What point is Hurston trying to make in the first paragraph?

In the first paragraph of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Hurston makes the point that it is absurd to apologize for or lie about one's race.

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The first paragraph of Zora Neale Hurston's "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" consists of a single sentence:

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.

This establishes the cool, ironic tone of the essay. First, Hurston ridicules the idea that one should be ashamed of or evasive about one's race by using the legal term "extenuating circumstances." She is not apologizing for being Black, nor is she making any excuses: to do either would be foolish. In particular, she is not going to pretend that her color is not as it first appears by claiming Native American descent, which would still have exposed her to some prejudice, but less than an African American would attract.

The point Hurston makes, therefore, is that it is equally absurd to blame someone for his or her race and to apologize for the race into which one was born. In the rest of the essay, she continually reinforces this point, refusing to be a victim or a tragic figure herself, while insisting that the racists she has encountered are merely harming themselves through their narrow-mindedness. What is particularly striking, given that the essay was first published in 1928, is that Hurston appears to steadfastly refuse to believe that the reader is a racist. This rhetorical strategy emphasizes how clumsy and indefensible the racist viewpoint is.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 18, 2021
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