Color Blind

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy on 2019-11-12 19:02Z by Steven

Color Blind

The Nation
2019-11-11

Ismail Muhammad, Reviews Editor
The Believer


Charts for testing color blindness. (Wellcome Collection)

Thomas Chatterton Williams’s argument against race.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race (New York: W. W. Norton, 2019)

Early in Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella Passing, Clare Kendry speaks nervously of her daughter Margery’s birth. “I nearly died of terror the whole nine months before Margery was born,” she confesses. She is, for all intents and purposes, a white woman married to a wealthy white man. Yet she finds herself fearing that her child’s birth will reveal her for what she is: a black woman who passes for white. If a child of Clare’s came out dark, it would be evidence of her passing. Luckily, Margery was born fair skinned. “Thank goodness, she turned out all right.”

A similar scene unfolds at the beginning of Thomas Chatterton Williams’s new memoir, Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race. In 2013, Williams—the son of a white woman and a black man—and his white French wife are living in Paris when she gives birth to their daughter, Marlow. Like Margery, Marlow arrives with fair skin. But this is not a comfort to Williams; instead, it comes as a shock. “It took my sluggish mind a moment to register and sort the sounds; and then it hit me that [the doctor] was looking at my daughter’s head and reporting back that it was blond,” he recalls.

Unlike Clare’s child, Williams’s blond baby is not the cause of relief but of psychic agitation. For Williams, she’s a portal into a new conception of his own racial identity. “I was aware…however vaguely, that whatever personal identity I had previously inhabited, I had now crossed into something new and different,” he writes. While Williams had long considered himself black, Marlow’s arrival unsettled his assumptions about how real race is to begin with. “The sight of this blond-haired, blue-eyed, impossibly fair-skinned child shocked me—along with the knowledge that she was indubitably mine,” he writes. How can the world consider this child black, and what does it say about his racial identity that he has fathered her? Even more important, his daughter’s birth raises a set of deeper existential and political questions. What does it say about race that some of the key assumptions that buttress Western conceptions of racial identity—that one’s skin color can tell us one’s race, for instance—dissolve in the face of reality’s manifold intricacies?…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , ,

Illusions: A Film by Julie Dash

Posted in Media Archive, Philosophy, United States, Videos, Women on 2019-11-03 02:45Z by Steven

Illusions: A Film by Julie Dash

Women Make Movies
1983
34 minutes
BW
16mm/DVD
Order No. 99306

Julie Dash, Director/Writer

This critically acclaimed drama from filmmaker Julie Dash (Daughers of the Dust) takes place in 1942 at a fictitious Hollywood motion picture studio.

The time is 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor; the place is National Studios, a fictitious Hollywood motion picture studio. Mignon Duprée, a Black woman studio executive who appears to be white and Ester Jeeter, an African American woman who is the singing voice for a white Hollywood star are forced to come to grips with a society that perpetuates false images as status quo. This highly-acclaimed drama by one of the leading African American women directors follows Mignon’s dilemma, Ester’s struggle and the use of cinema in wartime Hollywood: three illusions in conflict with reality.

For more information, click here.

Tags: ,

Can Americans Unlearn Race?

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2019-10-16 01:51Z by Steven

Can Americans Unlearn Race?

American Interest
2019-10-15

Morten Høi Jensen


“Willie and Holcha” by William H. Johnson (Wikimedia Commons)

In his lucid new memoir, Thomas Chatterton Williams channels Albert Camus and James Baldwin—and offers a thoughtful counterpoint to the tired racial dogmas of both Right and Left.

Reflecting on why he decided to leave America for Europe, James Baldwin once explained that he wanted to “find out in what way the specialness of my experience could be made to connect me with other people instead of dividing me from them.” The racism of American society in the late 1940s prohibited him from doing so at home, where he was always “merely a Negro.” Only by going abroad could he find the freedom to really ask himself what it meant to be black, to be American, to be African-American. By encountering people so different from himself, Baldwin wrote, he felt at last “a shattering in me of preconceptions I scarcely knew I held.” The constraints of American notions of race and identity were loosened by the existence of entirely different notions. “The time has come,” Baldwin decided, “for us to examine ourselves, but we can only do this if we are willing to free ourselves of the myth of America and try to find out what is really happening here.”

The American writer Thomas Chatterton Williams has followed in the footsteps of Baldwin’s Parisian emigration. Raised in suburban New Jersey by a white mother and black father, Williams grew up thinking of himself not as half-white or of mixed race but as “black, period.” In his literary debut, Losing My Cool (2010), he recounted an adolescence suffused with hip-hop culture and received ideas about a particular kind of black identity. In high school, in the mid-to-late 1990s, Williams strode the hallways with a sweatshop’s worth of flashy apparel, paid homage to the gods of BET, and lived by the dubious moral code of the Big Tymers and Master P. At the local basketball court, he was awestruck by a player known as RaShawn, who sipped Olde English before games, kept in his pocket a knot of bills “as thick and layered as a Spanish onion,” and often resorted to viciously beating up his opponents. “He was like a star to me,” Williams admitted…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , , ,

How to become an ex-black man

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2019-10-16 01:25Z by Steven

How to become an ex-black man

The Washington Post
2019-10-11

Carlos Lozada, Book Critic

Protesters march in the street in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 20, 2014. (Jeff Roberson, File)
Protesters march in the street in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 20, 2014. (Jeff Roberson, File)

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race
By Thomas Chatterton Williams. Norton. 174 pp. $25.95

Thomas Chatterton Williams has seen the future, and he is it.

The son of a mother who is “unambiguously white” and a father whom none has described as “anything other than black,” Williams grew up in middle-class New Jersey suburbia, where he sought to assert his black identity through hip-hop, basketball and BET. Blackness, and America’s racial binary, became “so fundamental to my self-conception that I’d never rigorously reflected on its foundations,” he writes.

But now Williams has reflected, and he finds blackness lacking. Not just blackness but whiteness, too, and any divisions and hierarchies based on race or color, those resilient constructs to which Americans attach such weight. Williams, a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, has come to see himself as an “ex-black man,” a transformation he contemplates in a thoughtful yet frustrating memoir, “Self-Portrait in Black and White.” The precipitating force was the birth of his daughter, Marlow, who entered the world with blond hair, light skin and “a pair of inky-blue irises that I knew even then would lighten considerably but never turn brown.”

Upon seeing her, Williams realizes that “whatever personal identity I had previously inhabited, I had now crossed into something new and different.” It is for Marlow, and because of her, that Williams comes to embrace the “fluidity of racial borders.” To that end, he painstakingly reconsiders just about every potentially relevant aspect of his life — his relationships, his distant relatives, his DNA test (39.9 percent sub-Saharan, 58.7 percent European), his elementary school days, the shape of his face, even a single strand of light hair emanating from his clavicle — as part of his attempt at “outgrowing the bounds and divisions of identity, of touching the universal.”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Race to the finish

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2019-10-16 00:16Z by Steven

Race to the finish

The Spectator
2019-10-15

J. Oliver Conroy

chatterton
Protesters in Chicago on the 50th anniversary of the killing of Martin Luther King

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race by Thomas Chatterton Williams reviewed

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race
Thomas Chatterton Williams
W. W. Norton & Company, pp.192, $25.95

‘I have observed,’ Joseph Addison wrote in 1711 in the first article in the first issue of the first version of The Spectator, ‘that a Reader seldom peruses a Book with Pleasure, ’till he knows whether the Writer of it be a black or a fair Man, of a mild or cholerick Disposition, Married or a Batchelor, with other Particulars of the like nature, that conduce very much to the right understanding of an Author.’

Thomas Chatterton Williams has earned a reputation as a tough, thoughtful and genuinely interesting commentator on race. In an influential 2015 essay in the London Review of Books, he criticized Ta-Nehisi Coates for discounting the individual autonomy of black Americans. In a 2017 op-ed for the New York Times he argued that the essentialism of leftist identity politics is dangerously similar to that of white nationalism.

Williams’s first book, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd (2010), was a memoir of growing up as the son of a white mother and a black father from the segregated South. His extraordinary, self-taught father filled their small house with thousands of books and tutored his sons daily to ensure they would succeed…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , ,

Black No More?

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2019-10-15 23:57Z by Steven

Black No More?

Los Angeles Review of Books
2019-10-15

Cinque Henderson

LAST NOVEMBER, Thomas Chatterton Williams appeared on a podcast with four other black intellectuals who had gathered to discuss the state of race relations in America. Together, the men, who included Brown University economist Glenn Loury and Columbia University linguist John McWhorter, comprised an “all-star” team of what in our crude political nomenclature might be called black conservatives, though at least one of them confessed to voting for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. They were not there to discuss the nature of affirmative action or racial inequality, but rather to discuss how those types of things get discussed: an hour-and-a-half-long discourse on racial discourse in the United States called “On Anti-Racism.” They seemed to agree on many things, especially the failures of #BlackLivesMatter, but their central concern was that that there is no hope of getting past racism in this country as long as commentators on the left keep calling things racist when there are more complicated explanations at play. As a listener, I was not entirely unsympathetic to this view.

If there was an intellectual nemesis in the conversation, it was Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose blistering polemics on the intractable and unchanging nature of racism has dominated racial discourse over the past six years. If there was a political nemesis, it was perhaps DeRay McKesson, the de facto leader of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and maybe Barack Obama, who came in for a mild rebuke, even though I don’t think any of them harbors any particular animus toward the former president. The conversation was fascinating, frustrating, enlightening, bizarre (at one point McWhorter asked, “Why should I care that a certain number of whites are racist?”), but ultimately it was less than satisfying — the format hopelessly ill-suited to the type of ambitious, boundary-expanding discussions these men were interested in having. Williams’s new book, Self-Portrait in Black and White, represents a better medium for such ambition. It is equally bizarre…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , ,

How Moving to France and Having Children Led a Black American to Rethink Race

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Philosophy on 2019-10-15 00:07Z by Steven

How Moving to France and Having Children Led a Black American to Rethink Race

The New York Times
2019-10-14

Andrew Solomon


Eiko Ojala

SELF-PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE: Unlearning Race
By Thomas Chatterton Williams

Thomas Chatterton Williams is the son of a black father and a white mother, but grew up identifying as black on the basis that even one drop of black blood defines a person as belonging to that often besieged minority. His father claimed that his mother was a black woman at heart, and brought up his son to oppose the implicit racism of passing, though Williams has a complexion more tanned than sub-Saharan, and is often mistaken for an Arab in France, where he lives. Williams married a white woman and both their children were born with blond hair and blue eyes. Are they, too, black by the one-drop rule? In questioning their determinative race, he has plumbed not only his own but also the complexity of racial identity for people outside the prevalent white/nonwhite binary.

Williams, a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, is well educated, intellectually sophisticated and prosperous, and he tries to limn the complex relationship between race and class, to figure out where racism is classism and where classism is racism, an almost Escher-like maze as snobbery casts a thin veil over racial hatred and vice versa. Williams can say, “I do not feel myself to be a victim — not in any collectively accessible way.” He is unabashedly the product of a society that champions diversity and encourages people of color to think in terms of identity politics, but he opposes racial essentialism and is an exponent of compromise on some of the niceties of political correctness. He fears the integration that will be available to his blond daughter, Marlow, enabling her to erase aspects of her identity, but he also decries the segregating intolerances that come from both the majority and the minorities…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , ,

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, Philosophy on 2019-10-14 23:53Z by Steven

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race

W. W. Norton
2019-10-15
192 pages
5.5 × 8.3 in
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-393-60886-1

Thomas Chatterton Williams

A meditation on race and identity from one of our most provocative cultural critics.

A reckoning with the way we choose to see and define ourselves, Self-Portrait in Black and White is the searching story of one American family’s multigenerational transformation from what is called black to what is assumed to be white. Thomas Chatterton Williams, the son of a “black” father from the segregated South and a “white” mother from the West, spent his whole life believing the dictum that a single drop of “black blood” makes a person black. This was so fundamental to his self-conception that he’d never rigorously reflected on its foundations—but the shock of his experience as the black father of two extremely white-looking children led him to question these long-held convictions.

“It is not that I have come to believe that I am no longer black or that my daughter is white,” Williams writes. “It is that these categories cannot adequately capture either of us.” Beautifully written and bound to upset received opinions on race, Self-Portrait in Black and White is an urgent work for our time.

Note from Steven F. Riley: See Chatterton Williams’ article “Black and Blue and Blond” in the Volume 91, Number 1 (Winter 2015) edition of the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Tags: ,

Changing Race, Changing Sex: The Ethics of Self‐Transformation

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, Social Science on 2019-09-29 17:12Z by Steven

Changing Race, Changing Sex: The Ethics of Self‐Transformation

Journal of Social Philosophy
Volume 37, Issue 2 (Summer 2006)
pages 266-282
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9833.2006.00332.x

Cressida J. Heyes, Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality
University of Alberta, Edmonton

Cover image

Every year when I teach an introductory course in feminist philosophy, I see individual women and men drastically rethinking their previous understandings of gender and race, and of their own place in a gendered and racialized world. Often as a part of this rethinking, we struggle over what an ethical life amounts to; ethical, that is, in the sense of being responsive and responsible to one’s relation to others, and to the work one does on oneself.1 To talk in this way of the self as, at least in part, self-making, presumes another set of questions about the very possibility of changing oneself. So, for example, feminists are not only interested in establishing who to count as “women” with regard to some already foundational definition, but also in troubling and transforming the definition itself—in part through changing ourselves.

To address these simultaneously ontological and ethical questions, we need to ask what makes it possible to change one’s identity—and not just incrementally within a defined category (e.g., as by becoming a more assertive woman through feminist consciousness raising), but also more drastically. Specifically, what are those people who “change sex” undertaking, and what makes sex into the kind of thing that can be changed? How is changing sex different from “passing”—the phenomenon central to the histories of both race and sex, in which one is read as, or actively pretends to be, something that one avowedly is not? It is in light of questions like the above that my interest in identity categories extends to asking: what makes a particular facet of identity into something the individual can transform? And what implications do answers to this question have for all our ethical lives?…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

Book Reviews: Self-Portrait in Black and White

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2019-09-26 01:31Z by Steven

Book Reviews: Self-Portrait in Black and White

Tablet
2019-09-24

Daniel Oppenheimer

Curtain Gradient

The rewards of subordinating racial or ethnic identity, in the new memoiristic essay by the author of ‘Losing My Cool

Thomas Chatterton Williams’ new book, Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race, is a few things. It’a memoiristic follow-up to his first book, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd; a meditation on what it means for a black man to discover that he’s fathered white children; and an impassioned argument for rejecting the whole modern paradigm of black and white.

It’s also, I think, an effort to answer for himself one of the essential questions that many older liberals, who were formed before the rise of identity politics, simply can’t answer or even adequately ask. What does one get in return for subordinating one’s racial or ethnic identity? Folks like Mark Lilla, Francis Fukuyama, Sam Harris, Laura Kipnis, Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Chait, and Jonathan Haidt are on the front lines of the present culture war making compelling arguments that our society needs shared values and narratives to sustain itself, that collectively it is in our best interests to privilege our commonalities over our differences. They’re not, however, providing interesting or persuasive psychological answers to why any given individual would be moved to let his or her racial or ethnic identity attenuate when it is actively providing strength and solace. Or why young people, not yet fully formed, would abstain from the identities that are not just au courant but manifestly powerful in their capacity to compel deference or compliance from the establishment. They’re not offering a new synthesis that incorporates some of the insights and aesthetics of identity politics. They’re mostly arguing for a return to the previous liberal synthesis…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , ,