illustrated portrait of African American author Zora Neale Hurston

How It Feels to Be Colored Me

by Zora Neale Hurston
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In her essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” what does Hurston celebrate that other writers do not? What occupies her authorial attentions?

Zora Neale Hurston attests that color is not particularly important but that when it has made a difference to her life, it has usually been a positive one. She gives an enthusiastic description of performing for white people as a child, and says that racists are only harming themselves by missing out on the pleasure of her company.

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Zora Neale Hurston presents her life as a black person in extremely positive, celebratory terms, asserting that color is not of primary importance, and that when it has made some difference to her life, that difference has generally been positive.

The essay begins with an instance from her childhood, which...

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Zora Neale Hurston presents her life as a black person in extremely positive, celebratory terms, asserting that color is not of primary importance, and that when it has made some difference to her life, that difference has generally been positive.

The essay begins with an instance from her childhood, which many authors may have handled very differently. Hurston remembers how she used to perform for white tourists who passed through the town of Eatonville, singing, dancing, reciting, and welcoming them to Florida. The tourists would give her small change for these performances, which seemed strange to Hurston since "I wanted to do them so much that I needed bribing to stop."

It is easy to imagine how writers with a different focus from Hurston's would have looked back on these childhood performances as degrading, and the white tourists as condescending. Hurston, however, even takes something positive from the legacy of slavery, remarking that she thinks it must be far worse to be a white person, the descendent of slave-owners, who must be burdened with guilt over the issue, than to be the granddaughter of slaves, as she is herself.

Even when she says that she has, on occasion, experienced discrimination, Hurston's attitude is that racists are hurting only themselves with their narrow-minded attitudes:

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.

The upbeat, humorous tone of the essay is itself a demonstration of Hurston's refusal to think of herself as "tragically colored."

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