Crayola 64

“And this is the dwarfing, warping, distorting influence which operates upon each colored [woman] in the United States. [She] is forced to take her outlook on all things, not from the viewpoint of a citizen, or a [woman], or even a human being, but from the viewpoint of a colored [woman]” (p.13).

James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of the Ex-Colored Man
          James Weldon Johnson in his book, The Autobiography of the Ex-Colored Man, speaks to his own personal life as a black man in Jacksonville, FL. His story takes the reader on a journey from boyhood to manhood. During this journey Johnson begins to experience a discoloring affect. This discoloring is due to an educating of the mind through travel, education, and experience with the common Negro lifestyle, as well as the bourgeois Negro lifestyle; the common White-American lifestyle, as well as the privileged White-American lifestyle.
           Due to his experiences with money, education, rich culture, and European culture, Johnson realizes that it is very difficult to return to the culture that he was raised in; the very nice, yet illiterate, uneducated, dependent lifestyle that he has grown estranged from. He has discovered that it is true, “You can’t go home again.” For when one goes home, one begins to realize that the person that you have become is no longer a fit for the lifestyle and culture that you once grew up in. He realizes that the way he was treated, as an American Negro in Europe, does not mirror his treatment when home in the American South, and for a moment Johnson no longer feels colored.
            Zora Neale Hurston speaks of this coloring in her work “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” She states, “I feel must colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”
            Here we have two accounts of coloring, yet two very different feelings, and two very different approaches. I must say that I agree with both. For when one is thrown against a sharp white background it is inevitable for their color to be seen, but if no one acknowledges that there is color on the sharp white background it is very easy to begin to fade and blend with ones surroundings.
            I am colored, yes, but only because no one seems to ignore my color. I’m pretty…for a black girl; smart…for a black girl; articulate…for a black girl. I will become successful…because I’m a black girl. People want to fund my education…because I’m a black girl, or pat me on the shoulder for being a black girl. You ask me why do I call myself African American? You say that I should identify with all American citizens alike, but I ask you, do you consider me an American citizen? Do you honestly believe that I am due those inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? And if I am, than why must you color me?
            Why must you color my achievements, my goals, my religion, and my intellect? Why must you color my attitude, my walk, my dress, or my worship? And most of all why must you color my skin?
             See the act of coloring is a mental frame of mind. It is the perpetual thinking that unless I identify you with a particular group, who speaks a certain way, dresses a certain way, and behaves a certain way than you become an inanimate object, a woman without a country, no where to belong. It is the act of taking your mental crayon and sticking me in whatever family shade you have determined that I fit; one that fits within your Crayola 64. I never once asked to be colored, nor did I ask to be bland. But like Ms. Hurston I am not “tragically colored.” I only wonder if your reasons for coloring me are to add beauty to the picture that is this country, or to create identifying crayons that distinguish me from you?

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