What are the four identies Zora Neale Hurston is trying to show in "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Zora Neale Hurston describes herself in four ways. The essay is short, and each of her four descriptions is one aspect of who she is. 

The first line in the text is also the first self-description:

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.

Until Hurston was thirteen, she lived in Eatonville, Florida, one of the first solely African-American communities in the United States. When she moved she discovered white people (and everything that meant to her, as a black woman), and that is when she first really understood that she is "colored."

The second revelation of who she is comes several paragraphs later:

BUT I AM NOT tragically colored.

What she means is that, unlike so many other people of her race, she does not mind being exactly who she is. She is content to be what God made her, and she does not mope or cry or mourn her tragic circumstances like so many other Negroes. Being the "granddaughter of a slave" does not depress her because that was sixty years ago and she is far beyond that.

The third commentary on her life is this:

SOMETIMES IT IS the other way around. 

In this section of the essay she talks about being moved by the rhythm and music as she sits in a jazz club while white people around her are relatively unmoved. To her, the music feels as if "my face is painted red and yellow and my body is painted blue, My pulse is throbbing like a war drum." The music fills her and fulfills her. A white person simply hears "good music." She prefers being black to being white, in this case.

Hurston's final comment about her life is this:

AT CERTAIN TIMES I have no race, I am me.

She paints a vivid picture, through metaphor, of the insignificance of race. She, like everyone else, is just a bag filled with all the bits, pieces, and fragments of the things which make up who she is. If all the bits from all the bags were dumped into a pile, she says, and the bags were refilled randomly from the pile, nothing would be altered too much. In other words, we are the same, and "a bit of colored glass more or less would not matter."

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