How do you respond to the conception of race with which Hurston ends her essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"?

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liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

How you respond to Hurston's conception of race will depend on your own personal interpretation of what she's saying; I'll offer below a few ways you might react.

Let's start by reviewing what she's saying about race at the close of the essay. By comparing herself to "a brown bag" filled with all kinds of random things, and by comparing other people of various races to other bags similarly filled with various contents, Hurston is saying that it really doesn't matter what color we are on the outside--we're all filled with basically the same things (the same thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc.) and that this essential similarity that transcends race is probably how we were created to be by God ("the Great Stuffer of Bags"). Basically, then, Hurston is saying that even though her own experiences have taught her that she's treated differently because she's "colored," she believes that race just shouldn't matter that much, and that furthermore, we're all fairly alike on the inside. She sees herself as "merely a fragment of the Great Soul" and asserts that her race is a much less important aspect of herself.

So, reading this very influential essay now, and focusing on this conception of race as it's presented in the last few paragraphs of the essay, you might find that you completely agree with what Hurston is saying about race. You might say that you're a human being first, perhaps a gender second, and maybe a nationality third, and then a member of the marching band fourth, and a Girl Scout fifth, and so on, until at some point you get around to classifying yourself by your race, but then you just barely ascribe any importance at all to your race as you're defining yourself.

Or, you might disagree with Hurston completely. Perhaps your race is important to your sense of self; maybe it's even the central idea around which you organize all your other labels and character traits. "I'm Asian, and it matters. I'm trying my best to succeed in my chosen sport because I'm Asian." "I'm black, and I'm proud of it. I'm choosing to wear my hair in a natural style because it's beautiful, and it shows the world I've embraced my God-given body."

Your reaction can also fall somewhere in between agreement and disagreement. You might feel a sense of detachment from the whole concept, for example, if you live in a country where you're seen as the "default" race and you've never thought too much one way or the other about whether it matters. You might feel a lot of admiration for Hurston's ideas, written as they were in 1928, when discrimination against black people ran rampant in society.

As long as your written reaction is detailed and clear, showing an understanding of both what Hurston was saying and the historical context in which she was saying it, your reaction will be valid.

rogal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hurston ends her essay by comparing races to “bags of miscellany” standing against a wall. The bags are brown, red, yellow and white in color, signifying the various races of the world. Each bag contains things within itself that may or may not be valuable. A single bag, as such, is a member of a given race, denoted by the color of the bag. The color, therefore, is the race and is an external feature of a person. The most vital features of a person lie within the person and are compared to the contents of the bag. Hurston feels that the contents of the bags are the same—could be “a first water diamond, bits of broken glass,” etc. So that, if all the bags were to be emptied out into a single heap and refilled, each bag’s contents would not change much. She means to explain the equality of people, irrespective of their races.

One can accept Hurston’s conception of the race on the basis that it tries to explain racial equality. For, clearly, a person cannot be blamed for being born with a certain appearance. It is not something that one has a choice over, rather, the choice lies with the “Great Stuffer of bags." On the other hand, one could argue that the contents of bags may not really be the same. While each human being is made up of the same internal components, whether biological or spiritual, there do exist small differences such as mental capacities, gender, etc. These differences certainly have an impact on how different people will approach issues in life.

Read the study guide:
How It Feels to Be Colored Me

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