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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."
Ruth's family disowned her for marrying a black man.