“How It Feels to Be Colored Me”

"How It Feels to Be Colored Me" is an essay by renowned writer Zora Neale Hurston.   I have re-read the essay to myself repeatedly for years. In the essay Hurston explores her own sense of identity by recalling the time in her life when she first realized that she was "colored" or somehow different. Unlike Hurston, I cannot accurately pinpoint the moment in my life when I realized that I was "colored". For me, it was always my lack of pigmentation that had distinguished me as somehow different from others. There have been numerous occasions in my life where people have assumed that I could not possibly 100% black and that I'm lying about my full Nigerian heritage. My problem was never being colored, it was not being colored enough. I can remember going to Nigeria when I was thirteen and being catcalled. "Go back home English girl!" "White girl!"  I can remember being chased by the other children and dodging the rocks they threw at me. So much for "sticks and stones". I'll let you know that the sticks, stones, and words ALL hurt me.  In all, that trip affected my sense of identity because I no longer wanted to be associated with a place that disassociated itself from me. Since then I've learned to appreciate my Nigerian heritage in theory, but I haven't been back since. In fact, I can honestly say I'm afraid to go back to at least the village. I can deal with the city. When I was in Nigeria I wished for darker skin, just so I could blend in. Unfortunately, I had skin that refused to tan. My skin still doesn't tan, even in the summer. A few years ago my father's friend a came to our house for a visit. He brought some skin bleaching lotion bottles with him for a business he was about to start and asked my mom and I to choose a label  for its packaging. It was then I learned about how profitable skin lightening and bleaching was in Nigeria. Looking back I find it hilarious that I spent so much time wishing for darker skin so I could be accepted while others were wishing for lighter skin so they could be accepted. I'll admit I still have some hostility towards the people who ridiculed me in the past, but at least I now understand the pain behind it and realize that our pain is all the same. It took me some time to accept myself and the fact that some people may assume that I am "mixed", "bi-racial" or as they say in Nigeria, "half-cast" because of my skin color.  Even though our stories are different, reading "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" has helped heal some of my old wounds and has allowed me to grow as a person knowing that I have more to offer the world than my so-called lack of color. When I think of the pain in my past I just remind myself of a quote from Hurston's essay, "Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me."

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