Growing up and finding an identity is confusing enough for a teenager that has two parents of the same race, or who is completely comfortable in his ethnicity. Imagine what life is like for someone who has parents of two different ethnicities: one black and one white. James McBride can tell you all about is in his book, The Color of Water.
When McBride was growing up in New York City, he had a very unique childhood. His mother was a white, Jewish woman who married a black man, so all of their children were biracial. While on the outside their darker skin was dominant, they were a mix of two different races. Try finding an identity that you feel comfortable living in when you look one way, and might feel another. It’s not easy. When trying to find yourself, especially at a young age, you have a lot of things to sift through. For example, romantic relationships get a lot of people confused at that age; they certainly did for me. Or trying to figure out what you want to do with your life can be one of the hardest things for anyone to figure out. Try muddling through all of that, as well as trying to figure out what race you identify with.
Finding something to identify with is the eternal human struggle. We all are constantly living with the idea that to be invisible is the worst thing in the world, and to establish yourself an identity which you can call your own is the only thing that you can do to avoid feeling like your life has been nothing but a waste of time. Finding a racial identity is supposed to be one of the easiest things that you can do, but not when you are biracial. Looking for a place to fit in is the fundamental cornerstone of seeking an identity. For a young man like James McBride, growing up with biracial parents, finding a place to fit in is a great struggle.
This novel contains references to the Black Power movement, something relatively unknown to McBride in the 1960s as a child. The reference that is most prominent is to the name of a street car named Black Power, that McBride saw around him in his youth. Black Power was something that surrounded James when he was a child, and he worried that the movement would surround and overwhelm his mother. The movement emphasized the pride one should have in being a black person, and the strength that embracing that identity brings. McBride’s mother was a white, Jewish woman who married a black man, and that is something that was frowned upon by the movement.
The Color of Water is the story of a young man, the product of parents of two different races, and how he has grown to appreciate his mother and his life’s struggles through the hardship that he faced finding an identity. McBride detailed his struggles in finding a place to fit in with the fact that he had to contend with having a white, Jewish mother, even though on the outside, he looked black.