Self-Portrait in Black and White
Thomas Chatterton Williams
A SUNDAY TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
A TIME ‘MUST-READ’
‘An extraordinarily thought-provoking memoir that makes a controversial contribution to the fraught debate on race and racism . . . intellectually stimulating and compelling’ SUNDAY TIMES
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 multi-generational 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 he has come to believe that he is no longer black or that his daughter is white, Williams notes. It is that these categories cannot adequately capture either of them – or anyone else, for that matter. Beautifully written and bound to upset received opinions on race, Self-Portrait in Black and White is an urgent work for our time.
This book brings a blast of fresh air that will change your thinking about race * George Packer, author of The Unwinding * There have been a slew of books this year about racism and white privilege, pretty much saying the same thing at different volumes of indignation. This slim book is different. A mixed-race American, Thomas Chatterton Williams had to rethink what being black meant when he held his baby daughter for the first time: she was blonde, blue-eyed and pale-skinned. This humane essay is an attempt to move beyond our obsession with race and skin colour * The Times (Saturday Review), Politics and Current Affairs Book of the Year 2020 * [Williams] is so honest and fresh in his observations, so skillful at blending his own story with larger principles, that it is hard not to admire him. At a time of increasing division, his philosophizing evinces an underlying generosity. He reaches both ways across the aisle of racism, arguing above all for reciprocity, and in doing so begins to theorize the temperate peace of which all humanity is sorely in need * New York Times Book Review * An elegantly rendered and trenchantly critical reflection on 'race' and identity: one that is perfectly suited to our time. This is a subtle, unsettling, and brave book * Glenn Loury, professor of economics and faculty fellow, Watson Institute, Brown University * An energizing book by one of the greatest writers of our time * Yascha Mounk, author of The People vs. Democracy * A standout memoir that digs into vital contemporary questions of race and self-image . . . succeeds spectacularly for three main reasons: the author's relentlessly investigative thought process, consistent candor, and superb writing style. Almost every page contains at least one sentence so resonant that it bears rereading for its impact . . . An insightful, indispensable memoir * Kirkus (starred review) * A provocative philosophical argument about the role of race in human identity . . . intellectually rigorous, written in fluid prose, and frequently exhilarating * Publishers Weekly (starred) * An elegant and sharp-eyed writer . . . In a publishing environment where analyses of race tend to call out white fragilities and catalogue historical injustices, Self-Portrait in Black and White is a counterintuitive, courageous addition * Washington Post * A fluent, captivating, if often disquieting story . . . We witness Williams on a journey of both self-discovery and self-creation, and his memoir is most valuable as a way deeper into, as opposed to a way out of, race talk * Harper's * An extraordinarily thought-provoking memoir that makes a controversial contribution to the fraught debate on race and racism . . . This book certainly takes the reader on an intellectually stimulating journey and makes a compelling case for a postracial future * Sunday Times * This humane essay is an attempt to move beyond our obsession with race and skin colour * The Times *
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