Hurston, Zora Neale. "How it Feels to be Colored Me".
Summary and Analysis
The essay explains Hurston's concept of the colour modelled on the examples from her own life as a coloured person. The essay sparkles with humour, but her witty remarks do not degrade the seriousness of her subject. Her view of the colour is mostly neutral, sometimes explicitly positive.
She opens her essay with the statement that she is coloured and that she offers no extenuating circumstances to the fact except that she is the only Negro in the U.S. whose grandfather was not an Indian chief. She presents a striking notion that she was not born coloured, but that she became coloured during her life.
She used to live in an exclusively coloured town in Florida and did not realize her colour then. She just liked the white tourists going through the town and she was ready to get acquainted with them and show them some dance and singing. She was getting small bribes for it but she did not do it for bribes, she was simple fond of the visitors. She remarks that she hopes to be noticed by the Miami Chamber of Commerce for being the first "welcome-to-our-state" Floridian.
Until the age of thirteen, she was Zora. When she was sent for education away from her native town, she became the little coloured girl. But she never complains, she is not "tragically coloured". She does not mind at all. When reminded of the slavery, she observes that it was sixty years ago and that it was the price she paid for civilisation and it was worth. She feels most coloured when she is "thrown against a sharp white background." Sometimes the realization of the colour is rather negative but she is still content to remain herself.
Sometimes the colour becomes a positive quality. When listening to jazz music, she is completely taken away by the music. Inside herself she wildly dances, yells, and feels herself like a painted hunter in a jungle. She is completely intoxicated by the tune. When the piece ends, she realizes that her white friend only heard the music which she felt. He remains unmoved and motionless in his seat, calmly smoking a cigarette. He is "so pale with his whiteness" and she is so coloured.
Sometimes she does not feel any race, she is herself. For instance she does not have any separate feelings about being an American citizen and coloured. She introduces a striking metaphor: She feels like a black bag of miscellany propped against a wall, together with other bags which are white, red, and yellow. She imagines that the contents of the bags could be emptied in a single heap and the bags could be refilled again, without altering the content of any greatly. She concludes that this is perhaps the way the "Great Stuffer of Bags" filled them in the first place.
AuthorHurston, Zora Neale. (1891 - 1960).
Full Title"How it Feels to be Colored Me".
First PublishedIn: The World Tomorrow. 1928.
Hurston, Zora Neale. "How it Feels to be Colored Me." (1928). In: The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym et al. NY: Norton, 1989.