The memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, written by
James McBride, is filled with deep meanings as well as thought provoking concepts and themes.
These include self-motivation, self-reliance, and repressing one’s feelings, emotions, and secrets;
all of which are demonstrated in the story of a black child named James and his white mother,
Ruth. Although the memoir is full of layers and leaves room for differences in perception and
interpretation of its ideas, one theme in particular stands out above the others: adversities as a
result of differences in race and religion. While both Ruth and James had to cope with the
struggles of racism, Ruth’s adversities were rooted in her mixed-race relationships while James
has to deal with the struggles of growing up biracial in a society where being as such is foreign
and looked down upon.
Beginning in her early childhood, Ruth never felt welcome. Her family was constantly
moving for her father’s work as a Rabbi, preventing her from having the chance to lay down
social roots and become comfortable with her new environment. She describes that she never felt
a true love for her father, mainly as a result of his sexually abusing her. It is because of this that
she did not feel emotionally welcome. She felt she was required to suppress her thoughts and
feelings. When Ruth was finally able to love and be loved, her father told her there was no point
in returning home if she married a Black man. Ruth says, “My family mourned me when I
married your father. They said kaddish and sat shiva” (McBride 1). She is clearly faced with
great opposition and hardship from her family on this matter, but it goes beyond her family.
Because she feared the town would not accept her and Peter having a baby, she is forced to get
an abortion. It was even feared that Peter could be killed as a result of it. She and Dennis were
also attacked with bottles by a group of white people. However, Whites are not the only
disapproving party. The Blacks too find interracial relationships to be dangerous and threatening,
and thus monitoring the boundaries very closely. With her life-specifically her
relationships-under a microscope, it was extremely hard to face and overcome the adversities
associated with such a lifestyle.
Growing up Black in the mid to late 1900s was a huge challenge. Growing up biracial in
that time adds a whole new unique element. James, being a biracial child faces the worst of both
worlds. He was a victim of racism from the white community for having a dark skin tone, and
was criticized the black community for having a white mother. This caused James to become
very confused about who he was and where his place was in society. He says, “…I myself had no
idea who I was. I loved my mother yet looked nothing like her. Neither did I look like the role
models in my life” (McBride 70). He felt a societal force which left him conflicted over love for
his mother and the desire to...