Identity In Zora Neale Hurston’s How It Feels To Be Colored Me

1453 words - 6 pages

Zora Neale Hurston’s “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” can be interpreted as a reverse response of W. E. B. DuBois’ concept of “double consciousness” that he describes in “The Souls of Black Folk.” Hurston shows that not all African Americans experience a sense of double consciousness and that some are instilled with the self confidence required to embrace one’s “blackness.” First, it may be helpful to define consciousness before attempting to explain the notion of double consciousness. Consciousness is defined as the state of being mentally aware of something: oneself, in this essay. Therefore, we can now define double consciousness as the state of an individual being mentally aware of “two ...view middle of the document...

The use of the word wrest lets the reader know that this will not be an easy task to achieve, but will consist of a struggle and can only be achieved with some difficulty due to resistance by society in general.
Hurston, on the other hand, lived in a town where only blacks lived until she was thirteen years old. Therefore, she only knew the “black” self. There was no second identity to contend with. She states that “white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there.”2 She does not feel anger when she is discriminated against. She only wonders how anyone can not want to be in her company. She “has no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored” (Hurston 1712).
The next aspect of double consciousness consists of the rejection of African Americans by white Americans and institutions. Blacks are forced to live in America, but at the same time, are not considered “true” Americans and are separated by the veil that DuBois talks about. DuBois first feels this rejection when a little girl at his school rejected his card for no reason other than his skin color. He asks, “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?” (Dubois 896). He describes opportunities for blacks as “relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night” (896) giving the impression that a black person is almost destined to fail because he is black. The question is always there whether stated or not; “How does it feel to be a problem?” (896). A problem is certainly not something that is readily embraced by anyone. A problem is something that needs to be fixed or figured out.
Hurston seems to embrace the fact that she is black: “I don’t mind at all” (Hurston 1711). She has decided to acknowledge the positive opportunities that came out of slavery instead of harping on past struggles. She also argues that no matter how it seems “the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less” (1711). In the long run, success in life belongs to the strong and does not depend on race. She describes the excitement of knowing that any success she has will receive “twice as much praise” (1711) because of the fact that it is not expected by someone with her skin color. Though becoming an American was forced on blacks, she considers slavery a price worth paying for the opportunities gained in the United States that were probably not available in Africa during her time period.
The last aspect deals with the inner conflict of being black and American simultaneously. The ideal thing would be to merge the two identities into one “true self.” DuBois argues that double consciousness prevents this from ever being possible.
“One ever feels his two-ness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts,
two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged
strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history of...

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