Why Black People Need Assertiveness Training:
A hundred Negroes killed in the streets of Washington right now could wipe out Jim Crow in the nation so far as the law is concerned, and abate it at least 60% in actuality. If any of our leaders start something like that then I will be in it body and soul. But I shall never join the cry-babies.
Zora Neale Hurston (letter to Countee Cullen, dated March 5, 1943)
One of the qualities we prize in author, researcher and historian Zora Neale Hurston of Harlem Renaissance fame, is her assertiveness. Hurston’s authentic voice is apparent in her writing. She was known for her courageous authenticity, forthright and witty always on point. Reading her letter to Countee Cullen, tells much more, that Zora spoke truth to whoever was listening. Zora’s authentic voice, comes from a profound awareness of her self as an agent of change. Her voice was her instrument, her tool, which she always used in service to truth.
But this is not an article about Zora Neale Hurston; it is an article about the authentic voice inside of all of us, which Zora used so effectively. Truth is, being self-posses did not ensure death or opportunities to Zora; it may even have cost her a few. Being authentic in our speech is not a panacea for worldly problems, but may pave a way to be satisfied, even happy, despite the world. For the authentic voice is a buffer, a defense against loss of personal integrity, lends us courage to face troubling situations and times.
I have offended several “liberals” among the whites by saying this bluntly. I have been infuriated by having them ask me outright, or by strong implication if I am not happy over the withe left-wing associating with Negroes. I always say no. Then I invariably ask why the association should give a Negro so much pleasure? Why any more pleasure than with a Black “liberal’”?
Personally, I have no desire for white association except where I am south and the pleasure is mutual. That feeling grows out of my own self-respect.
As Black people, we can all learn something from Zora’s unwavering values, self-respect, dignity and integrity and above all, her devotion to Black people and Our authentic-self expression. Unapologetically, she spoke-up for what is righteous.
When We speak-up assertively, using our authentic voice, we call-up the courage in each other, to stand strong agains privilege-abusers and tyrants in our lives. Assertiveness is nothing more than speaking-up for what is right.
I know that the Anglo-Saxon mentality is one of violence. Violence is his religion. He has gained everything he has by it, and respects nothing else. When I suggest to our “leaders” that the white man is nothing to surrender for mere words what he has fought and died for, and that if we want anything substantial we must speak with the same weapons, immediately they object that I am not practical.
I have come to see that We (Black Americans) today have abandoned our authentic voice, in exchange it seems for sycophantic, kiss-up-, boundless cloying to perceived power and material wealth. Our courage is hiding behind the felt need to go-along and get-along, even at the expense of Our dignity. Our true-voices now are weeping in silent fury, waiting to be called upon, by you and me, to set things aright.
The Authentic Voice aka assertiveness, comes from with each of us, it is as natural as breathing. We each must teach one (ourself) to listen to and then to emulate the voice that comes from within. We can find the right words…withing, just as Zora found them. We ascertain the appropriateness of our choice of words from…within. We can reap the satisfaction of a task well-handled, and this too is felt deeply wishing that small-small voice…that no one can argue with.