This topic is very good, and I enjoyed reading the replies. My view mostly echoes that of a number of the previous posters, but at the end of my post I give a bulleted list of items that have not yet been raised that illustrate that there is open conflict between blacks and whites in the novel.
Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is not at all concerned with the so-called “Negro problem” or the program of “racial uplift” that dominated much of the writing by African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but it seems inaccurate to me to say that Hurston avoids the “race issue.” Race seems to me to be everywhere in the novel, and the novel would not be what it is without the emphasis on race.
Consider, for example, the extensive attention given to specifically black American speech patterns, practices and folklore and the equally extensive attention given to racist attitudes within the black American communities that Hurston depicts: Janie’s straight hair is an attention-grabber for pretty much all of the black men and women in the novel, and through Mrs. Turner and other characters, the novel explores the lasting hierarchies based on skin tone with African American communities.
The novel focuses on primarily on black American communities, and white characters play few important roles in the novel, but when white characters emerge, they are often (perhaps always?) shown to be in direct conflict with the blacks in the story. Consider, for example, this brief list:
- the stories of what life was like during slavery
- the passage “de white man is de ruler of everything,” which is part of Hurston’s retelling of a popular African American folktale about the origins of racist hiearchies
- Joe Stark’s attempts to recreate the hierarchy of the plantation in the all-black community of Eatonville (e.g. his big white house)
- the white men with rifles who immediately assume authority over Teacake, calling him “Jim” and forcing him to bury the dead (consider, too, who is buried in coffins and who is not!)
I am sure that other examples of the "race issue" can be found in the novel. The topic may not be immediately obvious, but it is certainly there.