Times Fluid, Mobile and Ambivalent: Constructing Racial & Personal Identity in James McBride’s The Color of Water

Yuan-Chin Chang


James McBride’s memoir The Color of Water provides a rich and nuanced history of the author – a Black American man – and his white mother. Using the theories of Bhabha regarding hybridity, ambivalence and a Third Space between different cultures or individuals, it is demonstrated that racial and personal identities are constructed, and historically reconstructed, as flexible and mobile entities in this memoir. The linking of narratives and voices across different decades demonstrates the Third Space in the relationship between McBride and his mother, and each individual’s relationship to and understanding of themselves in a broader multiracial culture. Lacan’s theories regarding rhetoric and signification are also used to underpin an exploration of the ways in which McBride portrays his own changing understanding of biracial identity in America.



identity, The Color of Water, multiraciality, Third Space, biraciality

Full Text:



Arminio, J. (2001). Exploring the nature of race‐related guilt. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 29(4), 239-252.

Bailey, S. (2009). Legacies of race: Identities, attitudes, and politics in Brazil. Stanford University Press.

Berzon, J. R. (1978). Neither white nor black. The mulatto character in American fiction. New York: New York University Press.

Bhabha, H. (1994). The location of culture. London: Routledge.

Rutherford, Jonathan. (1990). The third space: interview with Homi Bhabha. In Jonathan Rutherford (Ed.), Identity: Community, culture, difference, 207-221. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Bowie, M. (1993). Lacan. Harvard University Press.

Butler, Judith. (1997). Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. London: Routledge.

Dalmage, H. M. (Ed.). (2004). The politics of multiracialism: Challenging racial thinking. SUNY Press.

Daniel, G. R. (2010). Race and multiraciality in Brazil and the United States: converging paths? Penn State University Press.

Hernandez, T. K. (1997). Interests and rights of the interracial family in a “multiracial” racial classification. Journal of Family Law, 36, 29.

Hobson, F. (1999). But now I see: The white southern racial conversion narrative. Louisiana State University Press.

Hollinger, D. A. (2003). Amalgamation and hypodescent: The question of ethnoracial mixture in the history of the United States. The American Historical Review, 108(5), 1363-1390.

Huddart, D. (2005). Homi K. Bhabha. London: Routledge.

Kai, I. H. (2015). From root to route: Identity, mobility and renaming in James McBride’s the color of water. International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, 5(12), 1062-1067.

Kwan, S., & Speirs, K. (Eds.). (2004). Mixing it up: Multiracial subjects. University of Texas Press.

McBride, J. (2006). The color of water (10th anniversary edition). Penguin.

Merton, R.K. (1942). Intermarriage and the social structure. Psychiatry, 4(3), 361-374.

Ramsey, W. M. (2005). Knowing their place: Three black writers and the postmodern south. The Southern Literary Journal, 37(2), 119-139.

Rockquemore, K. A. (1998). Between black and white: Exploring the “biracial” experience. Race and Society, 1(2), 197-212.

Roth, W. D. (2005). The end of the one-drop rule? Labeling of multiracial children in black intermarriages. Sociological Forum, 20(1), 35-67.

Skidmore, T.E. (1992). Fact and myth: Discovering a racial problem in Brazil. Kellogg Institute Working Paper, 173, 1-23.

Soto, L. D. (1999). The multicultural worlds of childhood in postmodern America. In Carol Seefeldt (Ed.), The Early Childhood Curriculum: Current Findings in Theory and Practice, 218. New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.

South, S.J. & Messner, S.F. (1986). Structural determinants of intergroup association: interracial marriage and crime. American Journal of Sociology, 91(6), 1409-1430.

Sowell, T. (1994). Race and culture: A world view. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Spickard, P. (2001). The subject is mixed race: the boom in biracial biography. In David Parker & Miri Song (Eds.), Rethinking ‘mixed race’, 76-98. London: Pluto Press.

Telles, E.E. (2004). Race in another America: the significance of skin color in Brazil. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Winans, A. E. (2005). Local pedagogies and race: Interrogating white safety in the rural college classroom. College English, 67(3), 253-273.

Zack, N. (2004). American mixed race: The United States 2000 census and related issues. In SanSan Kwan & Kenneth Speirs (Eds.), Mixing it up: Multiracial subjects, 13-30. University of Texas Press.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.4n.5p.63


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2012-2022 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the journal emails into your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.