Colorism can be defined as the discrimination or prejudice against individuals with a darker skin tone and usually occurs within people of the same ethnicity and race. Color Struck is not only the title of one of Zora Neal Hurston’s popular works, it is a term used by African Americans who believe that lighter skin, or European features, are the essence of grace and beauty. Color Struck is a four scene play that brings the insecurities and fear surrounding being a darker skinned woman in this time period to the forefront.
Hurston used the characters in her play to tastefully display that concept that darker skinned women, at this time, were considered to be a part of the bottom levels of the social ladder and were the least marriageable and had fewer opportunities. Color Struck not only parallels how darker skinned women may have felt but also how they were not valued in society or even in their own communities. Emma, the protagonist, is a dark skinned woman who is married to John and is unhealthily jealous when John gives any of his attention to lighter skinned women, and this ultimately leads to the collapse of their relationship.
Emma is depicted to be jealous, insecure, and to have an inferiority complex. This can be seen in the very first scene of the play which takes place in a rail car with Emma, John, and others on their way to a cakewalking competition. John turns his head to ask Effie, a light skinned woman, a question and Emma aggressively snaps at John, “None ah yo’bizness, you got enough tuh mind yo’ own self. Turn ’round! ” (Hurston). These few lines of dialogue between John and Emma are important because the lines draw attention to Emma’s suspicion of John around lighter skinned women.
It seems as if Emma is constantly trying to validate herself by questioning and picking fights with John, this puts her jealously, insecurities, and inferiority complex on full display. Emma internalizes her feeling of inferiority and projects it on to John, Effie, and others. John makes this observation himself in scene two. John and Emma have a conversation about how loving she is when she is not jealous or upset. John simply says “you makes yo’self mad, den blame it on me. Ah keep on tellin’ you Ah don’t love nobody but you” (Hurston).
John even goes as far to state that he only loves Emma and that he loves her dark skin. He makes a moving comment about Emma loving herself at the end of the play and saying that he believes “the darker the berry the sweeter the taste” (Hurston). These statements give the audience insight into John’s commitment to Emma but also insight into the insecurities that plague Emma. The outcome of Emma’s inferiority complex is that she internalizes her insecurities, exists with a self-patronizing, and simultaneously projects it on to others by being obsessed with the color bias, essentially becoming color struck herself.
John and Emma relationship crumbles due to her succumbing to her insecurities. John’s “flirtatious” behavior towards the lighter skinned Effie provokes Emma’s ubiquitous jealously which essentially leads to their break up; despite John telling Emma that “the darker the berry, the sweeter the taste” (Mirmasoumi & Farshid, 61). Emma refuses to be a part of the cakewalk competition as a sign of protest because he applauds loudly for Effie, this further shows off Emma’s jealously, insecurities, and sensitivity to “yellow” girls.
Emma refused to participate despite John reassuring Emma that he loves only her and also telling her that she so despises herself that she can’t believe that anyone else can love her. Emma may have refused to participate out of the fear that she would not be able to compete, or keep up with Effie. Hurston could have created Emma to represent someone that is ation. Emma essentially represents someone who is not valued and rejected by both mainstream society and her own people.
She can be seen being dismissed by both society and by the African American community. Just look at de darkies coming” can be heard in the background as Emma begins to walk into the rail car. Men can be seen flocking around and being courteous to Effie by complimenting her and saying “Howdy do, Miss Effie, you’se lookin’ jes lak a rose”, and “then lemme scorch you to a seat” (Hurston). Effie quickly points out that the men have significant others but one simply replies “Do you think I’d look at Ada when Ah got a chance tuh be wid you? Ah always wuz sweet on you, but you let ole Mullet-head Sam cut me out” (Hurston).
But in the same breath the men talk down on Emma by referring to her as a darkie. This could very well be the reason for Emma’s inferiority complex. Neither mainstream society nor her own African American culture accept, or value her. “Oh, them half whites, they gets everything… us blacks were made for cobblestone” (Hurston). Emma represents someone who is dismissed by both society and by the African American community. Emma is constantly on the brink on explosion because she internalizes all of her feelings (Estlund).
She represents how society and her own community do not value her, or people with darker skin. Twenty years later, Emma’s latent jealousy is triggered again when John has returned from the north, Philadelphia, and tries reuniting with her. When he arrives, he quickly finds out that Emma had an out of wedlock relationship with a white man and now has a mulatto daughter name Lou Lillian who is gravely ill. The play comes to an end the death of Lou Lillian which takes place because Emma’s latent jealousy is being triggered once again by John’s company.
Emma’s jealously is triggered when John starts showing her mulatto daughter, Lou Lillian, attention and starts to care for her. Because of this she refuses to leave John, a man she clearly still has feelings for, alone with her light skinned and “attractive” daughter even though John continually urges her to get a doctor, which ultimately leads to her daughter’s death. Following this, the doctor arrives and tells Emma that a mere hour could have changed the fate of Lou Lillian. Emma sits in a ow rocking chair by the head of the bed and sobs while rocking herself and blankly staring out of a window. Emma lets her insecurities surrounding the color of her skin, as well as others, destroys her from the inside. She essentially internalizes her feelings of inferiority and insecurity and allows it negatively affects her self-image which leads to her and her daughter’s destruction.
Because of this rage and jealously she develops, she essentially becomes color struck and thus becomes blind to hat she hates herself and even hates her own daughter because of her lighter skin. Emma represents someone who is rejected both mainstream society, because she is black, as well as her own African American community, because her skin is not light enough. It seems as if Hurston wrote the character to be in this perpetual state of isolation. Emma cannot seem to find emotional nor social sanctuary which she essentially internalizes and displays itself into an inferiority complex, jealously, and various insecurities.
By being neglected by both sides she develops this resentment for people with lighter skin. Emma’s character cannot find emotional nor social sanctuary; this parallels the social and political structure of the time period that this was written. This essentially led blacks to internalize its negative stereotypes of their material conditions and their color of skin, which represented blacks as soul-less, poor, depraved, uncultured, irrational, and savage, and finally caused blacks’ self-hatred and their efforts to live like the powerful bourgeois whites (Mirmasoumi & Farshid, 63).
The white community naturally viewed the black community as substandard, which essentially blocks the people of the black community from seeing themselves without the internalization of the so called white gaze. It seems as if blacks were essentially coerced to pick between the systems set by the power structure and the practice of otherwise self-doubting African customs. Because of this, most blacks decided to assimilate and imitate most of white America’s norms in order to better certain conditions and achieve any economic gain.
This was a process that caused the combined loss of the memory of content of their customs and history and a form of cultural amnesia. The longing to break free of the negative stereotypes associated with being black and acquire a sensation of self-worth within the political and social system propelled blacks to belittle their origin, people with darker skin, in order to obtain some attention and value from the American mainstream society, which results in being color struck, or colorism, and a sense of inferiority.