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

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In paragraph 1 of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," what is Hurston's reason for saying she's "the only negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief"?

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The first line of Hurston's essay reads:

I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief.

Hurston says this to set a humorous tone for this essay. Her writing celebrates blackness as part of the brilliant variety of American life. The humor in the first line works on several levels. To begin with, it has a biting edge: it is significant that Hurston states that everyone's grandfather on the mother's side was an Indian Chief. "Indian Chief" is a euphemism for "white master:" this is an allusion to the commonly understood idea that white owners raped their black female slaves to create more slaves, especially after the import of slaves from Africa was banned in the US. Hurston makes this comment to establish from the start that the races are more mixed than people like to acknowledge—and that racial categories should therefore hold less weight.

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