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The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

First Year Students


2015 AU Community Reads Writing Assignment

image - The Color of Water book

by James McBride 

Dear Member of the Class of 2019,

2015 has provided perspective on America’s racial history—for instance, it marked the 50th Anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery led by Martin Luther King, Jr.—and challenges we must face in the future: Staten Island, Ferguson, Baltimore. Accordingly, Adelphi University has chosen “Race” as the theme for its Community Reads Program. As you enter the broader Adelphi community, we invite you to join the conversation (which will be taking place throughout the year in talks, workshops, events, and presentations, etc.) by exploring how race informs your identity in an essay of 500-1000 words.

James McBride’s National Book Award winning memoir, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, provides a model for this kind of introspection. The book explores the following questions, which you should address in your essay:

  • Origins: Can we ever escape where we come from, both personally and historically? Should we try?
  • Self and World: Is one’s sense of self independent of the way she or he is seen by others? Treated by others?
  • Multiplicity: What does it mean to draw upon multiple sources for an identity? How are conflicts between these weighed out?
  • Neutrality: Can we choose to ignore questions of race if thinking about them is uncomfortable?

Reflect on McBride’s story as you consider your own. No research is necessary; write from your own experience and convictions, though you should be willing to use The Color of Water as a comparison or complement to your own thoughts. However, any sources you do use should be duly acknowledged according to whatever method with which you are familiar (for instance, MLA format). As with all of your work at Adelphi, plagiarism is not permitted. View information on Adelphi’s plagiarism policy.

This assignment is due on Matriculation Day, August 30, 2015. On this day you will be meeting with your seminar class for a book discussion. Please bring your essay with you to hand in to your seminar professor.