Race identity and Multiracialism in James Mc bride’s The Color of Water

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In this generation of increased globalization, racial identity in the world is controversial as a end result of multiracialism in most parts of the world. This fact is evidenced with the aid of the existence of different races including Blacks, Whites, Asians, and Hispanics. Through intermarriages between humans from different ethical backgrounds, middleman races have emerged leading to the question of racial identification which is evident in James Mc Bride’s The Colour of Water. The author is a Black-American race, and he writes a tribute to his white mother, depicting a rich records of ambivalence and development of races and identities. Also, he brings about multiracialism as a theme and develops race identity ideologies. In light of this, this dissertation aims at exploring multiracialism as a theme and how race identities, ideologies, and groups have been developed in the narrative. This is done through the analysis of literacy works of different theorists including Homi K. Bhabha and Lancan. In conclusion, the social setting, significance, fluidity of the racial notions and characters has been used effectively by the author to reflect multiracialism and racial identity.

Introduction

The color of the water is a literary work written by James Mc Bride to serve not only as a personal autobiography but also as a tribute to his mother. Born as a Black American, the author illustrates his struggles in a quest to discover his racial identity through a vivid account of his life. As a child, he was troubled and confused about his racial identity. His childhood problems could not be eased by his mother, Ruth, who was forced to run away from her homeland as a result of the difference in ideologies on multiracialism. She faces various challenges that prompt her to keep moving from one place to the other. With time, James and his mother’s ideologies on race became more flexible as he gains an understanding of his identity. Therefore, the memoir reflects a flexible opinion on racial identity in modern America.

The narrative is written in the early 20th century, a period of rampant racism among the pre-dominant races in America and most parts of the world, the white race, and the black race. This sociological setting did not permit inter-racial marriages, and a child born out of the marriage was considered an abomination and subject to prejudice and abuse due to their racial identity. As a result, his mother was forced out of her original homeland into the foreign land in the USA. She frequently moves from one town to the other in search of a sense of belonging; however, her family’s interactions are restricted to the black community as they were not allowed to interact freely with the whites. As the times evolved, McBride gradually matures. He learns that the racial ideologies in the world have shifted and he grows to accept his racial identity. He admits to feeling uncertain of his identity in his childhood years, however, this fades away slowly as he advanced in age (Mc Bride 102).

It is evident that multiracialism and race identity is a major theme developed in the narrative. It is developed through the main character; James and his mother Ruth in their lifetime quest for racial identity and understanding. Coming from the different racial background, the author’s mother race was the major source his childhood problems in the greater black community that was constantly drawn into black power ideologies. His racial identity drives a ridge in his relationship with his mother and unites him with the rest of his family members. He fears for his mother and desires that she could be colorless and transparent as opposed to being opaque and debatably white. Initially, Mc Bride thought that it would be much simpler if he belonged to either black or white race. He preferred the black race as opposed to the white race due to a pre-existing notion of black pride instilled by his siblings. However, as he matures, he develops an appreciation of his bi-racial identity (McBride 103).

The author’s racial ideologies are dynamic and change over time from childhood into adulthood. The author engineers his specific and dynamic racial individuality; he diverts from a African-American origin focus into a mature understanding and pride in his biracial identity. Through their life experiences, both Mc brides and his mother undergo traumatizing periods of shunning their white identity. However, they acquire a fluid and dynamic racial identity with time.

Definition of thesis

Multiracialism brings about challenges of cultural identity, racism; prejudice and discrimination based on racial identity. In America, racism is a cultural problem experienced by most individuals. This is depicted in James Mc Brides, The color of water, where Race identity is depicted through characterization, Rhetoric, and symbolism. This is a major theme narrative, as the author strives to reflect on the racial issues in the society. The concept and development of the racial ideologies and identity are yet to be explored in a linguistic approach. In the light of this gap, it is justifiable to investigate the development of ideologies and classification about multiracialism and racial identity in the pre-colonial setting in the narrative “the Colour of water”.

Literature review

The united States is a Multiracial society where racial identity, democracy, and power are controversial and dynamic concerning time (Daniel 154).In Consideration of the various challenges associated with multiracial identity, different theologies and literacy studies have been used to explore racial identity in the context of Mc Brides Book, The Colour of Water. The race is a relatively modern concept consisting of a system of different categories (Daniel).This is because there is limited use of race-based ideologies in the early 18th century. Based on the narrative, it is evident that a stratified racial classification structure is founded in the colonial period as a result of slavery. This lead to the emergence of Multiracialism which refers to the existence of individuals from different racial backgrounds. In the course of the duration of the setting of the book, characters are evidently excluded from the dominant black and white racial groupings based on their differences. The author, Mc Bride, is an example of the few bi-racial individual born in the colonial era.

Currently, the proportion of bi-racial individuals to the overall population has grown significantly bringing about the problem of personal identity based on race. In his book, the main character, Mc Bride is caught in between the black and white racial identities and seeks his own identity throughout his lifetime. He questions the origin of his race and his mother, and she would reply in a manner to exclude herself from her white race due to guilt associated with white privilege.

According to Mc Bride, some people tend to live in denial when asked about their race or skin color (69). At one point he seeks to distance himself from bi-racial identity in favor of a black identity. To provide an understanding, Bhabha explores race identity through a hypothesis of cultural diversity. He states that combination of two or more cultures brings about diversity as opposed to the difference which explains racial identity by physical features tone of like hair texture and skin tone (Bhabha 84). The identity ideologies portrayed in the narrative were originally fixed concerning the race. “The author’s desire of belonging to either white or black race in his childhood years affirms fixed ideologies. Over time the author progresses from the binary mode of thinking into being more dynamic about racial identity.

Multiple racial identities in the society pose challenges with personal identities and acceptance. Therefore, they are bound to create boundaries between different races. As a result, a dominant race group is likely to be more superior to the other races. The cultural identity conflict is associated with untold pain; Mc Bride is forced to distance himself from his lover to avoid boring children that were of mixed race, a factor that was considered as a norm in the society (Mc Bride 97). Also, Blau’s theory of social structure supports mobility and fluidity of race ideologies states that decreased differentiation and residential segregation increases associations between Black race and white race. Societies featuring frequent intermarriage instances experience reduced interracial violence.

To bridge the racial gap, Both Mc Bride, Lancan and Bhabha illustrate an assimilation theory. According to Lancan theory of assimilation; bi-racial individuals possess fluidity concerning racial identity and therefore can be in-cooperated into either race. Both Mc Bride and his mother develop dynamic racial identities in the end. Ruth affirms assimilation by stating that Water will always find a hole when poured on the floor (McBride 135)”.Assimilation creates hybridity of race and its identity as envisioned by Bhabha.

Discussion

In the book, The Colour of Water, it is evident that Multiracialism is associated with the racial identity. Race identity in respect to multiracialism varies concerning the place, time and individual understanding. Multiracialism and identity are portrayed as a cultural diversity that is dynamic and controversial. A study by Rockquemore in 1998, confirms that multiracial identity is controversial as multiracials lack common understanding and interpretation of their identities in the diverse race spectrum. In the US, individuals of African American origin are considered as black. As a result, the inclusion of the multiracial group in US census in 2002 was perceived differently by different people (Rocquemore 199). Mc Brides is biracial whereas his mother is white.

In the era of dominant white and black race, Mc Bride constantly seeks his racial identity through his lifetime, In the Book; inter-cultural relationships constantly shift from rigid typologies to fluidity with respect to time. In his childhood, he identifies with the Black race but as he matures he adopts a more flexible approach to his racial identity (Mc Bride 107). He compares his experience of rebuilding his life to that of a tinker toy kid (Mc Bride 118)

According to Lankan’s theory of assimilation, multiracialism is inherently Rhetoric as biracial individuals can easily identify with either race of their origin (Bowie 172).

Race identity and ideologies are developed and influenced by the socio-political and legal settings. Social settings greatly influence the racial identity and experiences of any individual. In the narrative, Ruth is confined to the Black social setting, and as a result, her biracial children identify as dominantly black. Miscegenation laws of the Suffolk society in Virginia led to racial segregation, an ideology that suppressed interracial marriages. Ruth is abhorred by the family after getting pregnant by a black man. Similarly, a study by Hollinger presents a case study of a relatively young couple who were arrested and charged on miscegenation in Virginia. Ruth confirms racial segregation by saying Suffolk was characterized by a major street and separate theatres for blacks and whites (Mc Brides 167). Despite the fact that these laws no longer exist, informal segregation by race is still evident in today’s society (Hollinger 200).

The author effectively utilizes signifiers and Rhetoric to develop the theme thought the narrative. Jacques Lancan, a French literal critique states that a specific image/sound is directly connected to a specific concept in the literature (Bowie 197).In his book, Mc Bride choice of the title is a symbol of race characteristics and ideologies he develops in the story. The title of the book depicts personal and racial identity themes. Naturally, the color of water ranges from colorless to blue or green. The identity of the color of water depends on the degree of absorption of a specific wavelength of the light spectrum. Similarly, the character’s racial identities are developed to mimic the fluid-characteristic and color diversity of water as they cannot be contained within fixed boundaries or simple traditional classifications of a white or black race.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that multiracialism and racial identity is dynamic depending on time, social setting and individual perceptions. The perception of the characters in the narrative, Mc Bride and his mother, which were influenced by the cultural setting changed with time, from a fixed racial ideology into a dynamic one. The embalmment of water as a signifier effectively projects the dynamism and fluidity of racial identities developed by the author. Therefore, the color of water by Mc Bride is a mirror reflection of current society characterized by constant shifts in ideologies concerning Race identity.

References

Bowie, M. Lacan. Harvard University Press.1993. Print.

Bhabha, H. The location of culture. London: Routledge. 1994. Print.

Daniel, G. R. Race and multiraciality in Brazil and the United States: converging paths; Penn State University Press. 2010. Print.

Hollinger, D. A. Amalgamation and hypo descent: The question of ethno racial mixture in the history of the United States. The American Historical Review, (2003) .108(5), 1363-1390. Print.

McBride, J. The color of water (10th anniversary edition). 2006 Penguin. Print.

Rockquemore, K. A. Between black and white: Exploring the “biracial” experience; Race and Society, 1(2), 197-212. Print.

South, S.J. & Messner, S.F., Structural determinants of intergroup association: Interracial marriage and crime.1986 American Journal of Sociology, 91(6), 1409-1430. Print.

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