What does Zora Neale Hurston mean when she states, “I remember the very day that I became colored” (357)? How did she grow up, and how did that shelter her from racism? How did her experience change when she was thirteen? What does this autobiographical essay suggest about racism in the U.S. in the early decades of the twentieth century?

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In her essay, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Zora Neale Hurston begins by describing her childhood in Eatonville, Florida—an all-black community. She recalls seeing passing white visitors, usually from the North, and using their presence as an opportunity to turn herself into an informal welcoming committee, despite the nervousness that the foreign white faces inspired in some of the adults:

They were peered at cautiously from behind curtains by the timid. The more venturesome would come out on the porch to watch them go past and got just as much pleasure out of the tourists as the tourists got out of the village. The front porch might seem a daring place for the rest of the town, but it was a gallery seat for me. My favorite place was atop the gatepost. Proscenium box for a born first-nighter. Not only did I enjoy the show, but I didn't mind the actors knowing that I liked it. I usually spoke to them in passing. I'd wave at them and when they returned my salute, I would say something like this: "Howdy-do-well-I-thank-you-where-you-goin'?"

Being in an all-black space, and a thriving black community, contributed to Hurston's experience of not feeling inferior. Unlike her contemporaries who, in her view, belonged to "the sobbing school of Negrohood," she never measured her blackness against whiteness and never envied what white people had.

Her circumstances changed when she went away to Jacksonville to attend school. There, she was "not Zora of Orange County any more," but just another "little colored girl." With this simple and subtle phrase, Hurston reveals how racism reduces a person's identity. She thought of herself as someone with a name and a place of origin, but in Jacksonville, she was defined by her color—an aspect of her being which placed her in the strange space of being both unwanted in public spaces but essential to the maintenance of Jim Crow: "warranted not to rub nor run."

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