Last Updated 17 Mar 2023

The Description of Cultural Diversity in the Book “The Color of Water”

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Cultural Diversity

The book, The Color of Water, is about a black man learning about his white mother for the first time. Ruth McBride-Jordan was a rabbi's daughter who was born in Poland and raised in the South; she fled to Harlem and married a black man, she helped to start a Baptist church and put 12 children through college. With Ruth's unorthodox ways of parenting her children were, often times, put in the face of adversity. In McBride's memoir, we see that cultural diversity is incorporated into his life by the many experiences he endured within the areas of self- identity, education, stereotyping, and community.I believe that all people, especially James McBride, have come in contact with diversity in some way or another. McBride used cultural diversity to his advantage and because of that he has become a successful member of society.

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I have never doubted who I am because I know where I came from. James McBride knew nothing of his heritage until he was a grown man. His mother was very secretive about her past, never revealing anything personal. Whenever her children would ask her questions about why they were black and she was not or why their family was different she would tell them not to think about those things, because it would get them nowhere in life. Ruth's inconsistencies, quirks, and life philosophies were a bit of a mystery before McBride understood her youth. I remember reading a passage in The Color of Water in which James asks his mother why she does not look like the other mothers...she replied simply, "Because I am not them."

Since his mother was not willing to talk about her past James never quite knew who he was. For the most part of his childhood and adolescence he suffered from a serious identity crisis. When he finally sat down with his mom and talked to her about what happened when she was younger he began to understand who he was. In the book McBride says, "I felt like a Tinker toy kid building my own self out of one of those toy building sets; for as she laid her life before me, I reassembled the tableau of her words like a picture puzzle, and as I did, so my own life was rebuilt." I think what he means by this is that his own life is inextricably bound up with his mother's; when he rethinks her life, he in turn rethinks his own.

Ruth never allowed her children to be uneducated even during the hard times of the civil rights movement, in which they were growing up. She insisted on the importance of education which meant that James and his siblings often commuted long hours in order to receive the best possible schooling, mostly in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods. As a consequence, James and his siblings were often the sole black students in school, and suffered from the prejudice of the white world. He never particularly liked to go to school because his classmates and his teachers made fun of him for being black. Ruth did not care though; she only wanted the best education for her twelve children.

She would tell them "Educate yourself or you will be a nobody." I relate to this experience because when I was younger I was forced to go to catholic school, and I am Jewish. Other students would make fun of me because I did not say the same prayers that they did. My parents made my sister and me go because we could not get the same, high-quality education we received if we had gone to the local public school.

Throughout the book, The Color of Water, we come to recognize the stereotyping that took place during McBride's childhood. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and being a black person at this time in history was bad enough. This societal force left him conflicted over love for his mother and the desire to feel a solidarity with his peers and neighbors. On top of the racial slurs coming at the McBride- Jordan children just for being dark-skinned they also had to endure remarks made about their white, Jewish mother. McBride's family was forced to face matters of race and identity, his brother Richie being arrested for a crime he did not commit, is an example of the racism of that time. James McBride had a sense of embarrassment due to his mother's race. He once said, "I thought it would be easier if we were just one color, black or white. I didn't want to be white. My siblings had already instilled the notion of black pride in me. I would have preferred that Mommy were black."

It can be difficult to live in any situation that is outside of the norm, but when faced with cultural diversity the McBride family showed no fear. James McBride never quite knew who he was or where he came from. Until he discovered who his mother was, he had lived with a lost sense of self- identity. Once he understood his background he was able to grow as a man. His family persevered through the hard times by concentrating on education above everything else. It was hard enough for McBride growing up as a black child in the 1960s, and having a white mother did not help to block racist remarks and discrimination. Through the stereotypes James McBride grew to face cultural diversity in every shape and size. To Ruth, issues of race and identity took secondary importance to moral beliefs. I think McBride said it best when he said," Mommy's children are extraordinary people. All of them have toted more mental baggage and dealt with more hardship then they care to remember, yet they carry themselves with a giant measure of dignity, humility, and humor." We have his memoirs to prove it.

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