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.