Both “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston and “The Fourth of July” by Audre Lorde deal with the difficulties of race relations in America, partially through the eyes of the authors’ younger selves. Both young people bumped up against boundaries because of their race, boundaries of which they had previously been unaware. Hurston tells of living in an all-Black town and thinking that the only difference between Black and white was that Black people lived in her town, while white people only passed through it. She learned otherwise when she went to school in Jacksonville and received the label “little colored girl.”
Lorde made a discovery about race on a family trip to Washington, DC, over the Fourth of July. The family went at that time because Lorde’s sister Phyllis was not allowed to participate in her school trip; as the only Black member of the class, she was not allowed to stay in the hotel. Lorde had largely been shielded from race issues by her parents, but during their trip they were told they could not eat inside at an ice cream parlor because of their race.
The two authors, however, respond very differently to these incidents of racial discrimination. Hurston takes a light tone and jokes about her discovery. “I became a fast brown,” she laughs, “warranted not to rub nor run.” She refuses to be “tragically colored” or to become angry or filled with grief and sorrow. She is too busy living, too busy enjoying the world, to get caught up in negativity. Yes, she admits, she has felt her race, especially at Barnard, where she became the college’s first Black graduate, but she also feels it when she is at a jazz club and the white man seated next to her does not feel the same way about the music as she does. These become points of reflection rather than occasions of outrage. Hurston also says that she is not angry when she encounters discrimination. She is simply astonished and wonders how anyone could ever “deny themselves the pleasure of [her] company.”
Lorde, on the other hand, is angered by discrimination and by her parents’ refusal to deal with it. They simply ignore it, but she cannot. She is upset that she didn't know Black people were not allowed to eat in railroad dining cars. She is furious that the family could not eat their ice cream in the shop simply because of their race. The tone of her essay is quite unlike Hurston’s light banter; Lorde’s outrage and resentment show through in nearly every paragraph. She relates that she was “sick to [her] stomach” about the trip, and she seems to remain disgusted by the experience.