The Color of Water written by James McBride was a very touching true novel about a son’s perspective of his Jewish mother. Throughout the book James searches for his own placing in society as he passes through life. There are many hardships that he, his eleven other brothers and sisters and mother go through to get there, but in the end everything seems to justify means to how they got there and why events had happened in that particular way. The mothers name Rachel Deborah Shilsky, then changed to what her sons and daughters came to know her as Ruth McBride Jordan. This name had transformed along with her on sense of identity.
James had gone down along with his own life and he had suffered internalized racism within his own family and the real world; with James being a black of Jew decent that was living with a white colored Jew mother made him question his roots and rebel off to what felt right as he grew up in his own poor neighborhood. Soon later he figured that he can be more and was beaten by his own mother to slap some sense into him. At the same instance his mother had her own demons he later found she was suffering as he interviewed her over 6 months to create this book. She had always made sure to have her kids grow up the right way and establish a well off education, and that’s what she did. Every single one of the twelve kids raised had became very well off and no matter the race or the color of their skin they did it.
For a while Ruth had even suffered her own identity crisis, and her views along with her son James had foiled very nicely. The foil complimented both perspectives on me as the reader to give me two seperate insights of how their experiences shaped their own beliefs as individuals. In the case of this story, Ruth Grew up as a Jew with her father Tateh, her mother Mameh, Her brother, and her older sister Dee-Dee. She was abused by her father and and I can’t imagine the effects and tolls that it had taken over on Ruth.
Ruth was a strong minded woman that could hold her own as years passed on. At the start of the novel she was young and hadn’t made very many mistakes until she fell in love with a black man. In a way over her life in discovering her place in the world she had also ran from her own past in the making. Her Jewish culture was soon lost after she had been so forced into it. This just opened herself to see that blacks were her escape from the past, so she fled to the lifestyle that had been least like her former one. The influence of her first husband brought her to a calling from god and christianity. The moment she met Dennis was the moment she found herself, but when he died he left along with one peice of her that helped her through it all.
The anti semitism throughout this book along with blacks and whites all together are compared amongst one another in a way that makes them all seem equally destructive. On one hand James talks about the way that Jews have discriminated in his own school when he had attended there in turn portraying colorism when the teachers and parents surrounding him had looked at him different than his other brothers and sisters. At the start of the novel he wanted to believe inside that he too was of lighter decent portraying the views of colorism. Colorism led to internalized racism in James’s own views as a child. His mother’s enforcement of school and discipline led him to further rebellion.
In the story James’s views compared to his mothers was very different. His mother was of jewish descent but believed in black culture in Christianity, and the narrator James appeared black and of black culture, but was of Jewish descent from his mother’s side. As they both went through life the same way with similar hardships and hurt, but still ended up happy in the end. I liked the messages that this book gave to the reader that we are all human and we all make mistakes, but as long as we work through those mistakes you can still turn out just as well as any other race as long as you put in the work for it. The book does not really go on to portraying too much of white power but what it does show is its acts of racism in the novel.
There were many acts of racism, but some that stood out to me were when James’s brother Richie, the spoiled milk incident, and the shoplifting incident. Richie was walking with a friend and had gotten pulled on the side by two cops. The cops seen what appeared to be a bag of heroin near them, had seen them and “The cops grouped the boys together, lined them up against a fence, and demanded to know which one of then had jettisoned the bag…(McBride 96-97).” This portrayed the race inequality through the cops assuming that these two black 18 year olds were associated to a bag that looked like it was heroin. It turned out not to be heroin at all but only quinine, and the cops had no justification to provin they were the ones who had ditched the bag besides the fact that Richie was black and he happened to be carrying college money. In turn he was arrested and jailed for doing absolutely nothing portraying racism on the cops.
Another act of racism was when James went to buy milk and it was spoiled but the the old store owner in the grocery store had a great disliking to blacks so he bought the milk and it was spoiled so he brought it back and he refused to give a refund of the milk. Even after his mother even came back he refused. This example enforces the concepts of white power that we have been learning about and show us social structure within the capitalist system. The Owner must have had to be white and the people above hime who gave him the licence to own that store must have also been white, therefore enforcing power to the whites and lesser to minorities.
One last example of racism demonstrated in this book was again dealing with police brutality. James had been shoplifting with his friends when they were kids and one of his friends had been struck to the face with a blackjack. All this brutality was to enforce the law? The cops could have gone about this way differently and still warned the kids to stop.
With everything that Ruth and James had gone through they had found themselves and became a version of themselves that benefited their entire family. The journey had been harsh but they stuck to it. The comparison between their own internalization within the book had made them work even harder to accomplish all they had by the ending of the novel. One mother with a bachelors degree and twelve children to all that she has accomplished as a mother. She gave them all amazing futures. Her ability to ignore race and prejudice really moved me and inspires me to be as strong of a woman as she came to be.