Carol Batker’s “Hurston”, Blues Women, Class, And US Black Women’s Clubs Movement

In ‘”Love me like I like to be”: The Sexual Politics of Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, the Classic Blues, and the Black Women’s Club Movement’, Professor Carol Batker discusses US Black Women’s Clubs as they directly relate to US Black Women of lower socio-economic strata. In her work, she uses US Black literature luminary, Zora Neale Hurston as historical embodiment of certain contradictions seldom revealed in discussions of this type. As stated in my reading of Paula Giddings’s “When And Where I Enter”, there is a leniency shown in class-based critiques of US Black Women’s Clubs. In Batker’s research, she states her major thesis:


It is my contention that Hurston has been left out of this debate primarily because her texts disrupts neat dichotomies between respectability and desire, middle- and working-class discourses, and club and blues women. Their Eyes alludes to the politics of rape and lynching, as I discuss in detail below, by first charging Janie with sexual misconduct and then by exonerating her, primarily in the trial scene. However, Their Eyes does not reject charges of African American women’s libidinousness at the expense of sexual expression, as literary critics have argued of other texts from this period. Critics like Carby and Deborah McDowell have generally read African American women’s literature during the Harlem Renaissance as replicating the middle-class conservatism of club discourse and as opposing or suppressing the liberatory sexual discourse of the blues. Hurston’s text doesn’t fit this critical bifurcation.

‘”Love Me Like I Like to Be”: The Sexual Politics of Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God, the Classic Blues, and the Black Women’s Club Movement’, Carol Batker, African American Review, Vol. 32, No. 2, pg. 200


Even within this work, there is a need to defend postures of elitism and bourgeois paternalism within what would work as upper middle-class US Black strata. Granted, Batker is not a US Black Woman, and her work is composed years before her most notable publication, “Reforming Fictions: Native, African, and Jewish American Women’s Literature and Journalism in the Progressive Era”. While Paula Giddings takes a much more balanced, yet biased with regard to its lack of critique within a class conscious framework, I feel as though Batker positions herself as a defender of US Black bourgeois value systems with comments such as these in her writing:


Privileging the working class not only dismisses middle-class African American experience, it also masks the complexity within each group. The politics of both the largely middle-class club movement and the largely working-class classic blues were striated.

ibid, pg 200

Granted, there is an easiness to acknowledging shared contradictions of framework between oppositional organizations or cultures. However, what this work misses in its attempt at that liberal academic flaw of too much rhetoric, not enough observation, is that those two groups where oppositional based on class. Sure, they shared common contradictions in public speech, writings, performances, and songs. So, Los Angeles’s Bloods and Crips, it does not make their violent choice of conflict resolution more hopeful. Those contradictions they share, those complexity of both groups, are for most part, non-sequitur. It is their oppositional frames based purely from class structures, adopted as identity and ideology, that create their tensions.