In The Color of Water, author James McBride writes both his autobiography and a tribute to the life of his mother, Ruth McBride. Ruth came to America when she was a young girl in a family of Polish Jewish immigrants. Ruth married Andrew Dennis McBride, a black man from North Carolina. James's childhood was spent in a chaotic household of twelve children who had neither the time nor the chance to ponder questions of race and identity. Ruth did not want to discuss the painful details of her early family life, when her abusive father Tateh lorded over her sweet-tempered and meek mother Mameh. James weaves his own life story into his mother's story. Ruth's philosophies on race, religion, and work influence him greatly. Ruth always sent her children to the best schools, no matter the commute, to ensure they received the finest possible education. She demanded respect and hard work from her children, and always treated them tenderly. She had an unwavering faith in God and strong moral convictions. To Ruth, issues of race and identity took secondary importance to moral beliefs.
Ruth McBride was born in Poland in 1921. Ruth Jordan was a Jewish immigrant to the United States. Her family traveled around the country as her father tried to capitalize on his difference as a rabbi. The family could not make a living this way, and eventually settled down in Suffolk, Virginia, and opened a general store. They lived above the store, which was located in the mostly black section of town.
Ruth's father, Tateh, was racist, and overcharged his black customers. Ruth resisted her father's prejudices and pity with the black people in her town. She recognized that the Ku Klux Klan, and the white population in general, fostered a tense, violence atmosphere. As a Jew, Ruth found herself excluded from the white world of the South, and felt she could partially identify with the hardships of her black neighbors.
Ruth's adult life differed greatly from her life with her family in...