How It Feels to be Colored Me Summary

Zora Neal Hurston

How It Feels to be Colored Me

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How It Feels to be Colored Me Summary

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“How It Feels to be Colored Me” is an essay in which Zora Neal Hurston describes her experience as an African-American woman in the early twentieth century. She opens the essay by explaining her childhood in all-black Eatonville, Florida. There she would meet and greet her neighbors and the visiting white people passing through the town. Hurston would dance and sing for them, and in return, they gave her some money. This was a nice, comfortable childhood, where race was not much of a consideration.

When Hurston is thirteen-years-old, her mother dies, and Hurston is sent away to a boarding school in Jacksonville. Here she experiences race much differently. Jacksonville is a mixture of blacks and whites, and instead of being an individual like in Eatonville, in Jacksonville, Hurst is just another “colored girl.”

As she spends longer in Jacksonville, Hurston begins to feel the isolation and loneliness that comes from being different. Hurst maintains that she is more than just her color, but she acknowledges how race can separate people.

She tells how she felt at Barnard College, one of the few students of color, “a dark rock surged upon, over-swept by a creamy sea.” She also describes a trip to a jazz club with a white friend, where Hurston was deeply affected by the music, but her friend did not share the experience. Hurston attributes this difference to their racial backgrounds.

Hurston ends the essay by saying that people are like bags of different colors, all filled up with a myriad of hopes, dreams, fears, and disappointments. If we would just empty out everything from our bags, we’d see that we are more similar than different.

Hurston’s essay is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, it is a wonderfully crafted description of her experience with both racial comfort and racial unbalance. Hurston is known for her powerful use of language, particularly vernacular voice, and “How It Feels to be Colored Me” contains several excellent examples of her control over the written word.

The essay is also noteworthy for its approach to describing the relationships between the races in an innovative way. Hurst does not endorse racial segregation, a stance that brought the essay a great deal of negative attention. She also, however, does not endorse the racial pride that was an important element in the Harlem Renaissance movement. In the end, the essay encourages us to think of each other and ourselves as individuals.