Memoir Musings >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 By James McBride


James McBride shares his mother’s story as well as his own story in this touching, easy-to-read memoir. McBride’s mother, who was born a white Jew, marries a black man in 1942 and plants a Baptist church in the middle of Harlem. After her husband passes away, James’s mother marries another black man, and together they expand their blended family. Despite the financial and racial challenges her family faced, Mrs. McBride raised their twelve children and sent all of them to college.


The Author Shares Himself

When James McBride realizes that his mother is a different color than he is, he becomes conflicted. As a child, he sometimes wants to hide his mother from friends. But, of course, she is his mom, and he loves her regardless of her color. When McBride persuades his mother to tell her story, he learns of the numerous sacrifices his mother made for love and family. Mr. McBride is open and honest about his feelings of shame, love, and admiration.

How the Memoir Affected Me

Perhaps, I will read the book again and focus on James’s story, but during my first reading, I found myself admiring James’s mother. She did not allow society to tell her whom she should love. She acted on her convictions; she even left her birth-religion. She was a loving and protective mother. She valued education and ensured all twelve of her children finished college (I can barely think about educating two children!). She was courageous (my word for 2017). She survived the deaths of two husbands, moved her children to another state on her own, and she resisted social norms that did not support her own values. Finally, she did not see color. Mrs. McBride certainly had stereotypical views of certain groups of people, but when it came to her husbands, her children, and her God, color and race were not issues. In 2017, her viewpoint is not only reassuring and refreshing, it is also inspiring.

Memorable Quote(s)

They [my parents] believed money without knowledge was worthless, that education tempered with religion was the way to climb out of poverty in America, and over the years, they were proven right. [p. 29]

I was ashamed of my mother, but see, love didn’t come natural to me until I became a Christian. [p. 38]

God is the color of water. [p. 51]

McBride, James. The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. New York: Riverhead, 1996. Print.

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© 2017 Sunday Dinner Stories, Michelle Beckman