How does Zora become a "little colored girl"?

Zora Neale Hurston writes in "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" that she became a "little colored girl" when she went to school in Jacksonville for the first time at age thirteen. There, her identity as a distinct individual was erased and she was defined by her skin color.

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Hurston describes growing up in the all-Black town of Eatonville, Florida, where she was seen in the community as a distinct individual. However, at age thirteen, undisclosed "changes" come to her family, so she is sent to school in Jacksonville, a larger and more diverse environment. Of her arrival, she writes,

I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown.

What Hurston means is that when she moved to Jacksonville, she encountered the realities of racism for the first time. Her skin color loomed large and became the way people defined who she was. Her individual being was erased by her skin tone.

Hurston, in keeping with an essay that accentuates the positive, does not given the specifics of this experience. She only states that she discovered this harsh reality "in certain ways." She leaves it to readers to imagine what these ways might have been. She also states that she internalizes this racial definition, saying she experienced it in her "heart," or as an inner state, as well as seeing it in the "mirror" as her outer state.

The essay as a whole, however, demonstrates how she has transcended a negative sense of identity to embrace life fully. Hurston decides to assume a positive attitude and not let her race hold her back, stating at the end of the essay that all people are alike on the inside, no matter the color of their skin.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 18, 2021
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