In her work, How it Feels to Be Colored Me, Zora Neale Hurston writes a biographical piece about her experience growing up in an age of racial segregation and degradation. More than just a piece about her childhood, the work is about strength. The essay deals with the way in which Hurston transformed from one state to another, mostly because of her family’s move and her own development. She describes the way in which she did not feel different or “colored” as a young girl, mostly because she lived in an all-black town in Florida. At the age of thirteen, though, Hurston and her family moved, and that is when “Zora” died and her new “colored” image emerged.
From there, the essay is about the way in which Hurston discovered her own identity and inner-strength in the face of the racism around her. The author writes in a matter of fact way that is tinged with a bit of exuberation. Because of this style, she is able to write, with passion, about a time in history when little girls her age were often expected to act meek. Hurston broke the mold, though, not allowing her label of “colored” impact her self-confidence or her desire to become something more than just a legacy of slavery. This essay is powerful and reminds me that children, no matter their circumstances, are simply engrossed with the details of growing up rather than the difficulties of the world around them.
Hurston’s world was a difficult place. She was faced with almost constant racism, labeled one way and expected to act in accordance with a strict set of standards. She was stripped of her identity and objectified. Hurston was able to find, though, the ability to re-define herself, not allowing others to define her future for her. At one point, Hurston writes, “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 worth all that I 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). This is evidence of her ability to look for the good despite the poor circumstances that she found herself in. I can relate to this ability as a child to look beyond my circumstances in order to find the good in life. This becomes much more difficult as one grows older, though.
There is a real sense of wonder in children, as they view the world as full of possibilities, even as it is full of challenges. Of this, Hurston wrote, “The position of my white neighbor is much more difficult. No brown specter pulls up a chair beside me when I sit down to eat. No dark ghost thrusts its leg against mine in bed. The game of keeping what one has is never so exciting as the game of getting” (Hurston). While most people on the outside would choose the life of the little white girl during that time in the racist South, Hurston preferred her own life. This is because she viewed challenges as something fun and exciting. I can relate to this as a young person. Because a young person has little to lose, challenges appear to be something worth tackling rather than something worth worrying about.
Ultimately, Hurston’s work is one that communicates more than just her experience. It also brings into play the strength of women like her during that time. To me, though, the bigger point is about how kids can look at the world through a different pair of eyes than adults often have.
- Hurston, Zora Neale. “How it feels to be colored me.” (1928): 152-55.