What factors contribute to who you are today? A question that many struggle with including James McBride, the author of The Color of Water. James struggled with finding himself because of his mixed background, a white Jewish mother and a Black father. When James finally gets an understanding of the culture, races, and religions that surrounds him it helps him to gain his own identity, point of view, and allows him to share his experiences with others who may be going through the same things in his writing.
As James enters many different cultures he comes to realize what type of surrounding and life he wants for himself when he visits his sister jack in Louisville, Kentucky. The culture in Louisville was very violent. James and his friends participated in illegal activities such as breaking into cars, shoplifting, and doing illegal drugs (McBride 139).
After complaining about life, doing illegal things, talking to Chicken Man a man that sat on the corner on a crate, and drank alcohol all day who told James that no one will know who are you unless you make something of yourself and that sitting on the corner all his life is a bad decision (150), and taking Jack’s advice, “you have to choose between what the world expects of you and what you want for yourself” (161), he enrolls back into high school and later goes on to Oberlin College. Growing up James’ mother Ruth always tells him that white people are no good, but as a young adult his perspective changes altogether.
As James completes high school and early into college a white lady by the name of Mrs. Dawson who donated most of her time and money to inner city kids sponsors James to be able to go to Europe and travel with the American Youth Jazz Band and continues to help him get into graduate school. When James’ friends in college talk about how all white people are rich and they have no problems James had no choice, but to agree because of the surrounding he was in, but in his mind he was strongly disagreed with the statement that had just been made having just read the letter from Mrs. Dawson about her husband dying suddenly of cancer (187).
Church plays a big part in James’ life. As a kid James goes to church every Sunday and experiences people crying and being uplifted. Also his father starts the New Brown Memorial Church, which James goes back to visit later in life. From going to church every Sunday James develops his own relationship with God after he goes through the part of his like where he is very rebellious and disobeys the law. After he enrolls back into school he turns to God to ask him for strength (161). This shows James getting his own opinion from God and his religion instead of just going to church because he’s being going all his life. Suffolk had begun to suffocate me.
The isolation my family felt, the heartbreak they had suffered” (223). James researching into his mother’s history shows him why he went to Jewish schools instead of the public schools, what happens in Suffolk that causes Ruth to leave, start a new life, and become very secretive. Heritage is important because it lets you know what struggles, accomplishments, etc. your family has overcome, why things are the way they are, and how you can continue a tradition, or better understand who you are.
Knowing about my Mother and Father’s background gives me an idea of what our family is about and what type of things I should stand for, or if I believe in the same things that my parents believe in. Learning about heritage and the different factors that make up his surrounding James McBride finds his identity, gains his own opinion, and point of view. Reading The Color of Water and going through this experience along with James encourages others to learn more about their heritage and who they are, and if you already have that information interpret it into a way that benefits you and can maybe even help someone else.