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The Color of Water
When James asks his mother whether God is black or white, he is a boy living in a predominantly black community with a mother who looks white, and is simply expressing his personal confusion about race. To add to the confusion, however, his mother simply responds that she is "light-skinned". When his mother explains that God doesn't have a color, and that God is "the color of water", the image converges questions of racial and religious division into an essence that is clear and universally spiritual - in other words, "human".
As a young girl, Ruth suffered from teasing and discrimination as a Jew in the largely Protestant school.
James 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."