Social Conflicts in The Color of Water

*This was one of my summer reading essays*

Throughout history, discrimination has been a continuous controversy. Society has proven not to be colorblind. In fact, looking through history books, there is countless evidence that society not only notices the difference of colors, but has tried relentlessly to separate them. It is well known that society teaches that people of one race are superior to those of another, even after centuries of social progress. Because of this truth, it is not a surprise that society has trouble accepting the idea of interracial marriage. Despite its progress in understanding that relationships should be based on love rather than race, society is continuing to understand this concept.

Throughout the 1600’s, interracial marriage was a topic of debate. During this time, Virginia had a massive role in the events regarding interracial marriage. In 1664, Maryland passed the first law to ban relationships between slaves and Caucasians. This law caused an outbreak of other state laws. In 1691, The Common Wealth of Virginia tried to inflict the death penalty: “Be it enacted by the authoritie aforesaid…effectuall execution” (Indiana University, Virginia laws of servitude and slavery). Because of the popularity of this law, The Common Wealth of Virginia expanded the policy to impose fines on the priest that allow interracial marriages. This hatred continued until a Supreme Court case questioned these beliefs. The Loving VS Virginia case fought against the laws abolishing marriage between races. By using the 14th Amendment, the Lovings won (Encyclopedia Virginia, Loving V. Virginia). After that, The United States repealed their laws against interracial marriage. Despite the laws being erased, hatred toward mixed-race relationships still existed. In fact, there are still doubts relating to mixed relationships in present society (Thoughtco, Interracial Marriage Laws History & Timeline).

In The Color of Water by James McBride, the topic of interracial marriage is exposed to its readers. McBride explains this social conflict through all points of view. From a white woman, to the reaction of her peers, and the effect of the criticism on her son, McBride looks deeper into the situation. The book shows the hardships faced involving mixed relationships. Despite the setting occurring after the laws were abolished, it showed society’s hostility toward the relationships. An example of this statement is when Ruth, the mother of McBride, is shunned by her family because she is in a romantic relationship with a black man. This example shows how strong the prejudice ideals were during this time period. McBride emphasizes the struggles regarding Ruth’s relationships to express that even though the laws prohibiting interracial marriage were disregarded, hatred for the relationships stayed stagnant. McBride uses this topic to allow readers to question the “progress” of social change.

Overall, the author uses Ruth’s story to enlighten others that social justice is still needed. Though the laws are gone, the hatred still thrives in society. McBride effectively portrays the struggles interracial couples faced after Loving VS Virginia to educate readers on how society’s beliefs remained prejudice.