10 Thoughts on How It Feels to be Colored Like Me: Hurston and Confronting Race and Racism 90 Years Later

Recently I How It Feels to be Colored Like Me by Zora Neal Hurston in an essay anthology I am reading. I struck by all the different dimensions Hurston addresses being colored in 1928. The essay inspired me to come up with 10 Thoughts on How It Feels to be Colored Like Me. Off we go:

  1. Why I am Colored – I can trace my lineage to slaves and Holocaust survivors. While I am proud of both lineages of my family, I carry the mantle of being black. If I were in an elevator with you, you would not think I was white. I do not operate with the caucasity of white privilege. I operate with a sense of defiance. 
  2. Speaking of Lineage – Hurston wrote, \”I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief.\” I have always been amazed at black peoples\’ affinity for their Native American heritage. It made me wonder if Native Americans have a similar affinity for multiculturalism. Are there Native Americans on a reservation in North Dakota claiming lineage from Malcolm X, Nat Turner or Frederick Douglass?
  3. What Are You? – People often ask me “what are you?” like they are trying to figure out whether I am the lemur or the meerkat at the zoo. I have heard the question so many times that I know what is really being asked. Still, I would prefer if these people said “what is ethnicity?” or “what is your racial background?”.
  4. Day One – When it comes to being colored, we all have a Day One. \”I remember the very day I became colored,\” Hurston wrote. My Day One occurred on some playground in the third grade when some ignorant kid called me the n-word.
  5. Tragically Colored? – While she has jumped on the mantle of being colored, Hurston wants you to know she is not tragically colored. \”There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes.\” I love how this description goes against the grain of how black people are characterized and depicted. 
  6. No Race – Something I can relate to from the essay is when Hurston writes “At certain times, I have no race. I am me.” It is not often enough I feel this way; but when I do, it is pure bliss.
  7. White Backgrounds – Something else I can relate to is when Hurston writes I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” I have always felt most colored in, a good and a bad way when I have been thrust against a sharp white background. 
  8. Scary Smile – I  operate under the assumption that a majority of the white people I deal with are scared of me. Check the pic…am I all that intimidating?   always try to smile and be friendly to put them at ease. I also know I have the intimidation card if I want to play it. 
  9. Strength Overcomes – Racism or not, Hurston believed in the strength of a person and so do I. \”I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less.\” There are some that are going to discriminate and fight you no matter what. However, there is a lot to be gained by exercising one\’s strength.

  10. Discrimination – When it came to discrimination, Hurston wrote “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.” Well said, Ms. Hurston!

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