How It Feels to Be Colored Me Questions and Answers
by Zora Neale Hurston

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How did the townspeople respond to the Northerners differently than they did the Southerners in "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"?  

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The black residents of Eatonville regarded the white Northerners as foreign, and, indeed, they were. The fact that the tourists "chugged down the sandy village road in automobiles" while the local whites traditionally "rode dusty horses" subtly reveals how much more prosperous the Northern states were, as well as how much more industrialized they were. Meanwhile, Florida, like much of the South, was still rooted in rural, agrarian customs.

Hurston's reaction to the white tourists differed from that of other black residents in that she was unafraid to make a spectacle of them:

The front porch might seem a daring place for the rest of the town, but it was a gallery seat for me. My favorite place was atop the gatepost. Proscenium box for a born first-nighter. Not only did I enjoy the show, but I didn't mind the actors knowing that I liked it. I usually spoke to them in passing.

She is bold in her willingness to speak to white people she does not know without first being spoken to, and she looks at them directly. These actions went against Southern customs, rooted in racism and oppression, which dictated how black people should behave around whites. Hurston uses this example to illustrate how her blackness, or "coloredness," did not shroud her in fear or make her suspicious about white people, who only seemed to differ from others in her town due to the mere fact that they "never lived there."

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When reading this essay by Zora Neale Hurston, it is important to know her background.  Specifically, Hurston grew up in the town of Eatonville, Florida, the only all-black town in the United States, so "The only white people [Hurston] knew passed through the town going to or coming from Orlando."  These travelers were the only white people Hurston came into contact with when she was a child; they were a curiosity to her as well as the townspeople.  And the Northerners were treated as such by the town: "They were peered at cautiously from behind curtains by the timid. The more venturesome would come out on the porch to watch them go past and got just as much pleasure out of the tourists as the tourists got out of the village."  The Southerners, on the other hand, were known to the townspeople, so even though they were of a different ethnicity than the townspeople, they were known, and the people did not stop what they were doing to stare.  As well, Hurston notes, "The native whites rode dusty horses, the Northern tourists chugged down the sandy village road in automobiles," so the Northerners were easy to distinguish as they came through town.

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