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

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In this essay, Hurston describes the complexity of identity she experiences being black in a white society.

As a child, up until age 13, she was "Zora of Orange County." She lived in an all-black community, and though she saw whites go through her town, that did not impact her identity. She was dimly aware of race, but was simply herself.

That changed when she was sent to school in Jacksonville. A racial identity was suddenly thrust upon her, one that obscured her individuality. No longer was she Zora, but part of group. As she puts it:

I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl.

As an adult, she oscillates between two identities. At times she is fully a black woman, with a black identity. This has two aspects: one is experiencing racism, as she did at Barnard. Another is one of experiencing joy. For example, when she listens to jazz music she describes her inner self feeling a sense of ecstatic liberation that she derives from being black. She says "my color comes" and states:

I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai above my head, I hurl it true to the mark yeeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum.

Another adult identity is that of a citizen of the world, a self that can't be reduced to race or history. She writes:

At certain times I have no race, I am me....I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.

All of this shows Hurston pushing back in a positive way against being reduced to a stereotype. Like all people, she is complex and multi-faceted, more than the color of her skin.

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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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