African American Culture in How It Feels to be Colored Me, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, and Present
Culture is the lifeblood of a dynamic society and expresses our many ways of telling stories, celebrating, recalling the past, entertaining ourselves and imagining the future. Our creative expression helps determine who we are and helps us see the world through the eyes of others. Ontario participates in cultural activities in many ways, such as viewers, professionals, hobbyists, volunteers, donors or investors.In addition to the intrinsic value of culture, there are important social and economic benefits. As learning and health improve, tolerance and opportunities for others increase, our culture improves our quality of life and increases the overall well-being of individuals and communities. A participatory culture can benefit individuals in many ways, some of which are very personal. They are a source of joy and surprise, providing emotional and intellectual engagement, be it happy or uneasy, and encourage celebration or contemplation. Culture is also a means of expressing creativity, shaping one’s identity, and raising or defending community awareness.
Before I took this course, I have a very little understanding about the history and culture of black people. When I was still in high school, my “white” history teachers did not teach us much about the black history and culture. What came up to my mind when I heard about “black” this word are slavery and racism, nothing more than that. After I took this course, I have a deeper understanding of what racism and slavery are, also, I learned and understand in depth of how and why black people act in certain ways, their emotions, their feelings and thoughts, and their lifestyle.
The first reading which catched my attention the most is “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston, it is because as a colored man, I am very interested to know how other colored people feel to be colored. In “How It Feels To Be Colored Me”, Zora Neale Hurston explores her identity and self-pride. While Zara was still living in Florida, She was not treated as or looked upon as being weird, different or alienated. However, after the death of her mother, she moved to a boarding school in Jacksonville, she started to be considered different, alienated and “colored” by other people. She did not think of herself as tragically colored, which is one of the things I feel really proud of her. Back to seven years ago, once I came to Boston, I was considered a “colored” man, different and alienated by others and even teachers at the middle school. I am a colored man, a chinese man, and I am actually proud of that because that is what my parent gave to me. Because of my lack of ability to communicate with others, I was being viewed as a weird chinese boy and being alienated.
Toward the end of the story, she uses a metaphor to compare herself to a brown bag which is stuffed with random bits and bobs. Even though she represents herself as a brown bag which is different from everyone else’s, due to the color of her skin’s color, the “bits and bobs’ inside everyone’s bag, even in her brown bag, would all be the same human character. In “How It Feels To Be Colored Me”, there are two major themes, self conflict and misunderstanding. Hurston was grown up in an all-black community in Florida, she was not being alienated by other people and was protected from racism because everyone in her community share the same culture, language and identity. But once she moved from the town of Eatonville, the color of her skin became an unfortunate appearance for her and she was introduced into a totally different and uncomfortable lifestyle. While she was still young, living in the town of Eatonville and while her mother was still alive, she had being taught to love her identity, her skin’s color and be proud of what she got from her parents. However, everything changed after the death of her mother, she always have to dealt with the way that society viewing her skin color and identity, which ultimately led her questioning herself and dealing with self-conflict. Although racism was being prevail during that time, Zora neale Hurston was stressing and concerning that her readers dislike many african americans, however, she did not mind and feel ashamed because of her skin’s color, she thought it is what all the African American should be embrace about. Also, at the same time, modernism was being break from tradition, unlike most of the african americans, she rejected the concern that how they were being portrayed negatively. On the other hand, she takes pride and feels proud in being black, she said “BUT I AM NOT tragically colored”(Hurston, line 29). She also said “I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief”(Hurston, line 1) in order to differentiate herself from other black people who only care about how they were being portrayed negatively. Throughout the story, she makes it known that the people around her tell her that she should hate herself because of her skin’s color and identity, however, she is not bothered and even leading her feels proud of being black.
“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” is a play written by Ntozake Shange. In this play, there is a combination of drama, dance, music and poetry which are performed by seven actresses. This combination is very important because Ntozake Shange expresses her feelings toward her identity as a woman through the words, songs and poetry, she also expresses her thoughts about her identity as an African through dance. It tells the stories of seven women who is suffered from the racist and sexist society. This play catches my attention a lot because it shows me and changed my views toward African cultures. The seven women in the play do not have names. Instead of having a name, they are called “lady in red”, “lady in brown” and so on. The combination of their names makes up to a rainbow, which stands for hopes and future. As each of them tell their own stories, they reflect on what it means to be a colored women, how they are being treated, and what choices they have. In the play, I can feel the angriness from them and what kind of pains they are going through. Some of them have been physically and verbally abuse by their lovers rapists and abortionist. In the brink of despair, the only strength that support them to keep surviving is from the happiness in music and dance. Even Though these seven women grieve, they find happiness through the music and dance, they also celebrate for their lives and identity, their colorfulness and their vitality. At the end of the play, the seven women recite at the same time together “I found god in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely.” They are not weak and powerless, they have the powers and supports from their fellows, and the courage to tell their own stories.
There is a few important themes in this play, which are race, female friendships, music and dance, and self-actualization. Because there are no white characters in “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” this play, Ntozake Shange indicates that race is an very important part of her characters’ identities. Also, the title of this play indicate the impetus of it is to encourage colored women to embrace their identities. All the main characters in this play are colored women, because of their racial identities and gender, it affects the audience perspectives through their own experience of all the various anecdotes. Ntozake Shange successfully address the race’s issues in America through the seven women’s stories of struggles and maturation. In the play, music and dance are being described as the most useful way to express one’s feelings and emotion. Occasionally, some of those seven women would break out into chants or dance on the stage. Women experience a release from their struggles and difficulties, have real, personal, cathartic and self-defining experiences through music and dance. Lastly, these seven women (not only these seven colored women, but also include all the other women of color, or even white women) in this play started out as adolescents who do not understand themselves. They were having a hard time to accept their race and gender and being perplexed to find a place where they belong to in this world. Because of their desperation of love, they made mistakes in their relationships but behaved as though they do not deserve it. However because of these mistakes and failures, they becomes stronger and success at the end of the play. These seven women who share the same culture come and bond together, sharing their own stories and thoughts through their actions, music and dance. Drawing a lesson from what they have made mistakes from, and finally become fully-fledged human being, special and powerful, accepting the flaws they each has and this is what make them to become unique and glorious.
The poem “Present” by Sonia Sanchez is an autobiographical introspective piece for the author. It reveals a great understanding from the perspective of indigenous and black women. By using Sanchez’s command of melody and rhythm, she successfully evokes color and imagery toward her connections to blues, she also evokes her indigenous heritage. In this poem, she searches, experiment and question herself and her place in this collective history.
In the first stanza of the poem, Sanchez uses her iconic blues and hip hop rhythm to evokes melodic motion. In my perspective, it seems like being a self-portrait of her current perspective of herself. She points out her own physical appearance and accept that her skin tone is part of the Alabama roots. It also talks about the divisive nature of colorism, which is assessing someone’s value based on their skins’ colors. It is a very common discussion topic for a lot of feminist writers. Historically, women with lighter skin color were viewed as more beautiful than other colored women, have the ability to receive more privilege and visibility in the western societies. However in this poem, Sonia Sanchez points out that all women should be treated equally, receive equal privilege and visibility. There is a line in this poem that is very interesting to me, “pleasure without tongues”(Sanchez, line 11). This line displays pleasure, but at the same time, the silence around this pleasure can be seen. In my point of view, Sanchez asserts that she has right to be a sexual being, but not with the thought of being a sexual object or an object to be desire. In the following line, “This woman whose body waves”(Sanchez, line 12), in this image of movement, it reveal an important knowledge, which is a secret coding. This knowledge recalls memory because it is a traditional African ways to pass information in a safety way. In the last few lines of this poem, “reviving the beauty of forest and winds, is telling you secrets, gather up your odors and listen, as she sings the mold from memory”(Sanchez, lines 15 – 18), Sanchez describes women as the gatekeepers of the traditional dance, music and stories.
In the second stanza, she used the perspective that is prevails in African diaspora philosophy. First, she points out that black women are always being described as strong and unbreakable in the history. Because of this bias stereotype, she feels sorrowful that why can’t black women being treated or viewed as soft. Then in the following lines, they describe the individual history of Sanchez, and the acknowledgment of her own history seems to be small, which indicate that her own individual history is only a tiny portion of the entire world’s history, just like a sand on the beach. After that, she references her Native American history, and also African history, and combining herself with the ancient forgotten knowledge, which reveals the perspective which she pointed out a few lines before, her history is only a small portion of the entire world history. She is using a concept of Big Time, the understanding of past, present and future is in a circular pattern, past is informing the present, present is informing the future, and future is informing the past. In “the creation and my grandmothers gathering”(Sanchez, line 17) this line, she started to switch back and forward between the pass and the future in order to remind herself to be aware of her birth, and remind herself to not just growing awareness of self. In the last four lines, she keeps repeating the word “walking”, it can be viewed or comprehended as a journey to the future from the past. The whole purpose of this poem is indicate the fact that even though there are many gaps in our knowledge between our ancestors and us, however we should not just not care about it because there is a strong connections between our ancestors and us through expression, literature and imagination.
These three sources that I mentioned in this essay are essential for unpacking the themes raised in the content because three of them have a strong connection with the African American culture. In the first source, “How It Feels to be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston, it indicates the importance of recognizing self-identity and self-pride. We should be proud of being who we are. In the second source, “ For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” by Ntozake Shange, it talks about race, female friendship, music and dance. All of these are the element in one’s tradition and culture. A culture is not able to survive without friendship, music and dance. The poem “Present” by Sonia Sanchez is the final source, and which is the most importance source. It is because it mentions that all colored women, and white women should receive equal privilege and visibility. Moreover, we should never forget our culture and tradition because that’s where we come from, past is the present, present is the future, and future is the past.
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