Columbia University law professor Williams laments the state of public debate in America. Williams argues that it is virtually impossible to discuss rationally such topics as affirmative action, racism, sexism, or sexual harassment because the terms of discourse have been so debased by politicians, talk-show hosts, and other molders of public opinion. In fact, she writes, Americans themselves are being robbed of their individuality and transformed into symbols. Though her critique is wide-ranging, Williams focuses especially on racism and poverty, saying that poor, single black women have become a symbol of all poverty, to the degree that they are blamed for its existence. In this new mythology, she writes, ``not poverty but poor people . . . are considered the enemy,'' and America has become ``disinvested in the humanity of poor children.'' Instead of addressing problems, ``the nation has let itself off the hook by espousing simple-minded homilies as cures for complex political problems of race and class.'' Williams mixes personal anecdotes as a black woman and single mother with scholarly analysis as she considers such topics as Rush Limbaugh, Clarence Thomas, and the debates over multiculturalism, political correctness, affirmative action, and family values. But her use of jargon and a tendency to ramble sometimes make her arguments difficult to follow. In general, however, she makes a convincing case for the importance of discarding homilies and symbols, ``listening across boundaries,'' and attempting to appreciate the nuances of individual lives, regardless of color, culture, or economic status. Blaming the victims rather than exploring the origins of such phenomena as poverty and racism is easy and popular but wrong, argues Williams. Like the egg a rooster claims as his own, she says, matters are often more complicated than some people would have us believe.
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