What does it mean to be "tragically colored"?

As Hurston implies in "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," to be "tragically colored" is to dwell on the abuses Black people have suffered and continue to suffer instead of making the most of the present moment in a vibrant, upbeat way.

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Hurston contrasts her attitude toward being Black to those of other Black people she knows. She calls them "the sobbing school of Negrohood." In contrast to them, Hurston states that she is not "tragically" Black the way they are.

According to her, these people spend their time complaining that they have gotten "a lowdown dirty deal." Hurston, however, writes that she understands that the world belongs to the "strong" and that she is one of them. She is not going to spend her time letting racism hold her back but is, instead, "sharpening [her] oyster knife" to do battle with the world and seize it for herself. She will not focus on the negative or the tragedy of the Black past.

Hurston's implication is that approaching work and the world with a vibrant, positive attitude leads to great success. A young, talented, and intelligent woman, she had the luck to come of age in the 1920s, a time of great prosperity in the United States. It was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, in which some white people were willing to use their wealth to sponsor talented Black people. Hurston was fortunate to secure the generous patronage of a wealthy white woman named Charlotte Osgood Mason, who thought such cultures as the African and Native American cultures (lumping disparate cultures together into one entity) were superior to the European.

Hurston believed that Black people could climb out of second-class citizenship through individual hard work and optimism, and she implies that dwelling on the past is a hindrance to progress.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 18, 2021
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