The Color of Water by James McBride (2.5/5 Stars)
I have to be honest… I had my reservations picking up this book from the get go . It was given to me about a year ago by a friend when I first decided to research and embrace my heritage and it sat on my bookshelf collecting dust. Maybe I was turned off by the fact that on the very cover of the book it said that this is a “black man’s tribute to his white mother.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect. And even though it took me two weeks to finish reading this book (abysmal time frame for me) I can say that it did not turn out as bad as I thought. I had half expected the book to worship the privilege and interracial aspect of the author’s life. Instead, he relayed both his story and his mother’s in a way that was witty and easy to follow.
However, I still can’t say this was one of my favorite reads.
This author went through an identity crisis his entire life. I guess it was to be expected with the racial climate of the United States during the 60s & 70s and the colorful differences in his household. My issue with the book is that he never really found his identity… and in a way, I felt like he denied a lot of his African heritage out of fear.
The reason I say this is because as a child the first thing he knew was that he was black and his mother was not. By the end of the book, he was Jewish, Christian, Black, Polish, White and a conglomerate of other things. He delved into his mother’s origins and seemed to forget the importance of his fathers. He became a mosaic of labels…
… Or maybe I’m biased. I just feel that if I were in his shoes, I would have spent equal time delving into who I am, farther than the immediate ancestry of parents, their parents, and then theirs. The book didn’t give me a “I’m proud to be black” feel.
It felt like he was running from everything black…
Maybe a year ago this would have been a good read for me. But right now I am unapologetic with my melanin and do not see the benefits of conformity.
Anywho, there are some good quotes that provoked thought in this book.
“Blacks have always been peaceful and trusting. I don’t care what they show on TV, these stupid boys with guns and these murderers they show on the news. Those aren’t the majority. Most blacks are peaceful and trusting. That’s why they’re made a fool of so easily.”
McBride’s mother said this in her commentary and I have to say that truer words have never been spoken. I feel this is why we are suffering through the oppression now. It is because we take what “they” have given us and believe what “they” tell us. We are trusting by nature, which has led us into the shit we are in now. We don’t have the depravity bred in us to do unto others what they have done to us; at least this is what I think.
“These people were nothing like me or my mother or anyone else in my family, but I had no anger towards them. My anger at the world had been replaced by burning ambition. I didn’t want to be like them, standing around sipping wine and showing proper manners and acting happy when they weren’t— I’m similar to my mother in that way — but these people had done nothing to me. I could see they were willing to help the band and indirectly help me, because I was dying to go to Europe, so I was grateful to them. My expectations of them went no further than that.”
Wow… what a mouthful that was. I can understand the attitude of the writer though. I used to have this outlook on thinks. I didn’t hate white people regardless of the “story of slavery” I learned in school because I considered myself free and above the color of people’s skin. I had no malice in my spirit because it was “un-Christian-like”. I felt that if they were helping me, I would appreciate their efforts. Through my schooling and being the “bright” melanated speck in the room, white people gravitated to me, wanting to mold me in “their” image so that I could be successful. As I look back now, I wonder if they were so helpful because of a sense of guilt or if supporting me was another form of oppression. Although “these people have done nothing to me”, I don’t want their handouts in fear that they may be tainted. As the before quote mentioned, we as a people are trusting in nature. I however, am no longer. It is hard to see good intentions come from a people who purposefully strip you of your real history and in essence your greatness.
“In some ways, I was caught between the worlds of black and white as well, because I discovered after college and graduate school that the earnest change-the-world- rap sessions me and my schoolmates had that lasted til four a.m. didn’t change the world one iota.”
One of the problems with the conscious community is all talk and no action. We preach fight the power and pro-blackness but we do not invest in schooling our youth or supporting our businesses. I realized this after I spent two years away at college. I realized that a “formal education” didn’t promise you shit —that people with master’s degrees still worked at McDonalds. I realized that Corporate America is White America, which is AMERICA. There is no land of the free. But none of this will change with just talk. We need action.
“Since I had no personal life outside of journalism other than music, I had soared as a reporter, but I always parachuted out in the end, telling my white editors after a year or two that I had to leave to “find myself, write a book, play my sax,” whatever the excuse was. Most black folks considered “finding myself” a luxury. White people seemed to think if it as a necessity—“
All I can say is OMG (for lack of better terminology at this time). I have been trying to find myself for 25 years and my family just doesn’t understand. They are all work and education and more work… when will I ever live life if all I do is work & exist? How will I be happy if I don’t know who I am? White people understand, because they have been taught at an early age the importance of self. Black people, on the other hand, are conditioned to think that we have to work twice as hard to get half of what the white man has… but why? Why not build our own stuff instead of going after what someone else has? Why not find our own happiness?
I probably sound racist to someone who is not awake. By that, I mean that racism is a system and as a young black woman, I cannot be racist (I will do an article on this at a later date). I am however discriminatory and biased. I am proud of my blackness. I am proud of my culture. I am proud of my stolen history. And I am proud of my melanin and magic.
I am in no way shape or form saying that McBride should have shunned his mother’s history. The book had a pleasant tone to it and I endorse going on a journey to find yourself. I just think that maybe, just maybe, there was more for him to find. And I am a bit disappointed that he stopped here.
So, as a result, this is my completely biased review of The Color of Water.