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

How It Feels to Be Colored Me book cover
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What does Hurston say about identity in "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"? How does she use the term "colored" and for what purpose?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Hurston uses the term "colored" in her essay to mean "not white." She says she first became "colored" when, at age 13, she went to school in Jackson and was defined by others as the "little colored girl."

She asserts, however, that as an adult, there are times that she doesn't remember she is colored at all. She states she feels most colored when she is placed against a "sharp white background," such as when she attended Barnard College. She therefore defines colored as being "othered." She uses it to show that her color isn't who she is but how others define her.

Her attitude toward being colored is one of defiance. She says:

But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.

Hurston tries to put the best possible spin on what it was to be black in a racist country in the 1920s. She says her racial identity will not keep her down.

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Kitty Sharp eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Hurston uses the term "colored" to refer to an aspect of her identity as a person of color.  But she uses the term to signify the moments in which she is made to feel different from others, particularly different from white people.  At the beginning of the essay, Hurston says that she did not identify as a person of color while she lived in Eatonville because most of the other people who lived there were also of color, and even the local whites did not make her feel negatively different.  She was "everybody's Zora."  However, when she moved to Jacksonville at the age of 13, she begin to experience racism and discrimination, and suddenly her identity became that of a person of color.  Later in the essay, Hurston says that there is a part of her that has no race--that is the essential part of her and the part that is her truest identity.  However, she says that she cannot dwell in this identity exclusively given the state of race relations in America.

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