The Color of Water by James McBride

colorofwaterThe Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride is the One Division, One Book pick for the 2018-2019 school year. Last year, we read Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok.

McBride’s memoir is a beautifully written tribute to his mother, Ruth, her history, her renunciation of her faith, her role as the white wife and mother in a black family. Ruth McBride is a woman to be admired. Raised in an intolerant Jewish home, Ruth defied the odds and became not only tolerant, but an unconscious activist, completely and utterly joining a culture, religion, and ethnicity removed from her own. And then she bore and raised 12 children. A dozen children. 12.

McBride’s prose is such a perfect combination of academic, literary, and real. The narrative switches chapter by chapter between vignettes told by Ruth and then chapters from James’ point of view, often with commentary on Ruth’s tales. I was often emotionally sucked into Ruth’s story, shocked out it by the switch to James, and then intellectually sucked in to James’ story.

There is a video called The Loving Generation: Checking Boxes which discusses how those of mixed race identify and why it’s important. The first of a four-part docuseries on Topic, this video tackles identity politics as well as the rise of interracial relationships by interviewing many mixed race individuals. I recommend viewing this video alongside reading McBride’s book as he talks about identity politics often in this work as he struggles to define himself – as do his brothers and sisters – in light of his mixed origins.

A definite thumbs up from me, and while I didn’t get it on the book lists for my Fall courses, I will definitely use this book in my Spring courses.

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