In what ways does race shape Hurston's sense of identity?
In her 1928 essay, How it Feels to be Colored Me, Zora Neale Hurston describes her relationship with her racial identity, with special consideration for the changes that occurred after her mother's death. As a child in the post-Emancipation, pre-Civil Rights South, Hurston lived a relatively protected and happy life. She grew up in an all-Black town in Florida and so was spared the kind of oppression and violence which was commonplace in other parts of the country. After her mother's death, Hurston was sent to a boarding school where for the first time, she was keenly aware of the oppression of Black Americans and what this meant as a lived reality.
Though Hurston came to understand that others saw her as "Colored" and that this had societal connotations, she wrote in her essay that she does not always feel Colored. Hurston did not feel that she embodied the sort of tragic, sorrowful reality Colored people were associated with. It was only in the context of other people seeing her as Colored that race played a part in her identity. In fact, Hurston was quite defiant of the idea that her skin color somehow demanded a tragic existence.