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James, a child of a white mother and black father, suffers identity issues throughout his childhood and into adulthood.
“I asked her if I was black or white. She replied "You are a human being. Educate yourself or you'll be a nobody!”
Ruth's treatment of her children, and her desire to see them succeed made James angry. He felt as if she was always pushing him away.
“...since I was a little boy, she had always wanted me to go. She was always sending me off on a bus someplace, to elementary school, to camp, to relatives in Kentucky, to college. She pushed me away from her just as she'd pushed my elder siblings away when we lived in New York, literally shoving them out the front door when they left for college. ”
The Color of Water