The search for identity
"I'm light-skinned" (McBride xix) is what James's mother had always told him whenever he asked her whether she was white or not. James's ethnic/family background had been a mystery to him ever since he was a child and also carried on with him into adulthood. He never knew his mother's history, where she came from, or relatives from her side of the family. This created confusion within James. He could not identify himself as white or black because he did not have any knowledge of his family. Resulting in, his childhood to be filled with fear, embarrassment, frustration, and isolation. Many of James's adult years were filled with even larger problems concerning race and his own identity, he later solved the mystery of his identity through the writing of the book, The Color of Water, where James's mother unrevealed their family's history.
As a child, James had always questioned his mother about her race, doing so would uncover his identity, but had never received a straight forward answer. At one point during his childhood, he asked his mother "Am I black or white?" (92) and she simply replied "You're a human being, educate yourself or you'll be a nobody" (92). This left James confused and very frustrated. James's mother, Ruth, didn't want the topic of race to interfere with his education or Christian faith. She despised her past and never wanted to remember it again. In confusion and frustration James created an imaginary friend that he referred to as the boy in the mirror. He looked just like James and acted like him but was thought to have a "normal" family with a mother who was not white. James was jealous of the boy in the mirror and began to hate him when people in school made fun of him. Unlike James, the boy in the mirror knew who he was and did not have the confusion and frustration that James had concerning family and race. When James was going to preschool he noticed that the other children's mothers at the bus stop did not...
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