Why did moving away from Eatonville make such a difference to Zora Neale Hurston according to her essay "How it Feels to be Colored Me?"?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In "How it Feels to be Colored Me", Zora Neale Hurston describes her experience of growing up in the self-governing black town of Eatonville. Because everyone in the town was black and her father was the Mayor of the town, she grew up with a sense of privilege and belonging. Everyone in the town knew her and her parents, and her family was widely respected. When she was 13 and her mother died, her father remarried and moved to Jacksonville. Her stepmother disliked her, and the young Zora was suddenly forced to drop out of school, suffer poverty, and eventually begin to earn her own living.

The main focus of the essay "How it Feels to be Colored Me" is race relations. Because everyone in Eatonville was black, Zora did not experience racial discrimination while she was growing up. White people were simply tourists with pale skin. It was only when she left Eatonville that she discovered the racial dynamics of the broader American experience, and began to gain a sense of herself as "colored". As she points out though, this awareness only surfaces when she is in a predominantly white environment, as she expresses in the following passage:

I do not always feel colored. Even now, I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

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