I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and those feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world- am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
(Zora Neale Hurston)
Zora Neale Hurston is one of my favorite authors and it is her philosophy about race, and being “colored” that I believe and adhere to. There have been many books written about the horrors of being “colored”, especially during the Jim Crow era, and the feelings and pain that one cannot escape. Little has been written about the agency of the colored to not only survive but to thrive despite the barriers they encountered.
Reflections of a Colored Girl will offer a significantly different narrative, one that yes describes the segregation and discrimination this colored girl experienced, but more importantly, the beliefs, values, and actions of my family, school, and community that inspired, challenged, and expected me to be the human being that I became. Like Zora, “I am not tragically colored.”
I am not the only “colored” child of my generation that was empowered during this period, many more can relate the same story. It was during this period, that the colored developed exceptional institutions of learning, created great works of art and music, and created 188 vibrant and successful colored business districts. Tulsa and Durham are just two of these monumental accomplishments despite the forces working against them.
During the Jim Crow era, the mythology of white superiority and black inferiority was solidly refuted. Colored people excelled without the paternalism of whites, without legal rights being given, or the moral convictions of white Americans changing. We colored used our spiritual power to understand and African traditions to rise above the psychological needs of white America to dehumanize and control our lives. We are not and have never been the stereotypical image in the conditioned white mind.
W.E.B. DuBois refers to the existence of a barrier prohibiting genuine understanding and equality between black and white people as the “veil”. It is my intention in these essays to lift the “veil” and reveal the authentic identities of those of my generation who were designated as “colored”. I believe that sharing true and accurate history can heal. I offer these essays as a vehicle to foster racial healing.
You might be surprised as you read the essays in this series. They will possibly seem to be unreal, impossible, however, these essays reflect the life and the consciousness of one labeled at birth and who grew up as a “colored” girl. This is my life story from birth to now 77 years old. I have accepted and grown in every aspect of my life; I feel a sense of coherence and wholeness. I thank every family member, teacher, and resident of the village who loved, shaped and created the conditions for my self-empowerment as a “colored girl” during my formative years. These essays are dedicated to you.