Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Color of Water - James McBride

My childhood friend, Sarah, loaned this book to me.  She is a teacher and a mother of three young children.  Attempting to balance all that life has to offer is a frequent topic of conversation when we get together.  This book tells the story of Ruth McBride, a Polish Jew born in 1921 who made her way to New York and at the age of 17 married a black minster and raised twelve children.  Needless to say, the woman is an inspiration when it comes to finding balance.  Once married, and essentially shunned by her family, Ms. McBride refused to acknowledge that she was white, choosing instead to pass as light-skinned.  She faced racism and poverty, but pushed for her children's education - and they all graduated from college, many going on to grad school.  She spoke rarely about her past, and this book is her son James's attempt to uncover more about his mother's life.  This is an interesting portrayal of the importance of race - Ms. McBride chose not to focus on it - to instead look at a person's character and contributions.  But, it's clear from the narrative that her mixed-race son faced difficulties growing up with respect to his racial identity.  Because his mother was unwilling (or unable) to discuss race, I felt like she did her son a disservice.  While so much of who we are is self-perception, when it comes to race, so much can be shaped by how others categorize and define us.  Without an open environment to discuss these difficult issues, my fear is that this is where anger, misunderstanding, and ultimately racism fester.  I think this would be a fantastic book for a book group - particularly one made up of teenagers.

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