James McBride's memoir, The Color of Water, demonstrates a man's search for identity and a sense of self that derives from his multiracial family. His white mother, Ruth's abusive childhood as a Jew led her to search for acceptance in the African American community, where she made her large family from the two men she marries. James defines his identity by truth of his mother's pain and exceptionality, through the family she creates and the life she leaves behind. As a boy, James questions his unique family and color through his confusion of issues of race. Later in his life, as an adolescent, his racial perplexity results in James hiding from his emotions, relying only on the anger he felt against the world. It is only when James uncovers the past of his mother does he begin to understand the complexity with himself and form his own identity.
As James matures, issues of race in his life became too apparent to ignore. His multiracial family provides no clear explanations on prejudices and racism, and when "[James] asked [Ruth] if she was white, she'd say, No. I'm light skinned,' and change the subject." Ruth avoiding addressing racial issues causes confusion within the siblings, which "perplexed [James] to the point of bursting. [He] took the question to [his] elder siblings Are we black or white?' [He] asked [his] brother David one day. I'm black,' said David. But you may be a Negro.' " James' family of a rainbow of color perplexes the ideals of race for James, causing questioning and insecurities within himself, noting that "being the token Negro was something I was never entirely comfortable with " As James begins his search for identity, he is halted by his mother's avoidance of rac...
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... the little boy who stared in the mirror felt was gone." By uncovering Ruth's earlier life, James could understand his own singularity, thus creating the identity he sought his life to achieve.
Ruth led a life broken in two. Her later life consists of the large family she creates with the two men she marries, and her awkwardness of living between two racial cultures. She kept her earlier life a secret from her children, for she did not wish to revisit her past by explaining her precedent years. Once he uncovered Ruth's earlier life, James could define his identity by the truth of Ruth's pain, through the relations she left behind and then by the experiences James endured within the family she created. As her son, James could not truly understand himself until he uncovered the truth within the halves of his mother's life, thus completing the mold of his own identity.
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