How It Feels to Be Colored Me
Race in America in The Souls of Black Folk, How It Feels to Be Colored Me, and Recitatif
Many authors explain being black and the issues of race in America differently. Authors like W.E.B Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison all use different types of narration, point-of view, and engagement with historical context to touch base with the issues of race in America.
W.E.B Du Bois was a scholar and activist who became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Du Bois is most known for his writing and was a spokesperson for African American rights during the first half of the 20th century. One of Du Bois’s well known works is The Souls of Black Folk which is a work of American literature published in 1903. The Souls of Black Folk is composed of chapters that bring attention to issues of race in America. A chapter in The Souls of Black Folk include “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”. The chapter opens up with a poem by Arthur Symons, “The Crying of Water”. Below the poem is a fragment of a Negro song. A connection between the poem and the song is that the poem was written by a white person and the song was created and sung by Negro people. The putting of the poem and the song ties into the chapter, as Du Bois explains how powerless blacks feel in America and how society treats blacks differently from others. The putting of the poem and the song also shows how similar the poem and the Negro songs are. Du Bois is trying to explain that these two races have similarities and are not so different from one another after all. Another connection between the poem and the song is that they both carry the same sort of message, which shows that these are human issues, not just black people issues. We humans all have the same sort of issues no matter what the color of our skin is. In this chapter Du Bois explains that the one question white people always want to ask Negros is “How does it feel to be a problem?”. Du Bois first became aware that he was a “problem” when a white girl in his elementary classroom did not want to exchange cards with him because he was black. This experience made him realize that he was different in a world full of white people, this being said, as Du Bois stated “The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,- refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others” (Du Bois 921). Du Bois tells the story of race in America from his own experiences and tribulations. The story is told through first person point of view and we as readers get an inside look into how a Negro person in America gets through life every day and all the challenges that come with it due to racist white people.
Zora Neale Hurston was an American author. She portrayed racial struggles in the early 20th century. One of Hurston’s well known works is “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” which was published in 1927. In the work of literature, Hurston describes her experiences as a colored person in America. We as readers get to see exactly how she felt and all the experiences she faced as the work of literature is told through the first person point of view as well. She explains that she always felt normal and just like all Americans until her thirteenth year of life, which was when she “became colored”. Hurston, even though treated differently due to skin color, does not let that bring her down or make her feel ashamed that she is a Negro. She is proud of who she is and will not make any excuses to make up for her “differences”, this being said, as Hurston states “But I am 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 534). Hurston tells her story of how she grew up in a full Negro community in Florida. She did not feel colored until she turned 13 years old which is when she and her family moved to another city in Florida, where the community was very different compared to the community of her hometown. In this new city is where she became the “little colored girl”. Hurston notes that she does not always feel colored, but she feels it in most places like the college she attends due to the large amount of white students. Hurston’s mental strength is shown when she states “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?” (Hurston 536). This shows, that no matter how “colored” she may feel and how society has failed her and so many other Negros in America, she does not let that bring her down. It almost brings her up and makes her stronger as a person and as a woman. A metaphor Husrton uses in comparing herself and her race versus others is when she states “ I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red, and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless” (Hurston 536). After the metaphor, Hurston goes on to describe the contents of the bag and how they’re all similar in all the different colored bags. Through this it is evident that Hurston’s message is that no matter what color the bag is, the contents inside are very similar. No matter the skin color of a person, all people of all colors share similar thoughts, emotions, and memories.
Toni Morisson is an American novelist. Her novels are known for giving details of African American characters, as she is an African American as well. One of Morissons well known works is “Recitatif” which was published in 1983. In the fictional story, there are two main characters named Twyla and Roberta. We as readers learn that both girls live in an orphanage due to the fact that their mothers are not fit to care for them. Twyla is told that her mother danced all night and Roberta is told that her mother is sick. The relationship between the two girls did not start off on a good note as Twyla the narrator reveals, “ It was one thing to be taken out of your own bed early in the morning- it was something else to be stuck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race” (Morrsion 606). It is through this that we learn the girls are completely different races. In this story Morrsion uses fictional characters to depict the issue of race. Morrison tells a story of two girls, one white and one black. Even though we know all about the girls and their lives, we never really find out which character is white and which character is black. Morrision through the use of narration, plays with the reader’s mind as she secretly and discreetly inserts things she knows people will make assumptions about when it comes to race. Basically, the characters in the story have characteristics that could be each race, but we are never entirely sure. An example of this would be “Her own hair was so big and wild I could hardly see her face” (Morrison 610). Immediately after reading this, us readers seem to picture Roberta as black due to her “big” hair. Another example would be “Mary, simple-minded as ever, grinned and tried to yank her hand out of the pocket with the tragedy lining- to shake hands, I guess. Roberta’s mother looked down at me and then looked down at Mary too. She didn’t say anything, just grabbed Roberta with her Bible-free hand and stepped out of line, walking quickly to the rear of it” (Morrison 610). After reading this, us as readers seem to picture Twyla and her mother as black, due to the fact that Roberta’s mother did not want to shake Twyla’s mothers hand at all. This story takes place during the 50s and during this time, most white people did not want to touch or talk to a Negro person at all. Throughout the entire story, we assume that one girl could be one race but we are never exactly sure. Morrison does this to show that we are all equal no matter our skin color. By having the reader almost guess who is the black character and who is white character helps to prove that we are all equal. Twyla could be black or Twyla could be white and same goes for Roberta, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because a color does not define a human being. Even though this is a fictional story, we as readers get the reality of ourselves as we stereotype against African Americans. It opens up our minds as we realize that African Americans are judged and stereotyped by the rest of Americans every day and we realize we are the ones who feed into those judgements and stereotypes.
Many authors like W.E.B DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison, explain being black and the issues of race in America differently. All these authors all use different types of narration, point-of view, and engagement to touch base with the issues of race in America. In “Of Our Spiritual Striving” and “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” we as readers get an inside look into how Negro people of America are treated and how the treatment they receive affects them mentally due to the narration and first person point of view. In “Recitatif” we as readers get to know ourselves as we stereotype against African Americans. It opens up our minds to realize that African Americans are judged and stereotyped by the rest of Americans every day and we are included in those who feed into those judgements and stereotypes. These works and their authors are important to understand the United State’s cultural history as we see that these works of literature were written years ago, yet issues of race are still a part of our society and remain unchanged.
Race Inequality in How It Feels to Be Colored Me
How It Feels to Be Colored Me Argument Analysis
One does not come into this world with a racial identity, it is simply a learned behavior. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a clinical psychologist and writer, believes that race is not relevant in a child’s early years because it is not salient or noticeable. Be that as it may, it is once that child matures and grows into their skin does their race become a topic of discussion. Tatum’s theory just happens to have rang true for a young Zora Neale Hurston, a child of high self esteem. Born in the small town of Eatonville, Florida, Hurston had very little understanding of race or what it meant to be ‘colored’ until she reached the adolescent age of thirteen. However, despite what was expected of her, she never let her race speak for either her or her character. In the essay How It Feels to Be Colored Me, Hurston refuses to let her race define her because it is a state of mind yet is also something that should be embraced.
Hurston does not believe that she is the color of her skin. Historically speaking, black people are often associated with tragedy and misfortune. For decades black people have been faced with racism and discrimination, which continually set following generations up for extended trials and tribulations. This is not the case for Hurston, however. While she does not delve into ‘the helter-skelter skirmish that is’ her life or any terrors she may have face in her childhood, Hurston refused to let herself be ‘tragically colored’. Disassociating herself with her people’s skin color, she does not identify with ‘the sobbing school of Negrohood’ who ‘weep at the world’- meaning she will not let herself blame the world for her shortcoming. It even ‘fails to register depression’ with her when she is constantly being reminded that she is ‘the granddaughter of slaves’. Hurston holds no malice in her heart about slavery. One, because she was fortunate enough to not be a direct product of it. With it having been ‘sixty years in the past’, Hurston acknowledges that while her ancestor were affected, she was not personally affected by slavery. Therefore there is no reason for her to carry feelings or sentiments that do not pertain to her. On the other hand, Hurston believes that her ancestors struggled through those harrowing times to set her on a path destined for greatness. They paid a price in order for her to raise above and be successful. She was fortunate enough to be born into a country where there is no ‘greater chance for glory’ to accomplish whatever she set her mind to. Hurston embraces the past and the weight her skin color carries, but does not let it define her future. (Hurston 2)
Zora Neale Hurston believes that race is nothing more than a state of mind. Despite the color of her skin, Hurston was not ‘born colored’. However, she became colored once she became familiar with the concept of race. Hurston details her childhood in Eatonville, mentioning that ‘it is exclusively a colored town’ (Hurston 1). Race was never a pressing topic of discussion for her because she was surrounded by people who looked and carried themselves the same way she did. The only white people she had ever come in contact with ‘passed through the town going to or coming from Orlando’. Even then, her ‘queer exchange of compliments’ with them were not enough to make her feel colored (Hurston 1). It is not until she begins school in Jacksonville, and she is no longer in her natural element, does she become ‘a little colored girl’(Hurston 2). With Jacksonville being a more diverse metropolis, there was more opportunity for a young Hurston to become familiar with the notion of race. Subsequent to Beverly Tatum’s ideology, Hurston became colored at thirteen because her race was then salient. Nevertheless, Hurston depicts being colored as nothing more than a feeling that she has the ability to flip like a light switch. For instance, when she saunters ‘down Seventh Avenue, Harlem City’, she is merely ‘cosmic Zora’- considering herself a being of the universe opposed to a colored woman in America (Hurston 3,4). It is similar to a person who is emotional but would rather push their sadness aside in order to be happy, or someone who pushes aside their anxiety so they do not stress themselves out. It is not that Hurston believes she is better off without her race, but she will not let the thought of the color of skin hinder the contents of her character.
Though she prefers to ignore race, Hurston often acknowledges the differences in racial cultures and embraces them. There may be common ground or subtle similarities between the different races, but there will always be one factor that sets them apart. In Hurston’s case, that factor is music. While at The New World Cabaret with a white man, she finds herself enticed by the jazz music. Hurston is completely in her element with ‘its tempo and narcotic harmonies’. On the other hand, her white counterpart remains ‘sitting motionless in his seat, smoking calmly’. Historically speaking, jazz music has its beginnings in black culture. Stemming back to slavery, music was nothing more than a way of life. So when Hurston finds her pulse ‘throbbing like a war drum’ from dancing wildly, it is a representation of her connecting back to her roots. Music is a part of her culture and she strongly embraces it. Hurston understands there is nothing wrong with embracing one’s culture; while culture doesn’t define an individual, it does play a part in their identity. It is the simple things that both sets races apart but makes them each unique in their own way. (Hurston 3)
Race is a complex issue that has plagued America for centuries, whether negative or positive. It has been used to both unite and divide America as a people. Even in today’s age, it is a pressing issue in the streets and a hot topic in the media. Hurston sees race as limiting with individuals often grouping themselves within specific race groups. There is not necessarily anything wrong with this; it typically becomes a problem when people live, eat, sleep, and breathe by their race and not their character. Hurston greatly recognizes the fact that she is indeed a black woman, nothing more and nothing less. Nonetheless, she will not let that be what dictates her life and her perception of the world around her. All in all, Hurston embraces her race but doesn’t let it define her because it is a state of mind. æ
Suffering For African Americans in How It Feels to Be Colored Me
Oppression: Then, and Now
Oppression is prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control over someone. It is something that has been a constant movement throughout generations. Some examples of oppression in today’s society would include lower education and job opportunities. My two pieces of work, How it Feels to be Colored Me and Underground, together, deeply show how there is a continuation of oppression. In Zora Neal Hurston’s How It Feels to be Colored Me, she speaks more on her realizing her “coloredness”, but there is a specific part in the story where we can tell when she’s feeling the societal oppression. In the WGN television show, Underground there are so many more incidences where you can see oppression happening. This show is about the lives of slaves. Slaves have dealt with more “in your face” oppression than any other generation but that is because during those times, there were no laws to give African Americans rights. As you continue reading, you will begin to see how African Americans were and still are oppressed in society.
How It Feels to be Colored Me and Underground are both related because they both in some way portray the life of blacks. Underground is a bit more elaborated in the sense that it has a stronger story line and comes from multiple point of views, while on the other hand, How It Feels to be Colored Me is told from the point of view of a young girl that does not even realize she is different until she has to leave her normal neighborhood and is amongst the “sharp white background”. These two pieces of work show oppression in a few ways. Hurston shows it when she steps outside of her neighborhood and is exposed to the real world and the slaves in Underground are treated poorly and live very oppressed lives.
A famous line from Hurston’s How It Feels to be Colored Me, “I feel most white when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” (Hurston p. 1) is a very powerful line because it helps describe oppression. The following lines, “For instance at Barnard. “Beside the waters of the Hudson” I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, and over swept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.” (Hurston, pg. 1) help explain and give a visual of oppression. When Hurston is alone or amongst people that look like her, she feels no difference. However, once she is around white people, it is their actions and society forms that help bring out the emotions and harsh reality of living in oppression. In today’s society there is something called _____. This is when the government works in a way that it subliminally contains African Americans to a specific area of town and make it hard for them to leave. Therefore, not allowing for many of the blacks to succeed in life. Some Caucasian Americans live thinking by the stereotypes of blacks and prefer not to live around them, this helps segregate the area.
Back in the day, living the life of a slave was not easy. You were constantly being told that you were someone’s property and that you were not even considered a whole person. In “I Don’t Believe in Doctors Much”: The Social Control of Health Care, Mistrust, and Folk Remedies in the African American Slave Narrative by Jennifer Bronson and Tariqah Nuriddin they have said, “The social control of human labor during slavery made it difficult if not nearly impossible for enslaved Africans in the Americas to lead both healthy and fulfilling lives.” (Bronson/Nuriddin, pg. 1) This is very true because the demand for slaves was so high in the south, every plantation owner wanted one. They would house their slaves in the worst of conditions. They wanted to keep their slaves alive but barely. Just enough so that they could do the work they were assigned to do. This would consist of feeding them nasty, almost animal like food with hardly any of the nutrients they really needed. With low self-esteem and hardly any food in their systems, they were not living to their fullest potentials. They were not being taken cared of enough that Bronson and Nuriddin say in their paper that, “Results indicated that formerly enslaved African Americans participated in an array of health practices including the elaborate use of herbs, roots, and potent elixirs to prevent and treat illnesses with or without the consent of their owners.” (Bronson/Nuriddin, pg. 1) The owners never really cared if their slaves got sick because they could always go and get another one. Most slave owners really treated their slaves like they were replaceable property.
Don Elligan and Shawn Utsey have composed a case study and wrote a paper on it afterwards called Utility of an African-Centered Support Group for African American Men Confronting Societal Racism and Oppression. This paper focuses on men in today’s society that are dealing with the way they are oppressed. A very shocking quote from this paper is, “African American men suffer from the chronic stressor of living in a racist and oppressive society. This condition has historical roots dating back to enslavement and deportation from Africa to America.” (Elligan/Utsey, pg. 1) This is a key quote because it helps illustrate that even though slaves were taken from their home and brought to America years and years ago, not a lot has changed from these living conditions. We are still not afforded the same opportunities as the white men are and this has led to a psychological issue for African American men. Elligan and Utsey states that, “Some of the psychosocial stresses that are indirectly exacerbated by societal racism and oppression directed against African American men include unemployment, poor education, and discrimination within the judicial system and incarceration.” (Elligan/Utsey, pg. 158) From the beginning of the slaves’ days over in America, they were not allowed to read and write so this left a lot of the slaves clueless on things that were going on and also different laws and things alike. Unemployment is something that you can reflect back on because even though slaves technically had jobs and were working for their masters, they were not getting paid and they really didn’t have a choice whether they wanted to work or not. This is not a life that slaves wanted to live.
Priscilla Wald wrote a piece on Hurston’s story and really focused and keyed in on Hurston’s famous “thrown against a sharp white background” line. Wald says, “Under the direction of Franz Boas, an early proponent of “cultural relativism,” Hurston learned to confound the categories of observer and observed and to examine the means by which culture shapes subjectivity.” (Wald, pg. 1) Huston talks a lot about how she didn’t feel “black” at all until she was around the white community. She was able to look at being black from two different viewpoints. Hurston is saying throughout her story that she can deal with the hurt that she feels and that she won’t warrant prejudice to demolish her character and personality. She says that she is not “tragically colored” and that she has no “great sorrow” springing up inside her. Hurston gives herself a chance to be presented to the world as opposed to restricted it to by prejudice.
Another piece of work that I am including into this paper is a piece by Kristin Shutts, called Young Children’s Preferences: Gender, Race, and Social Status. In this journal article, she says, “Research on children’s social categories reveals that gender-based social preferences emerge earlier than race-based preferences. Recent studies also show that children are attuned to social status, and the association of race with status differences could explain why race influences children’s social preferences.” This piece really helps us understand How It Feels to be Colored Me. Because this story is about a little girl we can understand that her age is a huge factor in her not really realizing that she is black, or even has a difference between the rest of the world except for the fact that she is a girl. Once she is exposed to the rest of the world, and can see the status difference that is when the realization comes out for her.
Overall, we can see that oppression is a thing that is intertwined amongst a lot of time but it’s nothing that we can just look over act like it does not happen. We see that it has happened to slaves, and people today. From young children to the oldest of adults, there is no mercy for redemption from oppression. These two pieces work really well together to help give a visual on this topic. Who is to say if things will ever change? The one thing I can say however, is that this will only make for more heartache and suffering for African Americans. Oppression is something that is meant to keep people down, but as generations continue, I think it will only start to fuel the drive for more self-appreciation in younger generations.
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.