The Color of Water

Published: 2021-08-11 11:00:06
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The book uncovers how the main character Ruth, dealt with her negative memories of her past experience and how she was able to become a strong individual. In addition, in a Time magazine article “Intermarried.. with Children,” by Jill Smolowe and Greg Aunapu, explores how other families deal with interracial marriages. In the Social Science Quarterly there is an article, “Racial/Ethnic Identification of Children of Intermarried Couples” where the author reflects on how biracial families form their identity. Issues like interracial marriage as shown in the Time magazines article and loss of identity are relatable to “The Color of Water. “The Color of Water” written by James McBride is about a Jewish, white woman named Ruth who married two African-American men and had eight children in the first marriage and four in the second marriage. Their story is told through Ruth eighth child James. James had a conflict trying to understand why his mother was white and he was black. Ruth refuses to tell her children about her past, because she wants them to believe that everyone is equal and fears they will think differently if they hear about her past. She did not want them to learn how hurtful racism could be. The Color of Water” begins with Ruth telling her son that she is dead. Ruth’s family has told her she was dead in their eyes because she went against their religion by marrying a black man. Her family disowned her because she did not marry a Jewish man and she went against all orthodox rules. Ruth’s contradictions confused her children when they were younger, but they grew into adults that better understood the hurtful side of racism and what their mother dealt with. They appreciate their mother’s experiences since she dealt with both racism and religious prejudice.
Even though she was white, her own family had been evil to her. Ruth’s name changes three times in the book. First it is Rachul Dwajra Zylska which was her Hebrew name, then her name became Rachel Deborah Shilsky which was the name given to her when she came to America, and then when her family disowned her she became Ruth McBride Jordan which was her married name. McBride is the last name of the first husband and Jordan of the latter. In “The Color of Water”, James felt as an outcast during his childhood years because he did not resemble his mother and most of his classmates resembled their parents.
However, James always had various questions to ask his mother about their background but Ruth was never the type of person to have an open discussion about her past. Some of her children grew up confused, some of them sided with their African-American side, and some didn’t question their background. Not having an open discussion with one’s children about one’s heritage can increase the chances of the child not being educated on their heritage. This also conflicts to them not accepting their heritage. Due to this, some children tend to have negative experiences when dealing with peers who do not accept children of color or mixed race.
It is important to educate one’s child of their background so that the child can better handle their peers and the pressures that come with dealing with race and society. The Time magazine article “Intermarried.. with Children,” by Jill Smolowe and Greg Aunapu examines some of the increasing number in the United States of racial, ethnic and religious barriers people have before starting a life together. In past and current events families and their children have been threatened because of being integrated.
According to the article in 1963 a family of Jewish and black descent had to get bodyguards because their children of “mixed ancestry caused near riots at their public school. ” The homes of interracial families have reportedly been targets of hate crimes by members of their communities who do not accept mixed race households. According to the “The Color of Water” “James and his siblings were often the sole black students in school, and suffered from the prejudice of the white world. James discovered jazz during this period of life, embracing it as an escape from painful realities.
He continued to try to resolve the dilemma of his race, frequently with frustrating results. His mother dodged the issue, occupying her children with “free cultural and artistic activities in the city. ”(76) According to Ruth’s technique of avoiding the issue of James pain, the outcome only increased to James becoming negligent with himself while dealing with his mother refusal to give him a clear understanding of the issue. In “The Color of Water” the author had mentioned a negative experience his mother went through during her childhood years. As a child Ruth had dealt with prejudice against Jews in Suffolk, Virginia.
In addition, to being threatened by people who were racist towards Jewish people she was also sexually abuse by her father. This is a common issue that some people face in their lives; in which there are various negative outcomes that some people would prefer to deal with their pain. For instance, some people may have very low self-esteem, or may have suicidal thoughts, drug or alcohol abuse etc. Although Ruth had a difficult childhood, she did have a moment when she had low self-esteem due to all the negative things that occurred in her life, and with that she was capable of overcoming those obstacles.
James McBride’s search for his racial identity intensified during adolescence. While his older siblings were earning college degrees, McBride out of all his siblings rebelled the most. He ended up on a street corner, hanging out with punks and stealing. His mother sent him to his sister, Jackie’s house. James was hanging out with people who had nothing better to do with their time While In their company, something finally clicked and he realized the street corner was a dead end. James suffered while searching for his identity. During his adolescence, he went through a period of uncertainty and anxiety it turned self-destructive.
Although Ruth dealt with her negative memories of her past experience, she overcame it and was able to become a strong individual. Ruth believed that her own children should experience more freedom that she did. However, “she accorded with her parents’ belief in the value of hard work, which she passed on to her children by reinforcement and example. ” (98) She encouraged her children to embrace discipline and diligence from a young age. When James realized this about this mother he decided to approach his identity issue another way.
James returned to high school, went on to college, and became a journalist. In the Social Science Quarterly there is an article, “Racial/Ethnic Identification of Children of Intermarried Couples” where the author reflects on how biracial families form their identity. According to the article children of biracial families tend to suffer the most of identity issues while growing. Children of African American and white couples are least likely to be identified as white, while children of Asian American and white couples are most likely to be identified as white.
Intermarried couples in which the minority spouse is male, native born, or has no white ancestry are more likely to identify their children as minorities than are those in which the minority spouse is female, foreign born, or has part white ancestry. In addition, neighborhood minority concentration increases the likelihood that biracial children are identified as minorities. Like McBride and his siblings they all identified with their African American side of the race than with the white race. They grew up in Red Hook Brooklyn a predominantly African American neighborhood. They went to African American churches.
Their mother raised them to identify with the African American community. Still, James identity was an issue because of the color of his mother skin. According to the article it is best to deal with children identity issues from a young age in order not to cause any confusion to them when they become adults. The title “The Color of Water” is significant because it shows that it does not matter what color you are and while as a child James asked his mother “what color is God” and Ruth tells her son that God is neither black nor white, he is the color of water, the perfect analogy.
McBride’s recounting of his mother’s life helped him answer questions about race and identity that had troubled him his whole life because he realized how hard his mother’s life really was after he looked back at all the things she did. McBride perceives the historical events as continuing battles of race and his family was ones of the families that had to go through the racial battle. Ruth made her children get summer jobs and after-school jobs, and as they grew up, Ruth had high expectations for their careers.
She supported them and was considered a strong, brave, independent single mother after her second husband’s death. This is what made Ruth a strong positive person by her positive attitude and strength to move forward with her life and holding high expectations for her children. This is what helped James move on and just live life, because his mother instilled in him values that go beyond race. Bibliography McBride, James. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996.
Print. Qian, Zhenchao. “Options: Racial/Ethnic Identification Of Children Of Intermarried Couples. ” Social Science Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing Limited) 85. 3 (2004): 746-766. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Dec. 2012. Smolowe, JillAunapu, Greg. “Intermarried… With Children. ” Time 142. 21 (1993): 64. MAS Ultra – School Edition. Web. 17 Dec. 2012. The Color of Water Literary Research Paper Grecia Olivares-Diaz English 209-Section 001 – Children’s Literature Professor Adero-Zaire R. Green December 19, 2012

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