Published in 1928, Zora Neale Hurston"s "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" is a personal essay that illustrates the author"s experience of living as a Black woman. Through metaphors, controversial statements, and anecdotes, Hurston implies that she views race as a social construct. While Hurston acknowledges that she sometimes faces discrimination, she also rejects the idea that slavery, abolished sixty years earlier, negatively affects her life. Hurston ultimately concludes that she considers the content of any human soul to be more or less interchangeable, no matter a person"s skin pigmentation.

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Writing in a tone that conveys a mix of sincerity and sarcasm, Hurston argues that she "became colored" at thirteen, when she moved away from her hometown. Having grown up in the all-Black community of Eatonville, Florida, Hurston simply lived her life, oblivious to the world of white Americans who would see her as "colored" and project their prejudices onto her. By writing of herself as "becoming" colored, Hurston highlights how race is a social construct, not based on biologically distinct categories but on socially conditioned prejudice. She also refuses to see herself as a victim, refuting the idea that the social construct of race negatively affects her opportunities as an American. The essay reaches its climax when Hurston uses an analogy to encapsulate her view of race. Likening humans with different skin tones to different colored paper bags full of miscellany, Hurston suggests that the contents, if dumped out and jumbled together, could be randomly redistributed among the bags. She says the result would be more or less the same as it was at the start, and suggests that maybe God stuffed the bags with the same random, universal contents.

Exploring the themes of race as a social construct, performance, racialized public spaces, and rejection of victimhood, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" has had a controversial reception. Among other arguments, critics point to Hurston"s use of Black stereotypes in the scene where she likens jazz music to primitiveness and "being in the jungle." But other critics write of the passage as an example of Hurston"s sarcastic irony, arguing that she is knowingly playing with racist stereotypes. Regardless of the controversy Hurston"s work generates, the essay is widely anthologized and quoted.

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How It Feels to Be Colored Me Questions and Answers

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One of the most prevalent themes in "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" is that race is a social construct—i.e. a human-invented and perpetuated classification system not based in essential biological differences. For hundreds of years, white settlers...


What mainly can the reader infer about the state of race relations during zora’s time in Florida (paragraph 5)?


Once she moves to Jacksonville, Zora"s life changes. Her race and the color of her skin unfairly define who she is.... she is no longer seen as an individual and the rules of life change..... Fortunately, Hurston, herself, refuses to give up her...


4. What important word does Hurston repeat in paragraph 7? What key idea does this repetition convey? Support your responses with evidence from the text


Slavery

In context, the repetition of the word slavery conveys Hurston"s acknowledgment of her ancestry, but it is also used as one of the driving factors for what she was able to accomplish.

It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is...


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How It Feels to Be Colored Me study guide contains a biography of Zora Neale Hurston, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

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