-racial, etc... How is prejudice manifested both in Janie's story and time AND in today's culture?  Why do people feel the need to identify or name their race?  Was Janie susceptible to prejudice because of her mixed heritage?  These social issues are important to understand as you study American culture and as you encounter a wide variety of people now and in the future.