Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Race

By Zora Neale Hurston

Race

Chapter 1

The sun was gone…It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. (1.4)

The narrator cites the black people of Eatonville’s lack of confidence during the day, which dissolves by night when the white "bossman [is] gone." With the departure of the white men, the black people feel more human because they are no longer treated cruelly or belittled. It’s interesting that the passage implies that the black people of Eatonville can only live out their lives when they are away from white people and surrounded with their own community.

Chapter 2

"Ah ain’t never seen mah papa. And Ah didn’t know ’im if Ah did. Mah mama neither. She was gone from round dere long before Ah wuz big enough tuh know. Mah grandma raised me. Mah grandma and de white folks she worked wid. She had a house out in de back-yard and dat’s where Ah wuz born. They was quality white folks up dere in West Florida. Named Washburn. She had four gran’chillun on de place and all of us played together and dat’s how come Ah never called mah Grandma nothin’ but Nanny, ‘cause dat’s what everybody on de place called her. Nanny used to ketch us in our devilment and lick every youngun on de place and Mis’ Washburn did de same. Ah reckon dey never hit us a lick amiss ‘cause dem three boys and us two girls wuz pretty aggravatin’, Ah speck.

Ah was wid dem white chillun so much till Ah didn’t know Ah wuzn’t white till Ah was round six years old. Wouldn’t have found it out then, but a man come long takin’ pictures and without askin’ anybody, Shelby, dat was de oldest boy, he told him to take us. Round a week later de man brought de picture for Mis’ Washburn to see and pay him which she did, then give us all a good lickin’.

So when we looked at depicture and everybody got pointed out there wasn’t nobody left except a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Dat’s where Ah wuz s’posed to be, but Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark child as me. So Ah ast, ‘where is me? Ah don’t see me.’

Everybody laughed, even Mr. Washburn. Miss Nellie, de Mama of de chillun who come back home after her husband dead, she pointed to de dark one and said, ‘Dat’s you, Alphabet, don’t you know yo’ ownself?’

Dey all useter call me Alphabet ‘cause so many people had done named me different names. Ah looked at de picture a long time and seen it was mah dress and mah hair so Ah said:

’Aw, aw! Ah’m colored!’" (2.3-8)

Janie is a stranger to herself for six years, not knowing the true nature of her racial identity. It takes a reflection of herself – almost like looking in a mirror – to discover what color her skin is. She might not have believed that she was black otherwise, without having seen it with her own eyes. This realization comes as a shock to young Janie who has lived with white children all her life and believes she is one of them. Janie seems to define herself not so much by the color of her skin, but by the community she lives with.

[Mistress of the plantation to Nanny]: "’N*****, whut’s yo’ baby doin wid gray eyes and yaller hair?’" She begin tuh slap mah jaws ever which a’way. Ah never felt the fust ones ‘cause Ah wuz too busy gittin’ de kivver back over mah chile. But dem last lick burnt me lak fire. Ah had too many feelin’s tuh tell which one tuh follow so Ah didn’t cry and Ah didn’t do nothin’ else. But then she kept on astin me how come mah baby look white. She asted me dat maybe twenty-five or thirty times, lak she got tuh sayin’ dat and couldn’t help herself. So Ah told her, ‘Ah don’t know nothin’ but what Ah’m told tuh do, ‘cause Ah ain’t nothin’ but uh n***** and uh slave."

"Instead of pacifyin’ her lak Ah thought, look lak she got madder. But Ah reckon she was tired and wore out ‘cause she didn’t hit me no more. She went to de foot of de bed and wiped her hands on her handksher. ‘Ah wouldn’t dirty mah hands on yuh. But first thing in de mornin’ de overseer will take you to de whippin’ post and tie you down on yo’ knees and cut de hide offa yo’ yaller back. One hundred lashes wid a raw-hide on yo’ bare back. Ah’ll have you whipped till de blood runs down to yo’ heels! Ah mean to count de licks mahself. And if it kills you Ah’ll stand de loss. Anyhow, as soon as dat brat is a month old Ah’m going to sell it offa dis place.’" (2.65-66)

For a white woman during the time of slavery, the sting of having one’s husband sleep with a black slave is especially insulting because it gives credence to the idea of black women being as attractive as white ones. To add injury to insult, it brings about the supposed abomination of a mixed child – an anomaly that is difficult to classify – neither white nor black so not belonging to either world. This is the reason the lady of the house is so angry with Nanny and her child.

"Den they’d tell me not to be takin’ on over mah looks ‘cause they mama told ‘em ‘bout de hound dawgs huntin’ mah papa all night long. ‘Bout Mr. Washburn and de sheriff puttin’ de bloodhounds on de trail tuh ketch mah papa for whut he done tuh mah mama. Dey didn’t tell about how he wuz seen tryin tuh git in touch wid mah mama later on so he could marry her. Naw, dey didn’t talk dat part of it atall. Dey made it sound real bad so as tuh crumple mah feathers." (2.10)

Because Janie’s father is a white rapist and her mother the product of a white slave owner and a black slave woman, Janie’s birth is a result of race victimization. Janie must learn to handle this inheritance and others’ condescension with strength, grace, and dignity.

Nanny

[Nanny]: "Dat mornin’ on de big plantation close to Savannah, a rider come in a gallop tellin’ ‘bout Sherman takin’ Atlanta. Marse Robert’s son had done been kilt at Chickamauga. So he grabbed his gun and straddled is best horse and went off wid de rest of de gray-headed men and young boys to drive de Yankees back into Tennessee.

"They was all cheerin’ and cryin’ and shoutin’ for de men dat was ridin’ off. Ah couldn’t see nothin’ cause yo’ mama wasn’t but a week old, and Ah was flat uh mah back. But pretty soon he let on he forgot somethin’ and run into mah cabin and made me let down mah hair for de last time. He sorta wropped his hand in it, pulled mah big toe, lak he always done, and was gone after de rest lak lightnin’. (2.58-59)

Although not stated explicitly, it seems that Nanny’s slave master cares more for Nanny than his white wife. It is, afterall, Nanny that the master returns home to caress and say goodbye to before heading off to battle, not his wife. This harkens back to Leafy’s situation as well. Her white schoolmaster raped her, but he also apparently wanted to marry her. Though socially unacceptable at the time, and often displayed in negative ways, love was not confined to members of a person’s own race.

[Nanny]: "Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de n***** man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De n***** woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see." (2.44)

This book reveals a social hierarchy based on race and gender. While the fact that black men were often put down and discriminated against by white men is common knowledge, Nanny points out an even more victimized group – black women. By virtue of being both a racial minority and the "weaker" sex, black women had it worst of all and were essentially the bottom of the totem pole.

Chapter 4

Joe Starks was the name, yeah Joe Starks from in and through Georgy. Been workin’ for white folks all his life. Saved up some money – round three hundred dollars, yes indeed, right here in his pocket. Kept hearin’ ‘bout them buildin’ a new state down heah in Floridy and sort of wanted to come. But he was makin’ money where he was. But when he heard all about ‘em makin’ a town all outa colored folks, he knowed dat was de place he wanted to be. He had always wanted to be a big voice, but de white folks had all de sayso where he come from and everywhere else, exceptin’ de place dat colored folks was buildin’ theirselves. Dat was right too. De man dat built things oughta boss it. Let colored folks build thing too if dey wants to crow over somethin’. (4.16)

The entrepreneurial Joe has a very strong opinion about black folks. He thinks that, like white people, they should only take credit and pride in what they have built with their own hands. Joe means to be onboard when an all-black town arises because he sees that as his only way to be as influential a man as he wants to be. Joe’s way of coming to terms with the rigid, hierarchical, racist social structure of white towns is to live solely among people of his own race.

Logan Killicks

[Logan]: "Ah thought you would ‘preciate good treatement. Thought Ah’d take and make somethin’ outa yuh. You think youse white folks by de way you act." (4.42)

Logan seems to think that a black woman can’t demand any respect or good treatment and ought to be happy as her husband’s workhorse. If she demands anything better, Logan thinks that Janie is putting on airs.

Chapter 5

[after Joe buys two hundred acres of land from Captain Eaton]: "Ain’t never seen no sich uh colored man befo’ in all mah bawn days. He’s gointuh put up uh store and git uh post office from de Goven’ment." (5.69)

Coker and the rest of Eatonville is amazed at Joe’s wealth, ambition, and quick action. They expect such things out of a white man, not one of their own. In a way, Joe shows that your race doesn’t need to limit your ambition or economic success.

On the train the next day, Joe didn’t make many speeches with rhymes to her, but he bought her the best things the butcher had, like apples and a glass lantern full of candies. Mostly he talked about plans for the town when he got there…Janie took a lot of looks at him and she was proud of what she saw. Kind of portly like rich white folks. Strange trains, and people and places didn’t scare him neither. Where they got off the train at Maitland he found a buggy to carry them over to the colored town right away. (5.1)

It’s interesting that Janie associates confidence and ambition as uniquely white characteristics. Janie is proud of and attracted to Joe in part because he seems to break traditional racial boundaries – he stands out.

[Coker]: "Us colored folks is too envious of one ‘nother. Dat’s how come us don’t git o further than us do. Us talks about de white man keepin’ us down! Shucks! He don’t have tuh. Us keeps our own selves down." (5.72)

Coker makes the observation that it is not simply white people that put down black men. They do it to themselves, always gossiping about and envying one another and trying to limit each other’s success out of jealousy. Indeed, this jealousy between black folks is a recurring theme in the novel.

Take for instance that new house of his. It had two stories with porches, with banisters and such things. The rest of the town looked like servants’ quarters surrounding the "big house." And different from everybody else in the town he put off moving in until it had been painted, in and out. And look at the way he painted it – a gloaty, sparkly white. The kind of promenading white that the houses of Bishop Whipple, W.B. Jackson and the Vanderpool’s wore. It made the village feel funny talking to him – just like he was anybody else. Then there was the matter of the spittoons. No sooner was he all set as the Mayor – post master – landlord – storekeeper, than he bought a desk like Mr. Hill or Mr. Galloway over in Maitland with one of those swing-around chairs to it. What with him biting down on cigars and saving his breath on talk and swinging round in that chair, it weakened people. And then he spit in that gold-looking vase that anybody else would have been glad to put on their front-room table. Said it was a spittoon just like his used-to-be bossman used to have in his bank up there in Atlanta. Didn’t have to get up and go to the door every time he had to spit. Didn’t spit on his floor neither. Had that golded-up spitting pot right handy. But he went further than that. He bought a little lady-size spitting pot for Janie to spit in. Had it right in the parlor with little sprigs of flowers painted all around the sides It took people by surprise because most of the women dipped snuff and of course had a spit-cup in the house. But how could they know up-to-date folks was spitting in flowery little things like that? It sort of made the rest of them feel that they had been taken advantage of. Like things had been kept from them. Maybe more things in the world besides spitting pots had been hid from them, when they wasn’t told no better than to spit in tomato cans. It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder. It was like seeing your sister turn into a ‘gator. A familiar strangeness. You keep seeing your sister in the ‘gator and the ‘gator in your sister and you’d rather not. There was no doubt that the town respected him and even admired him in a way. But any man who walks in the way of power and property is bound to meet hate. (5.130)

Eatonville holds a double standard against Joe Starks. While they admire and envy his decadent wealth, they also resent that Joe flaunts it. He is, like his white-painted house, "gloaty." Joe Starks’ conspicuous wealth and home seem like an echo of slavery with Joe in many ways taking on the role as the wealthy plantation owner. With money in his hands, Joe is quite similar to wealthy white people, implying that conspicuous consumption and a domineering attitude is not restricted to whites, which the people of Eatonville might have at one point assumed. Being black, Joe is somewhat familiar and comforting to the people of Eatonville, but his behavior, which emulates white people, renders him alien. Thus he has "a familiar strangeness" that is odd enough to set people on edge.

Chapter 6

Daisy is walking a drum tune. You can almost hear it by looking at the way she walks. She is black and she knows that white clothes look good on her, so she wears them for dress up. She’s got those big black eyes with plenty shiny white in them that makes them shine like brand new money and she knows what God gave women eyelashes for, too. Her hair is not what you might call straight. It’s n**** hair, but it’s got a kind of white flavor. Like the piece of string out of a ham. It’s not ham at all, but it’s been around ham and got the flavor. It was spread down thick and heavy over her shoulders and looked just right under a big white hat. (6.147)

Up until now in the book, the only attractive woman we’ve been introduced to is Janie, and she seems to be depicted as attractive because of her Caucasian features – and especially her hair and fair skin. This kind of makes you wonder about Hurston’s message about beauty. This passage is interesting because Daisy has more classically African American features and is clearly attractive. However, Hurston does comment on Daisy’s hair being reminiscent of Caucasian hair. What does all of this mean about how Hurston views beauty and race?

Chapter 16

Mrs. Turner was almost screaming in fanatical earnestness by now. Janie was dumb and bewildered before and she clucked sympathetically and wished she knew what to say. It was so evident that Mrs. Turner took black folk as a personal affront to herself.

"Look at me! Ah ain’t got no flat nose and liver lips. Ah’m uh featured woman. Ah got white folks’ features in mah face. Still and all Ah got tuh be lumped in wid all de rest. It ain’t fair. Even if dey don’t take us in wid de whites, dey oughta make us uh class tuh ourselves." (16.19-20)

Mrs. Turner resents her racial identity because in the world she lives, race often dictates social status and success. She doesn’t expect that the existence of a racial hierarchy will change, so she wants a new race, or a new class, to be made so that she can have better opportunities. Janie, however, doesn’t mind her racial identity. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t mind her situation in life – she doesn’t care if she’s working in bean fields so long as she’s with her love, Tea Cake.

Mrs. Turner, like all other believers had built an altar to the unattainable – Caucasian characteristics for all. Her god would smite her, would hurl her from pinnacles and lose her in deserts, but she would not forsake his altars. Behind her crude words was a belief that somehow she and others through worship could attain her paradise – a heaven of staighthaired, thin-lipped, high-nose boned white seraphs. The physical impossibilities in no way injured faith. That was the mystery and the mysteries are the chores of gods. Beyond her faith was a fanaticism to defend the altars of her gods. It was distressing to emerge from her inner temple and find these black desecrators howling with laughter before the door. Oh, for an army, terrible with banners and swords! (16.44)

Here is the cruelest aspect of Mrs. Turner’s fanatical dream: she thinks she can attain whiteness by good deeds, as if whiteness is salvation.

She [Mrs. Turner] felt honored by Janie’s acquaintance and she quickly forgave and forgot snubs in order to keep it. Anyone who looked more white folkish than herself was better than she was in her criteria, therefore it was right that they should be cruel to her at times, just as she was cruel to those more n****id than herself in direct ratio to their n****ness. Like the pecking-order in a chicken yard. Insensate cruelty to those you can whip, and groveling submission to those you can’t. Once having set up her idols and built altars to them it was inevitable that she would worship there. It was inevitable that she should accept any inconsistency and cruelty from her deity as all good worshippers do from theirs. All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood. (16.43)

This passage pretty clearly explains Mrs. Turner’s strange behavior. Not only is she subject to a system of racial hierarchy, she propagates it and takes it to a religious level – deifying white people. It’s interesting that she has no desire for equality, she just wants to be in the good graces of her "gods" and be somewhere in the middle of the pecking order.

But Mrs. Turner’s shape and features were entirely approved by Mrs. Turner. Her nose was slightly pointed and she was proud. Her thin lips were an ever delight to her eyes. Even her buttocks in bas-relief were a source of pride. To her way of thinking all these things set her aside from N****es. That was why she sought out Janie to friend with. Janie’s coffee-and-cream complexion and her luxurious hair made Mrs. Turner forgive her for wearing overalls like the other women who worked in the fields. She didn’t forgive her for marrying a man as dark as Tea Cake, but she felt that she could remedy that…her disfavorite subject was N****es. (16.5)

Mrs. Turner seems like a perverted version of Janie. Like Janie, she is part white and has Caucasian features. Unlike Janie, Mrs. Turner takes an inordinate amount of pride in her appearance, despite having sharp, unappealing features and a totally flat butt. Every feature that dissimilates her from her black peers becomes a source of pride for her. This is because she buys into idea of racial hierarchy with white people as more valuable than blacks. For Mrs. Turner, race is more important than other classical determinants of social hierarchy, such as wealth (Janie works in the fields and could be assumed to be poor) or physical attractiveness (Mrs. Turner overlooks her own bad figure).

Mrs. Turner

[Mrs. Turner]: "You’se different from me. Ah can’t stand black n*****s. Ah don’t blame de white folks from hatin’ ‘em ‘cause Ah can’t stand ‘em mahself. ‘Nother thing, Ah hates tuh see folks lak me and you mixed up wid ‘em. Us oughta class off."

"Us can’t do it. We’se uh mingled people and all of us got black kinfolks as well as yaller kinfolks. How come you so against black?"

"And dey makes me tired. Always laughin! Dey laughs too much and dey laughs too loud. Always singin’ ol’ n***** songs! Always cuttin’ de monkey for white folks. If it wuzn’t for so many black folks it wouldn’t be no race problem. De white folks would take us in wid dem. De black ones is holdin’ us back." (16.14-16)

Mrs. Turner is prejudiced against black people on a scale of darkness; the darker a person is, the more despicable he is to her. Mrs. Turner also seems to define race by skin color; since she is fair skinned, she hopes that she can "class off" and become part of another racial group. Janie, on the other hand, thinks very little of skin color. She points out that black people have a very mixed heritage, so it isn’t about your skin color. Is seems that Janie defines race more by shared culture than shared skin color.

[Mrs. Turner]: "You got mo’ nerve than me. Ah jus’ couldn’t see mahself married to no black man. It’s too many black folks already. We oughta lighten up de race." (16.10)

Mrs. Turner’s hatred for the black race runs so deep that she refuses to marry a black man and she even goes so far as to say that black people should be eliminated. Though she does not state it so bluntly, such is her implication when she suggests that she and Janie should "lighten up de race" by marrying only white men. Doesn’t this make you think of Nazi Germany?

Chapter 18

It woke up old Okechobee and the monster began to rollin his bed. Began to roll and complain like a peevish world on a grumble. The folks in the quarters and the people in the big houses further around the shore heard the big lake and wondered. The people felt uncomfortable but safe because there were the seawalls to chain the senseless monster in his bed. The folks let the people do the thinking. If the castles thought themselves secure, the cabins needn’t worry. Their decision was already made as always. Chink up your cracks, shiver in your wet beds and wait on the mercy on Lord. The bossman might have the thing stopped before morning anyway. (18.27)

The black folks of the Everglades, including Tea Cake and Janie, trust passively to the judgment of the white people – whom they think know better than them. Because the white men causally and arrogantly choose to stay, disregarding all of mother nature’s warnings, the black workers stay as well. They all suffer the consequences when the hurricane shows up howling on their doorstep.

Everybody was talking about it [the coming hurricane] that night. But nobody was worried. The fire dance kept up till nearly dawn. The next day, more Indians moved east, unhurried but steady. Still a blue sky and fair weather. Beans running fine and prices good, so the Indians could be, must be, wrong. You couldn’t have a hurricane when you’re making seven and eight dollars a day picking beans. Indians are dumb anyhow, always were. (18.4)

Here, the black workers in the Everglades show the same racism towards Native Americans as they themselves are treated with by white people. Racial hierarchy permeates the book and colors the way characters see each other’s value and intelligence. Here, all Native Americans as a whole are considered "dumb" even though they’re really in the right about the hurricane.

Chapter 19

Then she saw all of the colored people standing up in the back of the courtroom. Packed tight like a case of celery, only much darker than that. They were all against her, she could see. So many were there against her that a light slap from each one of them would have beat her to death. She felt them pelting her with dirty thoughts. They were there with their tongues cocked and loaded, the only real weapon left to weak folks. The only killing tool they are allowed to use in the presence of white folks.

[…]

"Mistah Prescott, Ah got somethin’ tuh say," Sop-de-Bottom spoke out anonymously form the anonymous herd.

The courtroom swung round on itself to look.

"If you know what’s good for you, you better shut your mouth up until somebody calls you," Mr. Prescott told him coldly.

"Yassuh, Mr. Prescott."

"We are handling this case. Another word out of you, out of any of you n*****s back there, and I’ll bind you over to the big court."

"Yassuh." (19.156-166)

The entire black community of the Everglades turns out in force to speak against Janie. Because they are a race compromised in their relationship to white people, the black community has nothing to attack Janie with but their tongues. But in actuality, the black people in the courthouse can’t even rely on their voices to be heard anymore. When they try to speak out against Janie, the white court silences them. In the end, even the black people’s tongues, which they wanted to use as weapons, are neutralized by the white men.

And twelve more white men had stopped whatever they were doing to listen and pass on what happened between Janie and Tea Cake Woods, and as to whether things were done right or not. That was funny too. Twelve strange men who didn’t know a thing about people like Tea Cake and her were going to sit on the thing. Eight or ten white women had come to look at her too. They wore good clothes and had the pinky color that comes of good food. They were nobody’s poor white folks. What need had they to leave their richness to come look on Janie in her overalls? But they didn’t seem too mad, Janie thought. It would be nice if she could make them know how it was instead of those menfolks. (19.155)

Interestingly, while Janie feels alienated from the twelve white men on jury, she feels an immediate connection to the white women in the audience. Janie’s sense of attachment to them is so strong that she wants to tell them her story instead of the jury. In this instance, being of the same gender seems to be a more important bond than being of the same race.

Miserable, sullen men, black and white under guard had to keep on searching for bodies and digging graves. A huge ditch was dug across the white cemetery and a big ditch was opened across the black graveyard. Plenty quick-lime on hand to throw over the bodies as soon as they were received. They had already been unburied too long. The men were making every effort to get them covered up as quickly as possible. But the guards stopped them. They had received orders to be carried out.

"Hey, dere, y’all! Don’t dump dem bodies in de hole lak dat! Ezamine every last one of ‘em and find out if they’s white or black."

"Us got tuh handle ‘em slow lak dat? God have mussy! In de condition they’s in got tuh examine ‘em? Whut difference do it make ‘bout de color? Dey all needs buryin’ in uh hurry."

"Got orders from headquarters. They makin’ coffins fuh all de white folks. ‘Tain’t nothin’ but cheap pine, but dat’s better’n nothin’. Don’t dump no white folks in de hole jus’ so."

"Whut tuh do ‘bout de colored folks? Got boxes fuh dem too?"

"Nope. They cain’t find enough of ‘em tuh go ‘round. Jus’ sprinkle plenty quick-lime over ‘em and cover ‘em up." (19.24-29)

This is an example of blatant racism. The white dead are good enough to receive coffins while the black dead must be buried without such dignity, simply because of the color of their skin. Even in death, white people continue to disrespect and desecrate the black people.

While Tea Cake was standing and looking he saw two men coming towards him with rifles on their shoulders. Two white men, so he thought about what Janie had gold him and flexed his knees to run. But in a moment he saw that wouldn’t do him any good. They had already seen him and they were too close to miss him if they shot. Maybe they would pass on by. Maybe when they saw he had money they would realize he was not a tramp.

"Hello, there, Jim," the tallest one called out. "We been lookin’ fuh you."

"Mah name ain’t no Jim," Tea Cake said watchfully. "Whut you been lookin’ fuh me fuh? Ah ain’t done nothin’."

"Dat’s whut we want yuh fuh – not doin’ nothin’. Come on less go bury some uh dese heah dead folks. Dey ain’t gittin’ buried fast enough." (19.16-19)

The white guys in this scene clearly think all black men are the same and don’t care to see any differences between them, whether they be their names, wealth, or intentions.

"Aw you know dem white mens wuzn’t gointuh do nothin’ tuh no woman dat look lak her." […]

"Yeah, de n***** women kin kill up all de mens dey wants tuh, but you bet’ not kill one uh dem. De white folks will sho hang yuh if yuh do."

"Well, you know whut dey say ‘uh white man and uh n***** woman is de freest thing on earth.’ Dey do as dey please." (19.178-181)

According to the black men who are speaking, white men and black women are held to a different standard than other subgroups. White men – by virtue of their being part of the dominant race and sex – can impose themselves on others and thus do whatever they want. Black women, on the other hand, enjoy neither the pleasure of being in the dominant race or sex, but by virtue of their weakness in both, seem to receive an inordinate amount of mercy from their oppressors. Do you think that the speakers in the above quote are right, or are they just bitter?

Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods

[Tea Cake]: "It’s bad bein’ strange n*****s wid white folks. Everybody is against yuh."

"Dat sho is de truth. De ones de white man know is nice colored folks. De ones he don’t know is bad n*****s."(19.40-41)

In the setting of the novel, the worth of black people is defined by their relationship with white people. Thus, those black people that are well-known and attested for by white people are considered harmless by society, while those unknown to any whites are immediately suspect. This is a guilty-until-proven-innocent kind of situation.

Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods

[Lias]: "De Indians gahn east, man. It’s dangerous."

[Tea Cake]: "Dey don’t always know. Indians don’t know much uh nothin’, tuh tell de truth. Else dey’d own dis country still. De white folks ain’t gone

Another blatant example of perceived intelligence being based on a racial hierarchy. Here, Tea Cake thinks that the Native Americans don’t know anything, and the white people are the smartest. It’s strange that he seems to be very matter of fact in the way he essentially implies that white people are smarter than black people; that’s why Tea Cake is waiting to see what the white people do about the hurricane.