In "The Color of Water", why do McBride's classmates want to see him dance?How does this affect him externally and internally, both positively and negatively?

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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James' classmates want to see him dance, because he does what they consider to be an amazing impression of James Brown. It affects him by changing his status in the classroom. His mixed heritage has always placed him in an uncomfortable position in society, and he sees the dance as a way to win over the other students. He succeeds in doing so, which brings him pleasure. Even the teacher enjoys the performance. So, in one way, dancing in front of the class is a positive experience for him.

But he also knows, in the back of his mind, that they enjoy it because that's what they expect a black kid to do-dance, & shimmy, & sing soul. So he feels he is somehow reinforcing racial stereotypes: living up to the limited standards society has set out for him. He wants to be able to win the class over with his intelligence and wit, but instead finds himself dancing and shaking. It plays into the stereotype of black physicality-the mistaken idea that basketball or dance is the avenue for advancement, rather than academic achievement. James is not able to articulate all this as a child, but he knows that in some way, what he is doing is simply giving the other children what they want and expect.