"matter of race and identity she ignored (mcbride 9)
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Ruth's neglect in being open with her children led to confusion in regard to their identities. According to James, his mother denied her Jewish history, but sought a Jewish-style education for her children nonetheless. When the brief window of opportunity came, Ruth seized the chance to choose predominantly Jewish schools for each of her children to attend. In the house, the emphasis lay on grades and on church. She consistently drummed into their minds that money was nothing without education, and that education was the only avenue to making something of themselves. Being the token black students in their Jewish public schools, James and his siblings learned to survive in the world by performing well.
To supplement his formal education, James sought a "street education" in Louisville, Kentucky, where he stayed during the summers he was in high school. In Louisville, he frequented "the Corner", where Chicken Man offered him good advice, dispelling his naive belief that being a man on "the Corner" was a desirable life. Chicken Man insisted that he concentrate on his education, and that he try to pursue a better life.
With regards to questions of race, James experienced a great deal of confusion. As the reader becomes acclimated to the basic picture of the story, he or she begins to develop an image of an eccentric Jewish woman riding her bicycle around the Brooklyn projects. At the same time, she is a kind of "just tyrant", and James loves her fiercely, as evidenced by his fear that something harmful will happen to her. He presents the historical backdrop of the Black Power movement, and clearly felt that his mother was in danger in their presence; a feeling that was reinforced when he witnessed two black men robbing her of her purse. He knew the state of race relations, and his love for his white mother only contributed to his confusion: "partly because of my own growing sense of self, and partly because of fear for her safety, because even as a child I had a sense that black and white folks did not get along, which put her, and us, in a pretty tight space."
When James punched the son of a Black Panther because he feared for his mother's safety, the action expressed a clear alliance with his mother, and not with the Black Power movement. In other words, he allied himself with his sense of family and love, as opposed to what he would later refer to as the superficial blanket political statement the color of one's face often led one to assume. The action exhibited his personal confusion, but, at the same time, the way divisions that relied on race could be transcended. The idea of "love" was crucial.