The Color of Water

The Color of Water

by James McBride

Overview: Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared "light-skinned" woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother's past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.

The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in "orchestrated chaos" with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. "Mommy," a fiercely protective woman with "dark eyes full of pep and fire," herded her brood to Manhattan's free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.

In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother's footsteps. Interspersed throughout his mother's compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self- realization and professional success. The Color of Water touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.

Rona Simmons (04/04/16): This work of nonfiction had been on my TBR list for a couple of years, long enough that I could not remember exactly why, nevertheless, I found a well-thumbed through copy at an indie bookstore and added it to my stack. This is the true story of James McBride and his mixed-race family and upbringing, subtitled: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother -- a woman who raised twelve highly educated and very successful children in the 1960s. The book chronicles his Jewish mother’s early life and heritage and her marriage to a black man and subsequent banishment by her family. It is James’ attempt to come to terms with who he was and is told in chapters alternating between his mother’ view point and his own. James asks if God loves black or white people better and what color God’s spirit is. His mother replies, “God is the color of water. Water doesn’t have a color.” At the conclusion, James says, “this book has always been, and will forever be, a book about a mother and her children, and how that mother raised her children with love and respect and God.
Rating: ***

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