How It Feels To Be A Colored Me
I do not always feel colored. Even now i often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when i am thrown against a sharp white background.
For instance at Barnard. “Beside the waters of Hudson” I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, overswept by a creamy sea. I am surged upon and overswept, but through it all, i remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.
Sometimes it is the other way around. A white person is set down in our midst, but the contrast is just as sharp for me. For instance when i sit in the drafty basement that is The New World Cabaret with a white person, my color comes. We enter chatting about any little nothing that we have in common and are seated by the jazz waiters. In the abrupt way that jazz orchestras have, this one plunges into a number. It loses no time in circumlocutions, but gets right down to business. It constricts the thorax and splits the heart with its tempo and narcotic harmonies. This orchestra grows rambunctious, rears on its hind legs and attacks the tonal veil primitive fury, rending it, clawing it until it breaks through to the jungle beyond. I follow those heathen — follow them exultingly. I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai above my head, I hurl it tru to the mark yeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum. i want to slaughter something — give pain, give death to what, I do not know. But the piece ends. The men of the orchestra wipe their lips and rest their fingers. I creep back slowly to the veneer we call civilization with the last tone and find the white friend sitting motionless in his seat, smoking calmly.
– Zohra Neale Hurston, How it Feels to be a Colored Me