suggests that when it comes to the trauma of racism Americans have not yet learned how to speak
May 14, 1998
In 1997 the BBC
invited Patricia Williams
, an American legal scholar and outspoken left-wing columnist.
, the first black woman to receive the honor, addressed her
audience in the same year that the European Union
had resolved to dedicate itself to the eradication of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism -- a resolution that Great Britain had not yet ratified at the time the lectures were announced.
Against this backdrop, unsurprisingly, the BBC's choice of Williams
sparked controversy in some quarters.
lectures hit the airwaves she
had been attacked by conservatives in the British press, who labeled her
a "militant black feminist" and protested that her
ideas should not be given such prominence.
book does not deal overtly with affirmative action (primarily because, as Williams
points out, Britain does not have programs like those in the United States), Williams makes no secret of how she
feels about current trends.
"In the context of today's ghettos, inner cities, and those places doomed to be called the Third World," she
writes in the first lecture, "I hear the word triage.
I worry about this image that casts aside so many so easily.
It envisions poor and dying populations as separate, distant, severable.
continues, "I fear triage; I fear that one cannot cut off a third of the world without some awful, life-threatening bleeding in the rest of the body politic."
Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University, is the author of two previous books, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (1991) and The Rooster's Egg: On the Persistence of Prejudice (1995), both published by Harvard University Press.
A contributing editor and a columnist for The Nation, Williams is also a frequent commentator on National Public Radio and has written for many publications, among them The New York Times, The New Yorker,Ms.,The Village Voice, Civilization, and others.
spoke recently with Atlantic Unbound 's Wen Stephenson.
From Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race
The book opens with an anecdote about your son's being misdiagnosed as (literally) color-blind.
The well-meaning teachers in his
nursery school had taught the children that "it makes no difference" what color you are, and it seems your son took this quite literally, so that he
resisted identifying color at all.
Read an excerpt from Seeing
a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race
, by Patricia Williams