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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.
When choosing a public school for her children to attend, Ruth ensured that they attended predominantly Jewish public schools, even though getting to these schools were often very far away. The McBride children were nearly always the token blacks in their classes, and as James grew older he became increasingly confused about his own racial identity. Once, he even remembers asking if he was black or white, to which Ruth responded: "You're a human being...Educate yourself or you'll be a nobody...If you're a nobody... it doesn't matter what color you are." Ruth made sure that her children attended every free event New York City had to offer: "festivals, zoos, parades, block parties, libraries, concerts." In retrospect, James realizes that they never felt deprived or poor. In the house, the question of race was "ignorable".