Books by Patricia J. Williams

RABBIT by Patricia J. Williams
Released: Aug. 22, 2017

"Sassy, inspiring, and uplifting."
An African-American female comedian recounts how she escaped poverty and a life of crime to become a respected performer. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 8, 2004

"Tough and challenging ideas couched in disarming prose."
Legal scholar and Nation columnist Williams offers a stimulating mix of reminiscences and finely honed arguments as she tries to answer the question a friend once posed: Who is the one person she could never be? Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1998

These five related essays, originally given as the 1997 BBC Reith Lectures, showcase the subtle thinking of Columbia University law professor Williams (The Rooster's Egg, 1995). The notion of a "color-blind" society, in which everyone is judged by their performance and behavior, rather than by their racial makeup, is one of the clichÇs of American political discourse, wielded by both right and left. Williams tells her audience at the outset of this slender but immensely suggestive volume that "I embrace color-blindness as a legitimate hope for the future, [but] I worry that we tend to enshrine the notion with a kind of utopianism whose naivetÇ will ensure its elusiveness." Williams dissects with a scalpel-sharp wit the many layers of paradox at the heart of the American (and English) racial divide. Despite the subtitle, the racial question is not one paradox but a fabric woven of many paradoxes. Among the paradoxes she highlights are the plight of African-Americans poised between two poles—the hypervisibility of being scapegoated and the oblivion of social neglect; the O.J. Simpson case being used as a crude parody of racial dialogue; the strange fact that "whiteness" is never coded as race but treated as normative. Williams readily admits that, unlike most pundits in this overcrowded field, she has no single, simple answer, no checklist of prescriptions, nor does she give credence to the idea of a society in which all is peace and light. Rather, she offers a commonsensical plea for empathy with the Other as the first step toward bridging the gap among white, black, red, yellow and brown. Written with an unerring eye for the thought-provoking and fresh metaphor, and with a skillful blending of personal and professional observation, this is one of the most intelligent commentaries on the vexed subject of race in many years. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

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. Read full book review >