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John FallonMrs. RecordEnglish 10 300January 3, 2018The Perception of Identity in the Color of WaterAn individual’s identity is their sense of self, including the qualities and beliefs that distinguish them from someone else. Identity can also be an external (appearance) trait, or it can be an internal (self) trait. There are many factors that can make up one’s identity, such as religion, race, gender, and physical attributes.  People also join groups of friends to help mold and shape their identity. Throughout The Color of Water, author and main character James McBride tells us his experience growing up in New York City (and Delaware for a few years) with his white mother Ruth, no real father figure, and 12 black children that Ruth single-handedly raised. McBride describes the hardships that he had to endure as he struggled to find out who he truly was, and the process he had to undergo to do so. During the course of the novel, James shows that the most influential aspect of an individual’s identity is their upbringing due to his family’s race, and his rebellion against his mother in a way that helped him find out who he was as a person. Race is a very important factor in identity, as it has to do with a physical feature on someone. Race is relatively ignored by younger children unless they are taught about it by their parents. James’ race came to his attention at a young age, when he noticed that both black and white people stared at his mother, since she was white with a black family. This let James know that his family was different than others, and that they weren’t considered a normal family since interracial relationships weren’t common, much less welcomed in many communities. When James learned that his black skin was different from his mother’s white skin, he became confused by his own color and later reached a point where he was “ashamed of her and didn’t want the world to see his white mother” (McBride 100). James wanted to be accepted by others and not have to worry about a world that would constantly remind him that his family was different than everyone else’s. After the scene with his mother and the spoiled milk, James referenced his family’s color as a whole by saying “I thought it would be easier if we were just one color, black or white” (McBride 103). Nowadays, if he had grown up in the present day, society would not have been as harsh on him and his family as they were back when he was a boy. Because of the pressure that society put on him and his family, he was unsure of how he fit in, ultimately leading up to an altered identity and perception on how he saw the world. As a result of his mother’s color, James began to think that his mom was dragging him down and holding him back from the being the person he truly wanted to be. He started a process of “emotionally disconnecting himself from her” (McBride 138). By disconnecting himself, he finally was able to be who he wanted to. He quit church, started getting into drugs, and joined a soul band. Even though James knew his lifestyle wasn’t good for him, it was healthy for him in a way since he was able to shape his own identity without anyone saying otherwise. Though he used to be a relatively good student, he decided that being himself was more important than getting the grades his mother pushed him to get. However, he realized that the path he was choosing wasn’t so smart after he took the sage advice his friend Chicken Man gave him. He reflected on his experiences at the corner by saying “That life wasn’t as wild and as carefree as it looked from the outside anyway. It was ragged and cruel and I didn’t want to end up that way…” (McBride 161). Since he was able to listen to his conscience and get out before it was too late, he resolved to get back into his studies and turn to God for help. James was able to rebuild and strengthen the perception of his identity after that since he had gained the courage to go back to Ruth’s hometown and find out what her life was like when she was a child herself. As her son, James wasn’t able to understand why she was so antisocial and refused to discuss her past.However, by uncovering Ruth’s former life, James was able to define his own identity through the truth of Ruth’s pain. James’ entire childhood was full of conflicting thoughts and emotions. He grew up knowing that he was different from everyone else, and he attributed his shame of being from an interracial household from the many people that brought it up every day of his life. However, it took years before he was able to realize that he shouldn’t feel ashamed for his childhood; he should open up about it. As James said when he was fully grown up, “It took years before I began to accept the fact that the nebulous ‘white man’s world’ wasn’t as free as it looked” (McBride 262). His own experiences caused him to seclude himself from the outside world without him knowing that people of the other skin color can face struggles throughout life too. Many humans act out as a way to express themselves and form their own identity, although it may not be an identity with a solid foundation. However, James was able to overcome his personal struggles and become the person he truly wanted to become.


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