Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiographical short story, “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” is a piece that uncovers the complexity of racial identity through the eyes of an African American woman in the 1920’s Hurston rejected the perceived idea that blacks were disadvantaged and refused to be part of “the sobbing school of Negrohood”. Instead, Hurston celebrates her cultural identity and uniqueness with an unwavering enthusiasm for life and the understanding that all races are cut from the same cloth and essentially are of the same human character, As a child, the narrator was known as “everybody’s Zora” and had great fun in greeting neighbors and passers-by while singing and dancing in the street, Free from discrimination or the feeling of difference, Zora was unaware that she was colored until her “thirteenth year” when she moved to Jacksonville from “the little Negro town of Eatonville, Florida.
She describes, “l was not Zora of Orange County anymore, I was now a little colored girl I found it out in certain ways.
In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown — warranted not to rub nor run. However, she makes the conscious choice to accept and embrace her cultural identity and does not label herself “tragically colored“ or become angry over the realization that she is black, Nevertheless, Zora realizes that there are times when she feels “most colored when thrown against a sharp white background” which is the same feeling that is related to a white person in a primarily black setting, as shown at The New World Cabaret.
In this instance, Zora celebrates the “distinctiveness of black culture” and “embraced the constructivist ideas that race was a social convention rather than a biographical necessity.
As her “color comes,” Zora proves her great enthusiasm forjazz, a genre of music that “involved racial pride” and stemmed from the “cultural, social, and artistic explosion” of the Harlem Renaissance (Wormser). With its “great blobs of purple and red emotion,” Zora admits that the music awakens deep-rooted feelings of her African American heritage by relating the image of a dancing jungle woman who screams and hollers with a pulse that throbs like a war drum. However, Lhe same music that makes such a profound impact on Zora is contrasted by the remark of her white friend, ”Good music they have here” and marks the racial divide between the two listeners.
The white friend’s comment is a simple yet powerful admission that proves as a white person he can merely admire the music as a spectator and will never be able to have the same experience as Zora while listening to the jazz music. Perhaps the most profound declaration is at the conclusion of Hurston‘s short story when she likens herself with a “brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall (M) in company with other bags, white, red and yellow” filled with seemingly worthless items that only the owner of the bag itself would treasure, lf emptied into a pile and refilled the bags would remain unaltered, suggesting that people of different races are essentially of the same human character: What’s more, this metaphor represents the entire theme of “How It Feels To Be Colored Me;” it is the items within our bags that make us who we are, and not the bags themselves.