Did Ruth speak derogatorily about Jewish people in The Color of Water by James McBride?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ruth McBride is a Jewish woman who has converted to Christianity; in The Color of Water by her son, James McBride, Ruth has conflicting emotions about Jewish people because of her Jewish upbringing.

While she insists her children attend private schools, Jewish if possible, she is also disdainful of them. In chapter ten, Ruth takes her children to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to go shopping for their school clothes--when she has any money, that is--because “the Jews have the deals." While she is shopping there, however, she is aware of the Jewish merchants' rude and negative comments which they boldly speak, never suspecting that Ruth knows what they are saying. 

Ruth also tells her children that there is something different about being Jewish without ever using those words. She tells off the rude merchants in Yiddish, much to the bewilderment of her children, but then she tells her kids that if they meet "the right Jew" they are sure to get whatever assistance they might need.

Just as Ruth is cryptic about her racial heritage, so she is less than forthcoming about her Jewishness. Once James 

asked her if [he] was black or white. She replied "You are a human being. Educate yourself or you'll be a nobody!” 

It does not particularly occur to James to ask his mother if he is a Jew or a Gentile; however, if he did, Ruth would have given him exactly the same answer as above. She has learned that race and ethnicity are not the true measure of a man--or woman.