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The Color Of Water

Essay by   •  October 4, 2010  •  1,606 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,332 Views

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Before I read "The Color of Water," by James McBride, I saw his

appearance on 20/20, discussing his quest to discover the background of

his mysterious, marvelous mother. McBride said he didn't even know his

mother's maiden name, much less about her Orthodox Jewish background,

until he prodded it from her because he needed it for school records.

"Shilsky," she told him, impatiently, offering no further details.

McBride, who is now about 42 years old, said he asked no more questions

of her, but added when he was "bonding" in Black Pride with his college

friends, playing bongo drums and jazz music, he'd think: "Shilsky. Shilsky.

Something's funny here...".

Watching him on television, such a fascinating, articulate and yet

entertaining man, made me want to know more about his amazing mother. I

received a copy of the book as a gift.

None of Ruth McBride's 12 children knew anything of substance about her

background. When they asked what color she was, she would answer, "I

am no color" and say that God is "the color of water."

Ruth Shilsky, whose father was an abusive Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, treated

her and her mother extremely cruelly when she was a young girl in Suffolk,

Virginia. Jews were discriminated against second only to blacks. But Ruth

fell in love with a young black man, became pregnant by him, and was sent

to live with an aunt in New York city. She never went home again. She felt

much more at home in 1940s Harlem, and fell in love with another black

man, having a baby and living with him for more than a year before they were

wed and had several more children.

They made a good life together, but he died. Ruth later married yet another

remarkable black man, having more children with him for a total of 12.

James was in the middle, precocious, curious, bright and at risk for

becoming a street kid.

But he didn't have that much time. He didn't know why at the time, but his

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