Depiction of Racial Discrimination and Prejudice in I’ Too by Langston Hughes and How It Feels To Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston
Pride is evident in all aspects of literature. It can be interpreted or expressed in many different ways. On the contrary, identity is a way a person identifies as or a set of characteristics that can help elucidate why a person may choose to do something. Two works of literature that have elements of pride and identity, is the poem, “I’ too” by Langston Hughes, and excerpt, “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston. Pride can be inner-related to identity as it is can be the key to overcoming barriers, specifically related to these works. Both African American writers use forms imagery and theme in a detail orientated way, to express their emotions and feelings. Both Hughes and Hurston exhibit pride and identity through their work and reveal themselves with similarities and their personal experiences of how it is like to be a member of the Negro community.
In the poem “I’ Too” by Langston Hughes, he emphasizes the idea that blacks are invariably segregated from all other groups. He identifies himself as “the darker brother,” and also states, he too “sing[s], America” (Hughes np). The use of imagery being illustrated by the narrator is the inevitable, that he is darkest person amongst the rest, but is “singing” the change for the future of America. Along his last lines he states, “I, too, am America” (Hughes np). The author is implying that discrimination is no longer valid and everyone is equally as important, as he too is a part of America. Morris Dickstein states, “Hughes took pride in being a ‘race man’” (np). Throughout the poem his tone is assertive and illustrates his head always held up high and strong. In other words, he manifests that being different and not having the privilege to eat with the rest, is not a validation to make him feel any less of a tenacious human being. He does not internally accept the perspective others have of him or the way he is being treated, because in the end he too was “at the table” (Hughes np). Hughes’s structures his poem to show readers the importance of pride and to value ourselves as individuals.
In similar fashion, Hurston’s excerpt, “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” exhibits the idea of pride in different encounters. After being sent to a new school in Jacksonville at the age of 13, Hurston surely found herself as “a little colored girl” (Hurston np). The American society surrounded by her, made her feel a certain type of way which she never felt to be a problem externally, while growing up in the little Negro town. Although she is a person of color, her racial identity never seemed to be anything more stating, “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 np). In other words, the narrator does not find herself to be extremely distressed and does not pity herself, as she embraces her color and disregards those judging behind her back. Hurston does not view her color as a sign of anguish and knows that she is beautiful and of value. With the acknowledgment of the past, she chooses to move forward and takes upon herself the hardships that may come along. “It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past… I am off to a flying start and I must not halt in the stretch to look behind and weep.
Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worthi.all that have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost” (Hurston np). Regardless of the fact that she is a granddaughter of slaves, she does not feel that slavery should be defined by her or let it overpower who she is; in addition, freedom was given to all slaves, therefore she rejects the fact that slavery should be a thought that comes across people’s minds when viewing her or those of color. Slavery was cruel and wrong but looking back at it and weeping is no way to erase history. Thus, Hurston feels prideful of who she is as a black individual and does not view herself antithetic amongst whites. She does not find herself feeling depressed for the way her people have been treated throughout history, but rather changes the perspective of letting it define her and chooses to move forward as an individual with her own set of beliefs.
Hughes explores the theme of identity in his poem “I, too.” Even though it is fairly short, the meaning of each line comes with great value and understanding. He mentions America numerous times implying that his identity and those of color, belong with the whites in unity. “Another aspect of this duality is Hughes’s varying attitudes toward blackness and a definition of black character… black is identified as beautiful” (Barisonzi 38). He uses the illusion of black being identified as beautiful to show shame to the white people who did not let him eat at the table. The inescapable reality of slavery will nonetheless always remain in history, but what Hughes is trying to convey in his poem is that with the finding of his identity through the act of the whites, he finds himself as beautiful and shames those who failed to recognize that before change was made in history. “When company comes, but I laugh and eat well, and grow strong” (Hughes, np). Hughes is transcending his human identity showing himself growing more as a human, rather than growing racially (Eggerling 5). Furthermore, through his confidence he shines a light on his African American identity with a positive outlook and is denying the perception the whites have of him nor grants to see himself through their lens. Thus, Hughes is contradicting society’s stereotypes and continues to embrace himself as a human being.
In the excerpt “How It Feels To Be Colored Me,” Hurston exhibits her identity when she is surrounded by a new group of people she only began to familiarize with during her early teens. She says, “I remember the very day that I became colored… The only white people I knew passed through the town going to or coming from Orlando” (Hurston np). After coming into contact with this group of people and attending school surrounding mainly by whites, she began to notice their actions towards her. Moreover, this racial group perpetually brings up the history of African Americans and identify Hurston with its context. Throughout the autobiography she explores her identity and displays amazing resistance to these stereotypes being brought up against her, stating, “for instance, when I sit in the drafty basement that is The New World Cabaret with a white person, my color comes…AT CERTAIN TIMES I have no race, I am me” (Hurston np). Similarly, with Hughes’s poem “I’ too,” Hurston also transcends her human identity and is growing as a person. Moreover, Hurston does not see her color as a barrier to grow into a person she wants to be. She writes, “the cosmic Zora emerges. I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads” (Hurston, np). In order for transcultural exchange to take place, Hurston must relinquish a part of her ethnic identity (Kam, 12). In other words, she feels she does not belong to a race and her identity as an African American does not define who she is as a human being. Thus, she must leave parts of her background in order to encompass with the American society.
Both Hurston and Hughes take pride in their identity and are challenged by their surroundings because of it. Racial identity was nothing more than just a term for both of these African American writers. In the poem “I, too,” Hughes criticizes the whites, but does so indirectly because he is dependent on their patronage. He paints unflattering portraits of them because of the way he is being treated during his enslavement (Kam, 147). Hughes draws attention to the behavior of the whites and shames them for it throughout the poem and especially when he is told to “eat in the kitchen” (Hughes, np). Hurston contradictory is found being conflicted with her identity in the aspect of finding herself or embracing her culture. She is constantly being reminded of who she is and the horrific past her relatives endured. Lucky for her, she did not go through slavery and was not born into it. Hurston does not find the color of someone’s skin to be significant. She demonstrates this form of imagery when she is describes herself sitting on the bench, “welcom[ing] to our state Floridian” (Hurston, np). Through this she is welcoming those that are passing through the Negro town of Eatonville but pays no attention to the color of their skin. Both texts, “I, too” and “How It Feels To Be Colored Me,” are “proved to be an important source of racial pride and leadership, not to mention an assertion of self-sufficiency in a white supremacist society that often rejected the possibility of black independence” (Edge, np). Moreover, Hurston and Hughes creatively express their feelings and their thoughts about their racial pride and take leadership of their own lives.
Pride and identity are evident in the two works of literature, “I’ too and “How it feels to be colored me.” Both writers use forms of imagery in their writings to show their emotions and feelings; furthermore, with gaining their independence, they were both able to tell their story in their own perspective using pride and identity. For Hurston she does not necessarily claim her African American ancestry to complete her race, like others might have. As a matter of fact, she claims her true identity through her own findings of her color and embraces who is as a person. Even though she faced many adversities, she chose to run towards African- American identity, rather than just her African- American racial identity. Correspondingly, Hughes with his eighteen- line poem, gives an indirect attention to the whites who are treating him poorly. He then imagines a future in which he is eating besides the rest, and no one will dare send him into the kitchen to eat alone.
Thus, both texts uncover how it was like walking in the shadow of their experiences and being laughed at or called names due to their color or African American descent.
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