The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

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Overview

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction, Five-Carat Soul, and Kill 'Em and Leave, a James Brown biography.

The incredible modern classic that Oprah.com calls one of the best memoirs of a generation and launched James McBride’s literary career.

Over two years on The New York Times bestseller list

Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared "light-skinned" woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother's past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.

The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in "orchestrated chaos" with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. "Mommy," a fiercely protective woman with "dark eyes full of pep and fire," herded her brood to Manhattan's free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.

In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother's footsteps and, through her searing and spirited voice, recreates her remarkable story. The daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi, she was born Rachel Shilsky (actually Ruchel Dwara Zylska) in Poland on April 1, 1921. Fleeing pogroms, her family emigrated to America and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where anti-Semitism and racial tensions ran high. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parents' loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.

At seventeen, after fleeing Virginia and settling in New York City, Ruth married a black minister and founded the all- black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. "God is the color of water," Ruth McBride taught her children, firmly convinced that life's blessings and life's values transcend race. Twice widowed, and continually confronting overwhelming adversity and racism, Ruth's determination, drive and discipline saw her dozen children through college—and most through graduate school. At age 65, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University.

Interspersed throughout his mother's compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self- realization and professional success. The Color of Water touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.

 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780787121471
Publisher: NewStar Media, Incorporated
Publication date: 11/01/1999
Edition description: Unabridged, 4 Cassettes
Product dimensions: 4.13(w) x 7.00(h) x 1.18(d)

About the Author

James McBride is an accomplished musician and author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird, the #1 bestselling American classic The Color of Water, and the bestsellers Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna. He is also the author of Kill 'Em and Leave, a James Brown biography. A recipient of the National Humanities Medal in 2016, McBride is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.

Hometown:

Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Date of Birth:

1957

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Education:

Oberlin Conservatory of Music; M.A., Columbia University School of Journalism

Read an Excerpt

When I was fourteen, my mother took up two new hobbies: riding a bicycle and playing piano. The piano I didn’t mind, but the bicycle drove me crazy. It was a huge old clunker, blue with white trim, with big fat tires, huge fenders, and a battery-powered horn built into the middle of the frame with a button you pushed to make it blow. The contraption would be a collector’s item now, probably worth about five thousand dollars, but back then it was something my step- father found on the street in Brooklyn and hauled home a few months before he died.
(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Color of Water"
by .
Copyright © 2006 James McBride.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

CONTENTS
1. Dead1
2. The Bicycle5
3. Kosher15
4. Black Power21
5. The Old Testament37
6. The New Testament45
7. Sam57
8. Brothers and Sisters65
9. Shul79
10. School85
11. Boys107
12. Daddy117
13. New York129
14. Chicken Man137
15. Graduation153
16. Driving159
17. Lost in Harlem169
18. Lost in Delaware177
19. The Promise193
20. Old Man Shilsky203
21. A Bird Who Flies213
22. A Jew Discovered219
23. Dennis231
24. New Brown249
25. Finding Ruthie259
Epilogue279
Thanks and Acknowledgments287

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for The Color of Water

"[A] triumph."—The New York Times Book Review

"As lively as a novel, a well-written, thoughtful contribution to the literature on race."—The Washington Post Book World

"Inspiring."—Glamour

"Vibrant."—The Boston Globe

"James McBride evokes his childhood trek across the great racial divide with the kind of power and grace that touches and uplifts all hearts."—Bebe Moore Campbell

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
The Color of Water

James McBride grew up one of twelve siblings in the all-black housing projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn, the son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white. The object of McBride's constant embarrassment, and his continuous fear for her safety, his mother was an inspiring figure, who through sheer force of will saw her dozen children through college, and many through graduate school. McBride was an adult before he discovered the truth about his mother: the daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi in rural Virginia, she had run away to Harlem, married a black man, and founded an all-black Baptist church in her living room in Red Hook. In this remarkable memoir, she tells in her own words the story of her past. Around her narrative, James McBride has written a powerful portrait of growing up, a meditation on race and identity, and a poignant, beautifully crafted hymn from a son to his mother.

 


ABOUT JAMES MCBRIDE

James McBride, a writer and musician, is a former staff writer for The Boston Globe, People magazine, andThe Washington Post. A professional saxophonist and composer, he has received the Richard Rodgers Development Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Music Theater Festival's Stephen Sondheim Award for his work in musical theater composition. He lives in South Nyack, New York.

Overwhelming acclaim for James McBride's unforgettable memoir:

"Vibrant."—The Boston Globe

"Incredibly moving."—Jonathan Kozol

"James McBride evokes his childhood trek across the great racial divide with the kind of power and grace that touches and uplifts all hearts."—Bebe Moore Campbell

"Complex and moving... suffused with issues of race, religion and identity. Yet those issues, so much a part of their lives and stories, are not central. The triumph of the book—and of their lives—is that race and religion are transcended in these interwoven histories by family love, the sheer force of a mother's will and her unshakable insistence that only two things really mattered: school and church... The two stories, son's and mother's, beautifully juxtaposed, strike a graceful note at a time of racial polarization.—The New York Times Book Review

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Discuss Ruth McBride's refusal to reveal her past and how that influenced her children's sense of themselves and their place in the world. How has your knowledge—or lack thereof—about your family background shaped your own self-image?
     
  • The McBride children's struggle with their identities led each to his or her own "revolution." Is it also possible that that same struggle led them to define themselves through professional achievement?
     
  • Several of the McBride children became involved in the civil rights movement. Do you think that this was a result of the times in which they lived, their need to belong to a group that lent them a solid identity, or a combination of these factors?
     
  • "Our house was a combination three-ring circus and zoo, complete with ongoing action, daring feats, music, and animals." Does Helen leave to escape her chaotic homelife or to escape the mother whose very appearance confuses her about who she is?
     
  • "It was in her sense of education, more than any other, that Mommy conveyed her Jewishness to us." Do you agree with this statement? Is it possible that Ruth McBride Jordan's unshakable devotion to her faith, even though she converted to Christianity from Judaism, stems from her Orthodox Jewish upbringing?
     
  • "Mommy's contradictions crashed and slammed against one another like bumper cars at Coney Island. White folks, she felt, were implicitly evil toward blacks, yet she forced us to go to white schools to get the best education. Blacks could be trusted more, but anything involving blacks was probably substandard... She was against welfare and never applied for it despite our need, but championed those who availed themselves of it." Do you think these contradictions served to confuse Ruth's children further, or did they somehow contribute to the balanced view of humanity that James McBride possesses?
     
  • While reading the descriptions of the children's hunger, did you wonder why Ruth did not seek out some kind of assistance?
     
  • Do you think it was naïve of Ruth McBride Jordan to think that her love for her family and her faith in God would overcome all potential obstacles or did you find her faith in God's love and guidance inspiring?
     
  • How do you feel about Ruth McBride Jordan's use of a belt to discipline her children?
     
  • While reading the book, were you curious about how Ruth McBride Jordan's remarkable faith had translated into the adult lives of her children? Do you think that faith is something that can be passed on from one generation to the next or do you think that faith that is instilled too strongly in children eventually causes them to turn away from it?
     
  • Do you think it would be possible to achieve what Ruth McBride has achieved in today's society?
     

Customer Reviews

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The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
jaybirdd 6 months ago
Looking for a good read The color or water is a book all readers can relate to. It was written by writer and musician, James McBride. This book is based on a conversation between him and his mother Ruth. James mainly focuses on his upbringing as a child, and getting to understand his family history and really getting to know his mother who was much privatized. Ruth life was something she was not fond of talking about. She was born an Orthodox Jew, Ruchel Dwarja Aylska, on April 1, 1992. She was shunned from her family because of her unorthodox decisions. Where she broke free and was able to be happy with who she was. She raised 12 children in a very hard time with just the bare minimum making education her main focus. All 12 of her children attended great colleges perusing rewarding careers. If you have not read this book I highly recommend you do this book will teach you to appreciate and value the lessons you learn.
Anonymous 7 months ago
I read this book in college for one of my English classes. I loved it and how he describes his mother in a way that we all could relate to.
EscapeBookClub on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
We read this in April 2000. One of us rated it 10 out of 10 and cried in the end too. The others rated it average! There were a lot of issues to be discussed though and it generated an interesting discussion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book must have been by far one of the most wonderful books I have ever read. Mcbride achieves telling the readers the truth and how improtant the topic of love is. He makes us realise that we must not take the love that we have foregranted. He tells us about pushers and srugglers through life but who always get to the end of the tough race. He also explains in detail about the obstacles they go through. The way he manages to tell us about the son's and the mothers life at the same time makes this book unique. It exposes the truth from both the jewish and the black point of view. As I said, it is simply fascinating.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am in a interatial relationship and being able to see people for more than there skin color is in our lives daily. One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is for the way Ruth (the mother) brought up her children in a colorless enviroment, and also explains how 'God is the color of water'. She makes it known that your education and beliefs make you the person that you are, not your skin. I personally can appreciate her wisdom and have much respect for her decisions, after all when you read about how she grew up and the kind of environment she was surrounded in, she could have easily taken a different direction. This was a truly inspirational story, and I loved it!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i think the book was fasinating, it was so sad to read the way ruth as brought up and the wa she tried to raise her childrein a better way than the way sh grew up. she just wanted her childern to have a good education and have a sucessful life.