How It Feels to Be Colored Me
The Effects of Race on Self-Identity in Zora Hurston's Essay
The dictionary defines self-identity as The recognition of one’s potential and qualities as an individual, especially in relation to social context (Merriam-Webster). Zora Neal Hurston explores her own self-identity in the essay How it Feels Colored Me. Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, although she always considered Eatonville, FL her hometown (www.zoranealshurston.com).
The essay describes how the white society affects the author’s view of herself and her self-identity, and the way society’s opinion can inspire self-pride. Zora Hurston used variety of metaphors to explore and discuss her journey to develop her self-identity and self-pride.
Zora Hurston was living her life without any feelings of self-identity at her childhood when she was living in the Eatonville town, because she was with same colored people. So, she feels all the people looks like her and she believes everybody Zora. Only she saw some white people crossing the town, everybody else were same colored people. She was self-pride herself singing and dancing speak pieces(Hutson 1060) and comforting herself by watching on the road side actions in her front porch in that childhood time, but once she moved from her home town for schooling, she became colored girl. She says that . but I was their Zora nevertheless. I belonged to them, to the nearby hotels, to the countyeverybody’s Zora (Hurston 1060). When she departs away from home, she feels gratified with other African American people and she was a chameleon in between the black and white people that came through her town. . Hurston emphasizes the joy she felt in being an intermediary between her own culture and that of the white foreigners: (Heard 145). Hurston’s early experiences with two cultures, set her up to develop a confidence in herself and how she viewed her identity with both groups of people.
I started writing new, but my mind is not working Zora Hurston did not question her self-identity while she was growing up an Eatonville FL, because everyone looked like her and shared her culture. Zora Hurston was describing her everyday life in Eatonville where she had pleasant conversations with her neighbors, sang and danced on the streets of Eatonville; she observed her environment from a comfortable spot on her front porch. During that time, she was everybody’s Zora; free from the separation of feeling of different. Later on, she left home to attend a boarding school where she becomes a colored girl (Hurston 1060). She goes on to explain, . but I was their Zora nevertheless. I belonged to them, to the nearby hotels, to the countyeverybody’s Zora (Hurston 1060). When she departs away from home, she feels gratified with other African American people and she was a chameleon in between the black and white people that came through her town. . Hurston emphasizes the joy she felt in being an intermediary between her own culture and that of the white foreigners: (Heard 145). Hurston’s early experiences with two cultures, set her up to develop a confidence in herself and how she viewed her identity with both groups of people.
Zora Hurston’s strong self-identity allows her to feel proud of her race and her culture. Hurston stated that she does not see or consider herself tragically colored and begins weaving together self-representations based on her own ideas of herself that illustrates her self-pride. She is excessively caught up with “sharpening her oyster knife” to stop to consider the pain that discrimination may cause, and as a “dark rock surged upon” she raises all the deeper feelings for any hardships that she has needed to persevere in order to maintain her feeling of defiance in the face of that discrimination. Hurston does recognize the minutes when she feels her (or others’) racial variations and judgments, and her description of the difference between and her interactions with white customers and black customers at a jazz club demonstrates the separation between their lives (Hurston 1060). By becoming a sharp knife and a dark rock, she strengthened her resolve to be herself. Regardless of what other people thought about her and despite how they treated her, she always focused on what she wanted to do and they way she viewed herself.
Hurston builds up an expanded metaphor in which she matched and compared herself to a brown colored bag loaded down with arbitrary bits and weaves. She compares all people of different races to various colored bags that, if purged into an expansive heap and re-stuffed, would illustrate the fact that all people are the same. This illustrates that people, regardless of race, are basically of similar human character. Hurston finishes up by attesting that “the Great Stuffer of Bags,” the Maker, may have molded people this way from the beginning. Along these lines, Hurston cultivates a point of view that looks away from pride in one’s race to pride in one’s self (Hurston 1061). The metaphors of the colored bags represent Hurston’s opinion about race and how race should influence how people regard themselves, and how they should consider others. She clearly believes that the color of a person’s skin has no bearing on the character or worth of an individual. This further demonstrates Hurston’s strong sense of self and pride in who she is.
Zora Hurston describes her journey of self-discover, identity, and self-pride with metaphors that represent ideas of race and character and how those ideas both separate and connect American society. Zora Hurston struggles and comes to terms with society’s view of who she should be as an African American woman and her own ideals of self-identity and self-pride. Even though she was criticized by her own community for associating the white community, and while she didn’t really fit in to the white community, her self-pride was enough to inspire her own self-identity to have the confidence to bridge both sides. How It Feels to Be Colored Me is a combative poem that clearly did not fit with the philosophies of racial discrimination of the times, nor did it totally interlock with the blooming of black dominance of the arts related with the Harlem Renaissance. In the poem, Hurston divorces herself from “the sobbing school of Negrohood” (1060). Hurston that expects her to persistently make a case for over a wide span of time shameful acts. She can rest during the night realizing that she has carried on with an equitable life, never being scare of the “dark ghost” (Hurston 1060) that may wind up alongside her in bed. Through her clever words, Hurston conveys a great message of self-acceptance to challenge the attitudes of her time about race, culture, self-identity that we can apply to our times.
The Theme in How It Feels to Be Colored Me
Maya Angelou said: “we all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” In How It Feels to Be Colored Me Zora Neale Hurston toys with the idea that one may be able to channel an inner awareness acknowledging that one may embody two selves, two spiritual beings. Throughout the years, African Americans have faced injustice and unfortunately still do present day. Some carry the anger of slavery that their ancestors faced; some hide behind that anger and project their emotions differently.
Some are able to project a double consciousness of who they are and some find the strength and self-confidence to embrace individuality in their African American heritage. Hurston does just that, but identifies herself with the human race, rather than solely the race associated with the color of her skin. She states that she “has no separate feeling about being an American citizen and color” (Hurston 3). Illuminating the fact than despite events and beliefs that surround her, she is confident and finds comfort in who she is: “I am merely a fragment of the Great Souls that surges within the boundaries” (Hurston 3).
In How It Feels to Be Colored Me, Zora Neale Hurston presents the capacity of harboring strength and utilizing it for control in claiming who you are despite outer influences from those surrounding you. In her essay How It Feels to Be Colored Me, Hurston speaks of her memory as a thirteen years old growing up in Eatonville, Florida. Very subtlety she highlights events, memories from the “very day [she] became colored”(Hurston 1). Living in an exclusively colored town she noted that the only time white people would pass by was on their travels to and from Orlando. She describes the interactions between the whites passing by and the town’s people of Eatonville, highlighting the difference between the Southerners and Northerners. She notes that interaction with them seldom occurred, “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” (Hurston 1). A formal connection never made between the two, except for the ones that Hurston initiated. She did not see any differences between her and the white people passing through town, in fact she even spoke to them. But, “if one of [her] family happened to come to the front in to see [her], of course negotiations would be rudely broken off”(Hurston 1).
She acknowledges the differences between her family and herself partaking in social exchanges with whites, but never gives off any ideas or hints that she is ashamed of whom she is or the community that she and her loved ones embody. Zora Neale Hurston has worked on ethnographic texts that have given authors and researchers a more in depth perception on African Americans and all Americans living amongst one another (Lori Jirousek). Hurston states in her essay that she is “not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all” (Hurston 2). Using ethnographic context from Hurston, analyzers have been able to conclude that through How It Feels to Be Colored Me Hurston, “attempts to transcend race and avoid victim status”, “has an individualistic standpoint that not only emphasizes her own self-determination and self-definition, but also promotes those same qualities in others” and develops “a new definition of community that challenges […] boundedness of such categories as race and nation” (Jirousek).
Hurston illuminates the mere fact that what others may think or say about ones skin color cannot make one feel less than or inferior or unless he or she lets it. She does not let the mere fact that she is black belittle her in any shape or form. She grabs racism by the horns when stating “At certain times, I have no race, I am me” (Hurston 3). Her ability to channel self-confidence is what allows her to transcend race and its rubbish tendencies, develop and urgency towards self-definition and breaks the barriers between stereotypical sense of belonging between race and nations. Stating that she does “feel discriminated against, but it does not make [her] angry. It merely astonishes [her]” (Hurston 3). She continues to capitalize and assert her confidence in one sentence: “How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me” (Hurston 3).
Hurston worked on the establishment of “national coherence and solidarity” (Jirousek) by providing the shared relationship between an individual and their nation, something she broke through in her essay How It Feels to Be Colored Me. United States in the 1920’s was an era of injustice. Filled with many wrong doings on certain groups of people. Hurston alludes that she does not view herself any differently than her neighbor, “[she] has no separate feeling about being American and colored” (Hurston 3) as stated previously. She decided to not let outer influences have a say in the image she wants to create for herself and share with the world. She dives into her ancestry stating: “Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you (Hurston 2). The strength and resilience she embodies is what gives her the strength to look past that and recognize that she is equal to her fellow Americans no matter her the color of her skin or her ancestry.
Analysis Of How It Feels To Be Colored Me
Growing up in a small town full of white people I never felt different until I enter grade six. I started to realize I was so different from the majority of my classmate except some small percentage of kids that looked like me. I remember the first time I felt different and it was when a kid asked me why I had a towel in my head.
How It Feels to Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston shares about how she never felt different until she was sent to a school in Jacksonville, a white community. This essay dealt with a time period after slavery was abolished, but discrimination and segregation were still present in people’s minds. As a colored writer, she was a credible source to share about racial barriers to sympathetic reader who want to embrace their differences. Through humor, anecdote, metaphor and imagery. Hurston addresses her personal experiences as a Negro.
Hurston begins her essay by telling stories of her childhood in Eatonville, Florida. People of color mostly populated Eatonville and when Hurston mother died, she was sent to a boarding school in Jacksonville where she felt colored. She remembers how white people liked to hear her ‘speak pieces’ and sing. As they rode through town. They wanted to see her dance the parse-me-la and paid her generously for it. This anecdote from the author gives the reader an understanding of Hurston’s perspective. She does not just inform us by using anecdote. Hurston effectively allows the audience to empathize with her youthful innocence.
Jacksonville shifted Hurston’s perspective: however, she still did not feel tragically colored. One of the appeals she uses in this passage is pathos. She did not weep at the world. Discrimination simply astonished her; she asked herself, How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company! It’s beyond me. Hurston used humor to emphasize her refusal to let discrimination and her differences make her insecure. Hurston makes this point clear by humorous exaggeration of her feelings.
Furthermore, Hurston delivers imagery throughout the passage by demonstrating the uses of feel and sense to lead to the finding of herself. She emphasizes on how she believes she is a part of America as a whole and not just simply a color. Hurston uses imagery to compare the culture of blacks between the white culture, which conveys that black culture is worth celebrating. Hurston takes the reader on a voyage that illustrates the finding of her self-identity.
Despite her feelings of pride, the author could not help feeling different, like she was thrown against a sharp white background. Occasionally, she realized that she was a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall, in the company of other bags of different colors. Nevertheless, she comprehended the similarity of their contents. This description gives vivid imagery for the author’s thoughts. The author uses these metaphors to underscore her isolation, which makes her revelation even more meaningful: physical features may be diverging, but people share the same essence.
Hurston uses these rhetorical devices to add and further her opinion. It added another dimension to her writing by combining rationale, imagery, and motivation with perspective.
Main Motive Of Zora Neale Hurston's Essay
In How It Feels to Be Colored Me, Zora Neale Hurston describes her feelings and experiences in the twenty’s century from the examples of her own life as colored person. I had to read her essay few times before I can understand all the metaphor’s that she used thru out her work. She starts her story with the fact that she is the only Negro that have no native Americans ancestors.
Hurston grew up in a small solely colored town in Orange County Florida where she did not have to worry about her skin color. The only white people she has seen was the ones who passed thru the city going or coming from Orlando. No one cared for Southern whites they were closer socioeconomically to blacks because they rode dusty horses thru town, but Northern tourists were actually something else because they drove automobiles, so the only difference Hurston had seen there is the lower or upper class of people not the color.
Later in the story author moves to Jacksonville, Florida at the age of thirteen where she first saw diverse population. But she rejected to be tragically colored. She states that she doesn’t belong in the Negrohood school where the colored people feel down about the way society look at them, they hate the world and feel sorry about the fact that they black. Hurston sees herself different. She doesn’t mind being black, she proud of it. No, I do not weep at the world-I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife (Hurston 1289). She sees a big race difference when she goes to listen jazz with her white friend. Hurston experience something unbelievable when she listens to the music; her emotions are going up and down, she sees different colors of the music, she wants to dance, jump, scream and when she looks at her white friend, he calmly seats smoking his cigarette. He has only heard what I felt (Hurston 1291)
Hurston ends her story by using the metaphor of colored bags to describe people. She believes that persons skin color doesn’t justify certain thoughts, actions, emotions, or talents. As long as black people have the same opportunities as white people, they can obtain the same experiences and abilities. The main idea of the colored bags metaphor is to show us that we are all like bags; full of desires, disappointments, hopes, love and hate and so on. If we were to take everything out of those bags, the skin color wouldn’t matter anymore because all of us would be the same.
An Idea Of Race In Hurston's Essay
Hurston feels her race does not affect the person that she claims to be, yet it affects people’s perspective of her.Hurston specifically complains about the tendency to overemphasize the legacy of slavery, which she dismisses and dehumanizes by placing it sixty year in her past. She describes centuries of slavery as a horrible lifestyle of sacrifice so that African Americans could have a chance at freedom and a new opportunity in life. Above intolerance, people often stereotype others due to ethnicity.
Hurston claims to remember the first day she became colored, which occurred when she was thirteen. However, race can be more a matter of social reinforcement. In short, she did not feel colored until people made her feel like she was. Her appeal to pathos is mainly a refusal to be horribly colored, which appeals to the way her audience admires the strength of her character. The insistence on people being individuals rather than begin defined by race and the sympathy. She shares “her” point of view leading to the final disagreement that people should not be defined merely by skin color but by all the complex elements of their character. Hurston divorces herself from the sobbing school of Negrohood that requires her to continually lay claim to past and present injustices. She can sleep at night knowing that she has lived a righteous life, never fearing that some dark ghost might end up next to her in bed.
Through her witty words, Hurston delivers a powerful message to challenge the mindsets of her, and our, time. Hurston uses an anecdote when she stated, I remember the day that I became colored, I was not Zora of Orange Country anymore, I was now a little colored girl. Hurston is showing her love of her culture and her recognition of her color. Simultaneously Hurston also believed the only difference between white and black people was that white people would pass through town but never stay. Even so, she would perform for the white tourist, singing, and dancing, which they would sometime reward with dimes. This surprised her because performing was something she would do anyways. The black locals did not once think about paying her for a song, but she knew that they had cared and supported her anyway. In her childhood, Hurston was protected from the worst derivative statements as she lived in an all-black environment. Through performance for the white tourist, she starts to detect a difference in the white visitors, one is with them having money, and the financial stability to pay for art and entertainment.
One way to evaluate the problem is a simple comparison between the two lifestyles (black and white). When she decides to compare herself to a white person in a jazz club, she feels as though she is superior in the way that she can immerse herself in the music. While Hurston was in a trance, her friend had been smoking calmly. He seemed unfazed by music, giving an inadequate compliment. Hurston sees him as if across a continent and described him as pale with his whiteness in a way that lacks passion and vitality. At other times, Hurston feels like she has no race. She feels expression of eternal femininity or just one fragment of a Great Soul. When she walks the streets, she feels snooty and aristocratic. Of course, she experiences racism, but she only pities the racist for depriving themselves of her company.
Hurston isn’t limited by her black identity, as she also embraces her female identity, or at times, simply disavows identity although to be a piece of the Great Soul. Her efforts to pick up or put down identities at will benefit her from a sort of performance. Hurston describes herself as a brown bag among white, yellow, and red bags. Each bag has a jumble of contents both marvelous and ordinary, such as a first water diamond or a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. The different colored bags are Hurston’s central metaphor for her mature understanding of race. The color of the bag corresponds to skin color and external appearance, and the varied contents represent thoughts, memories, emotions, and experiences particular to each individual. The contents Hurston describes are both beautiful and mundane, but they all surpass the exterior of the bags in specificity of detail.
Hurston seems to say that this internal content is much more important and much more interesting than a flat, one-word description of the skin. After making the realization that she is in fact of color and of the consequences regarding this fact, she makes a clear distinction between herself as a person of color and “the sobbing school of Negrohood” (1984). Here she exhibits an ambition that carries her past the obstacles that both then and now face African Americans during their lifetimes. Having an outspoken, high spirited, and ambitious personality, Hurston could obtain an education and explored the complexities of African-American society through her research and writing. Above the intolerance, people often stereotype others due to race.
Zora Neale Hurston: An Alchemist of Modernism
In “Sweat” and the accounts of Zora Neale Hurston in, “How It Feels To Be Colored Me”, there are many elements of the modernist period in play. The most important being the welfare state of African Americans in America at that point in time. However, Hurston’s effortless depiction of the lives of African Americans during her time, her constant use of female African Americans in her stories to progress feminism, and her influence towards other authors during the Harlem Renaissance makes her one of, if not the biggest, contributor to the Modernist movement. During Hurston’s time there were many other pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance, like Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois, whom Hurston worked with, but what separated Hurston from the pack is the versatility she displays in her writing.
An approach to writing that is inclusive to those who are voiceless, was the ultimate end goal of Hurston’s writing, to represent for those who can’t do it themselves. During Hurston’s time she helped illuminate the identity of all African Americans, not just African American men. Hurston published, “How It Feels To Be Colored Me”, in 1928, a time America still stood in the dark shadow casted by the history of slavery. Hurston’s parents were slaves, so she understood the huge psychological repercussions of living in a post-genocidal culture, and then magically trying to integrate into that same society which only one generation previously, viewed you as property, but most importantly not human. The African American identity was left in shambles, but Hurston understood that in order for African Americans to keep moving forward, they had to have an idea of who they were before slavery. “ Slavery was the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not mine.”(3). Hurston inserts the reader into her direct stream of consciousness, and her explanation of the destruction of her ancestor’s identity is spot on. This assertion of having a past heritage prior to slavery as a means of African American progression aligns with W.E.B. Dubois, in terms of the education involved with it, but as for regaining the identity, that idea belongs to Hurston. During the same time women in America had just gained the right to suffrage, but African American men and women were far away from that point. Harlem had many male African American writers, but for women, there wasn’t as much. Yet it is the scrutiny of African American women that Hurston sheds light on, “ It is thrilling to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise, or twice as much blame”(3). The judgement Hurston refers to is the gender bias in post-slavery America, particularly in the African American community. A man who isn’t the bread winner in the family will get scrutinized much like the criticism Sykes gets from Moss. “ Syke Jones aint wuth de shot an powder hit would tek tuh kill em. Not to huh he aint”(6). Delia is known to her town as the breadwinner of her household, everyone there knows that, but the town also knows about the nature of Sykes, and because of that, Delia is judged for being with him. Like Hurston says about the double edged sword of judgement, it is great when it is in your favor, but it also cuts very deep when it is pointed at you. The identity crisis comes forth in this sense, because if the men who were joking about Sykes had a true sense of identity, they wouldn’t focus on Sykes, but instead put Delia on the pedestal she deserves to be on. Another important ideological reprocussion of slavery that Hurston focuses on is the infantilization of African Americans. After generations of slavery, and being told you’re not capable of basic thinking, there are bound to be deep psychological wounds that need healing. Hurston’s first hand account of that feeling brings out the trauma, “ I feel most colored when thrown against a sharp white background” (3). Her description of the background as sharp exemplifies the trauma mentioned above. Living in a world meant for white people literally cut into the psyche of African Americans, and the only cure for those cuts, was to reform the African American identity. America created a psychological hierarchy in order to ensure the continuity of white dominance and Hurston reimagines this constant horror as the snake that Sykes brings home. Both the horror of white dominance and the snake share many characteristics. Like the snake in the cage, the threat of white violence was always there, always ready to strike in a moments notice, given the opportunity. The snake also stays in the house for a week, and Delia is forced to live with that threat around her, but she must act as if there is no plausible threat, as if everything is fine. The reader is injected into Delia’s indirect stream of consciousness to understand her feelings towards the snake, “She stayed for a long time in the doorway in a red fury that grew bloodier for every second that she regarded the creature that was her torment”(6). Regarding the female African American identity, Delia is written as a strong woman, who can not only withstand the tension and violence of the snake, she is capable of wielding the horror of the snake in her favor. On the surface, Delia seems like the ordinary hero of the story who walks with no fear, yet she does feel fear, it is what drives her on the inside. Delia is aware of the danger and the fear of being around the snake, but she remains herself at all times, adapting to the situation. This scene metaphorized Delia into the identity of the African American woman, and the snake into oppressive force trying to keep that identity at bay. Delia is strong, her will can’t be broken as easily as it could before. The snake is trying to impose who Delia should be, but as dangerous as the snake is, it is caged, Delia isn’t afraid of the snake’s poison. Delia is truly her own person, and has a concrete identity. Hurston creates a concrete identity of the African American woman through her work of fiction, the Harlem Renaissance, Modernism, and a few branches over, feminism all benefit greatly from this characterization of Delia, because her traits embody the characteristics of those movements.
From a feminist perspective Delia is a great example of the progression of African American women. Eerily similar to Hurston, Delia must also works towards building her identity, as well as her income. The 1920’s was a great time for the white american and woman, but the economy was not in favor of the African American. So for Delia, an African American woman, to have her her own property is outstanding, and just like her identity she has to work hard and “sweat” for it. When Sykes condescendingly scolds Delia about her work, she rebuttals perfectly. “Mah sweat is done paid for this place and ah reckon ah kin keep on sweatin it”(2). Delia never asked to be placed in this line of judgement, but she makes the best of it. The term, “sweat” takes up many new forms in this line.
The first form being the sweat that it takes to work hard for an income, and to be able to withstand the scolding of Sykes. Yet why does Delia sweat for Sykes? Simply put, because she must. Hurston uses Sykes to resemble the lack of male African American identity, and the state of infantilization they faced post-slavery. Sykes is so uneducated about his self-worth that his only option is to bite the hand that feeds him, his actions resemble that of a child. The second form is the literal sweat poured in towards the creation of a concrete African American identity, and the mental frustration of being at the bottom of the food chain, working and sweating away, only to still be considered less than human. All forms point towards the manifestation of an African American identity that has finally emerged from the slums of slavery and enduring the unjust conditions of sharecropping. Hurston’s ability to shape this identity is one of the most critical literary contributions of the Modernist period, because it is reclaiming for African Americans, who for the better part of their time in America, didn’t even know their own name. Hurston gives names to the nameless, and a voice to the voiceless.
Hurston’s inclusion of the African American woman into her shaping of the new African American identity still remains as a foundational platform which more authors have built upon, but Delia as the first brick in that pillar is only too fitting. Delia exhibits and incorporates many traits of the Modernist period, like feminism for example. As a feminist, Delia flourishes as a strong woman, and the difficulties she faces from being a woman as well only contribute to the intersectionality concepts of Hurston’s work. Feminism, progression as an intellectual society, acknowledging the scars of slavery, surely these are staples of the American modernist movement.
The Harlem Renaissance as a whole would not have been the same without Zora Neale Hurston, her influence on her counterparts as a mentor cannot be understated, so she is without a doubt a founder of the conscious emancipation of the African American that helped form the new identity. It is also important to mention the help of her famous colleagues, like Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, as vital minds of the Renaissance as well, but it is the inclusion of feminism which sets Hurston above her class of African American intellectuals. The 1920’s was a booming time for white feminism in America, so for Hurston to combine her feminism with all the other aspects of modernism, makes it one of the most substantial intellectual achievements of the 20th century.
Looking From Strange Eyes: A Cultural Analysis
In Zora Neale Hurston’s work, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,”the author pulls from personal experience, and writes about, not only her cultural experience within the negro community, but also her experience outside of her own culture. The work is a detailed recollection of her own personal idea of what her cultural is to her, and what it may mean to others. The work (and thus, Hurston herself) represents the black cultural community within in, in several ways. The work describes how the narrator, Hurston, see’s herself, and thus how she see’s her culture. The work also takes a look from the opposite perspective to give true insight, and lastly the work reveals a bit of insight into how we all fit together culturally.
First, Hurston explains how she sees herself in relation to her culture. Within the text it read, “…I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background (bay. 540)”. After analyzing the text, and reading between the lines, it is obvious that Hurston does not notice her race, and that it is others that bring it to her attention; this can be seen on page 538 and 539 of the text. The text reads, “…I lived in a little negro town of Eatonville, Florida. It is exclusively a colored town. The only white people I knew passed through on the town going or coming from Orlando…During this period, white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there…But changes came…and I was sent to school in Jacksonville…I left Eatonville… [as] Zora…[and arrived in Jacksonville as] a little colored girl…I found it out…in my heart as well as in the mirror (Bay. 538-539)”. This section shows that while the narrator (Hurston) was living in her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, she was not hyper aware of her culture, or the cultures and races of others.
In the narrator’s early years she did not recognize the cultural differences because they were not presented in an aggressive manner to her. She understood that there might be people different from her, however, she did not see it in terms of color. As stated in the text, “white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there (Bay.539)”. From this statement it can be concluded that the narrator did not pay close attention to race, color, and culture. Within the text the interactions between the white travelers, and Zora, the narrator are shown . The white travelers often speak kindly to Zora, and most times ask to see her dance and perform. Though, Zora found this odd she enjoyed it thoroughly, and assumed her audience did as well. These peaceful interactions with the white travelers built Zora’s entire impression of white people, and she felt they weren’t much different from herself. It is clear to see the place and reasoning behind young Zora’s impression of the white, and where that early opinion of these people stemmed from. As stated in the text, …I lived in an all negro town…exclusively [for] negroes (Bay 538)”, because Zora’s town was all negro she did not have many opportunities for encounters with people from different races; other than white travelers. Zora remained innocent of racial concerns, because none were openly present for her to witness first hand.
However, after Zora’s move to a school in Jacksonville, she became more aware of the cultural differences between us all. In realizing the difference in others she now realized the difference in herself, and she was now, “the little colored girl (Bay. 359)”. In realizing there are other different cultures around her, the narrator comes to also understand her own culture, and how some within her culture feel in relation to their culture. Within the text it says, “..But I am not tragically colored. There is no sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all [that I am black]. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about this (Bay. 539) “. This statement brings into mind several questions. First off, how do these individuals, those within the, “Negrohood”, truly see themselves. The text reads, “..I do not mind at all [that I am black] (Bay. 539)”, in stating this is it suggestive that the Negrohood mentioned on the next line does mind? Here they represent a small percent of their culture through the text; those who seem to wish to be apart of another race.
This sentiment of wanting to change races can be seen all across different cultures, and relates to the human desire to “fit in”, so to speak. Does wanting to change races have anything to do with where the individual lives and works? My guess is more than likely. An area may be more or less relatable to a person because of the race of the majority of the people who live there. For example, In certain areas it is not uncommon to see a large influx of immigrants of the same culture, move to a specific area. They bring with them their cultural ways, the way they live, work, worship, and even love. As the area’s population grows in volume it becomes more predominantly reflected on their specific culture. However, this is not really a bad thing, in fact, it allows America to be an oasis for culture, and give us the opportunity to learn about other cultures. However, sometimes individuals from different cultures may be scared to learn and be apart of other cultures, and in turn, sometimes other cultures do not want to invite “outsiders” (such as the issue with the white people not wanting to have black individuals incorporated in their culture as seen within many texts). So, if you take a look from another’s perspective, and see the difficulties that they face in order to assimilate into the other culture(s), you may be able to understand why someone might wish to change their race.
Though integration of the cultures has always been a difficult issue, there is still a sign within the text that both the white community and the black community is trying, though the culture’s difference are obvious, they are still able to blend together. At one point within the text the narrator, Zora, explains that she and a white friend often visit The New World Cabaret, a black jazz club. She explains that while she is with this white friend at the jazz club, her color comes. She explains within the the text that while listening to the jazz music, “..I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai above my head, I hurl it true to the mark yeeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way…My pulse was throbbing…[after the music ends] ‘Good music they have here’ he remarks, drumming the table with his fingertips..Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him (Bay. 540)”. This section shows the cultural and personal differences between the two in the jazz club. Zora’s reaction to the music was a representation of how the text shows how Zora’s culture fits into American culture.
Music is a perfect example of something that can be shared and merge into other cultures. Jazz music has been apart of American culture for quite some time, however, the black community took it to the next level, and in the process created some wonderful music. The music is vibrant, and express quite a lot of deep emotion with each note. As shown within the text Zora felt the music differently than her white companion. Within the text it read, “.I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within (Bay. 540)”, this show Zora felt something strong within the music though her friend seemingly did not. In terms of ethical responsibility, and said action towards the morally sound, the narrator takes the high road. The section of the text read, “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me. (Bay.541)”. Here it is clear that Zora, the narrator, is taking the much less traveled, high road. She now recognizes the discrimination that had been alien to her in the past.
However, Zora does not take the discrimination and turn it into hate. She simply acknowledges that it is there, but does not allow it to take hold of her; she does not lash out at those who hurt her. Within the text, it seems the author defines ethical responsibility as the responsibility of each individual person, in that, they too much decide not to turn discrimination toward them into hate. At one point the narrator has this to say in relation to ethical standards, “..I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the great soul that surges within the boundaries (Bay.541).” This statement reflects the author’s idea that all American citizens, regardless of differences in culture, are the same.
The text often speaks of the differences in our cultures, and thus, the differences between us. However, the narrator chose to tie all of use in together at the end, in a beautiful metaphor. The text reads, “ But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red, yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife blade, old shoes saved for a road that was never and never will be , a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, [and] a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held–so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content any greatly…Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of bags filled them in the first place…( Bay. 541).” The reader can take several things away from this section of the text. First, the text reveals that we are all the same “bag”, though are colors are different. The text also explains that inside our bags we all carry the same things within us. The text is referring to the contents of the bag as our very soul, and how the same we really are. We all have things that make us beautiful and miraculous, such as the, “First-water diamond”, mentioned in the text. The text also mentions that we all have things inside ourselves that are broken, no matter the culture (or colored bag) we come from.
Within, Zora Neale Hurston’s, “ How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, the narrator who is represented as the young, and later middle aged, Zora herself describes how it feels to live within her culture and the culture of those around her. She explains how she felt as a young child, relatively colorless, and simply Zora. The work shows the results our cultures have on each other, especially those cultures that may be in the minority for the area they reside in. Zora explains how she fits into not only her own culture, but the American culture as a whole. Finally, the work related to the reader in a fairly simple way how we truly fit together, in that, when we take away the color we find that the contents of the soul remain the exact same across all cultures and races.