Please explain what is meant by Zora Neale Hurston"s essay" How It Feels to Be Colored Me."

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“How It Feels to Be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston  presents a positive insight into the author’s uniqueness.  Her individualism is established in the first sentence:

 ‘I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances…’

She knows who she is.  From this knowledge, she displays a pride in her  distinctiveness.

One of the poignant stories Hurston relates tells of her discovery that she was a colored person.  Until the age of thirteen, she did not realize that she was anything other than a human being.  The author lived in an all black town, Eatonville, Florida. 

Hurston would resent being lumped into a racial or ethnic category. She was different, and she liked it that way.  The neighbors were timid and avoided any contact with the outside world.  On the other hand, Hurston sat on her front porch like it was the mezzanine at the opera and watched the world go by.  She labeled herself as the first Floridian who welcomed people to the state. 

To Hurston, white people were no different than she.  This speaks well for her parents who did not instill the hatred and bias that many parents taught their children in this time period. 

One of the lovely aspects of Hurston’s philosophy about life  displays no negativism toward white people or racial inequality.  She was taught to be herself.

Hurston describes how the white people would give her money to dance or sing for them.  The colored people never gave dimes.  They showed no joy in life and really would rather that Hurston did not either.

Life changed for Hurston when she was thirteen and was sent to Jacksonville to go to school. Hurston emphasizes that this was not a tragic change for her.  It just made her aware of her blackness.  She was no longer Zora of Orange County; now, she was a “little colored girl.”

One of her main tenets is that she is not her race or “snobby Negrohood” as Hurston labeled it.  She learned that many black people ruin their lives because they wallow in “ life giving them a dirty deal by making their skin dark.”  Hurston states that she is too busy to weep for herself or any other colored person.

As an adult, the author did not always feel  black or colored.  Occasionally, Hurston  experienced the reverse siiuation when a white person is forced into the midst of black people. One instance occurred at a Harlem night club.  The music was so wonderful that it forced  a person to want to sing, dance, or just move.  She jumped up and danced wildly as though she were in the jungle.  The white man who was with her said: ”Good music they have here” as he sat looking bored.

The most important aspect of her belief system is that most of the time Hurston is just herself.

‘At certain times, I am just me.   I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine …’

Her theme comes to the front when she comments that she does not separate being an American from being colored or from being a woman.  All of them make up who she is. Her individual flavor for life comes shining through when she boldly states: 

 ‘I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul that surges within the boundaries.  My country, right or wrong.’

Her final paragraph is devoted to a metaphor of her individual qualities being dumped into a paper sack.  When they contents of the bagged are dumped into the floor, there would be bits of everything and all colors.  These items would be priceless and some  even worthless.

Read the study guide:
How It Feels to Be Colored Me

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