In her essay, “How It Feels to be Colored Me,” Zora Neale Hurston explains her identity and self pride as a black woman. She describes life in various Florida towns with a series of scenes and metaphors. In the essay, she ruminates on the concepts of racial identity, social dynamics, and her own posture and growth in these. Much of the essay recounts her interaction with neighbors and towns people. She walks in the street and sings; she greets the people that she encounters on her way. With this method, Hurston does not explain race or identity in the abstract sense but portrays her experience and thoughts in a narrative form. The responses that she receives from other people indicate the dynamics of race. Hurston’s response and thoughts indicate her self identity and especially her pride of being a black woman.
The essay then moves to another location, where Hurston attends school in Jacksonville. She is there labeled “black” by the other students and has new experiences of race and identity. In this school she faces trials and must endure or collapse. She decides to carry on through the tough times and fashions a stronger identity because of it. She cultivates what she calls “self pride.” That is, she feels proud to be her and not ashamed. She does not hang her head or refrain from speaking with people. Instead she lives as a colored woman, a “colored me,” amidst people with different perspectives and skin tones. This portion of the essay revolves around the theme of hardship. The social situation is hard. Her internal struggle is hard. And the outcome is difficult to attain. However, Hurston overcomes the battle creates a sense of self worth.
The final portion of the essay elaborates on a metaphor. Hurston equates human beings to different colored bags. In these bags are the personalities, the qualities and character traits that make a person a person. She claims that if you poor out all of the contents, you cannot tell much difference between them. In other words, on the inside, people are largely the same. At least, the color of the bag does not dictate or indicate the type of contents. The metaphor, of course, relates to skin color and human personality. The people that Hurston interacts with are simply bags of different colors. They are people with an external difference, but they share many similar contents on the inside.
For example, her school mates called her “black” but that only identifies the color of the bag. The courage or curiosity or patience and interests that fill that bag are shared by all students in the room. Of course, there are differences. But overall, Hurston makes the point that people are more similar than different. And that color represents only an external distinction, one that does not reflect a constitutional disparity. In short, Hurston explores her identity, her history, and the nature of racial dynamics in Florida through narrative stories and reflection.