In celebration of Zora Neal Hurston’s upcoming 128th birthday, I read “Their Eyes Were Watching God” again (my first read was in high school). The book focuses on a time when Blacks in America were starting to establish economic freedom, after years on enslavement and new oppressive Jim Crow laws. It was also a time where many black teenage girls were coerced into arranged marriages with older men for no other reason than to secure the bag for their family. Zora allows us to experience the impact that this widely accepted abusive rape culture practice had on the main character, Janie. Reading the book again, brought back my own teenage feelings. The innocent yearn for magic and adventure without fully understanding myself. The innocence that ended up being exploited as maturity, cause you know, girls grow up faster than boys, naturally attracting older men. Yes, that toxic, support of rape culture, way of living and thinking that we’re calling out and holding everyone accountable for. Zora’s 1937 novel and my teenage experience moved me to write a 2019 love note to my nine-year-old daughter.
There can be no path forward without clear acknowledgment of the past. So, I pour into my daughter the good that was poured into me: affection, love, pride, purpose, strength, and independence. I mix that with new and enlightened ways of being: outwardly practicing self-love, positive self-expression, my approval to ask questions, oneness and the power of choice.
This world can be cold
You are whole
You are light
You are love
A beautiful soul
A heart of gold
Have been placed within
Never journey without them
The road ahead I’ve planted for you
To dream, become one with the sun
To explore, have fun
Go on, water the seeds with your love, warmth and truth
One day the world around you will bloom
Just like you
As you travel this space
Should you ever forget your way
I will remind you of our pact:
I respect myself and the space around me
I will always be myself
My Black is beautiful
When things get tough, I will take breaks
God is love and so am I
If I don’t understand, I will seek clarity
Further along in the story, Zora demonstrates how Janie began to suppress her thoughts and feelings because of the men she married and their own negative, misogynistic disposable views of women. It wasn’t until the end of her second marriage that Janie realized the decisions she made were heavily influenced by her grandmother. Her selfish desire to see Janie “taken care of” before her death, put Janie in a cycle of abuse that she wasn’t able to break until she was 40. She realized how much she despised her grandmother for taking away her innocence, independence and lack of protection. Yes, to Janie for doing the work and finding her voice.
For readers out there, exploring this novel for the first time, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Janie’s story and what advice you would give your younger self or daughter on love and autonomy.
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