Part of a Larger Battle: A Conversation with Thomas Chatterton Williams

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2020-07-17 14:44Z by Steven

Part of a Larger Battle: A Conversation with Thomas Chatterton Williams

Los Angeles Review of Books

Otis Houston
Portland, Oregon

Thomas Chatterton Williams

I FIRST INTERVIEWED Thomas Chatterton Williams for the Los Angeles Review of Books in the spring of 2019. We discussed his then-forthcoming book, Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race, as well as the state of the discussion about race in in the United States, including the popular movements for social justice born of the increased visibility of the killings of black Americans by police.

I recently spoke with Thomas again about what has changed in the way we talk about race and identity. We also discussed the effects of the collision of social justice theories with art and institutions, and the best-selling books that are now influencing the national mood and tracing the borders of generational and ideological difference in the United States in 2020.

Thomas is a contributing editor at The New York Times and a columnist at Harper’s. He spoke to me by phone from his home in Paris, France. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

OTIS HOUSTON: At about this time last year we discussed Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race. One of your main arguments was that, in order to transcend racism and the social hierarchies it imposes, we have to commit to rejecting the very concept of race and its centrality in determining our identities.

One year later, in a time of mass protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, it seems to me like we’re seeing the media and some of the most prominent voices in the antiracism movement moving further away from the view of race and identity you’ve been advocating for. Increasingly, they argue that effective opposition to racism requires racial identity to always be foremost in our minds, both in the way we view politics and society and in our daily interactions with one another. This ideological movement is perhaps most visible in the books How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, which have topped best-seller lists for weeks now. How would you describe this shift in thinking?

THOMAS CHATTERTON WILLIAMS: I see that as kind of a lamentable movement, actually. The two books that have dominated the conversation — and I mean dominated — are books that brook no middle ground and occlude any nuance. Robin DiAngelo’s central thesis, for instance, is that white people function not as individuals, but as a category, as a monolith that is inherently racist. According to her, to deny that you’re racist as a white person is proof of your racism, and to admit that you’re racist as a white person is proof of your racism, and the circular logic is airtight…

Read the entire interview here.

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William flips her onto her stomach, and then he’s inside her breathing hotly into her ear, telling her that fucking her is just like fucking a black girl without having to fuck a black girl.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-01-17 01:00Z by Steven

William kneels between Sarah’s thighs. He uses a condom. He doesn’t know where the stripper has been. He practices some of the lingo he has learned from years of listening to rap music. “I’ve wanted to get all up in that since the day I first saw you, Sierra. I love your phat ass.” Sarah moans and heaves, reaches for her cell phone on the coffee table. It is just beyond her reach. William flips her onto her stomach, and then he’s inside her breathing hotly into her ear, telling her that fucking her is just like fucking a black girl without having to fuck a black girl. He smacks her thigh and tells her to do as Lil Jon instructs and bounce, bounce, bounce that ass.

Roxane Gay, “La Negra Blanca,” The Collagist: Online literature from Dzanc Books, Issue Three (October 2009).

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La Negra Blanca

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2017-01-10 01:45Z by Steven

La Negra Blanca

The Collagist: Online literature from Dzanc Books
Issue Three (October 2009)

Roxane Gay, Associate Professor of English
Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

At the club, Sarah goes by Sierra. The manager gave her the name the day she was hired four years earlier. He asked if she had a preference but she shrugged, took a sip of warm soda, told him to knock himself out. He looked her up and down and up again. “Sierra,” he said. “So you’ll turn your head when your name is called.”

Sometimes, when she’s opening the refrigerator, or reaching into a drawer for a pair of shorts, Sarah will catch herself swiveling her hips and arching her back. Even when she’s not on the pole, she’s dancing around it. She takes a lot of Advil because even at home she’s always hearing the thump thump thump of the bass line.

Candy, her best friend at work, took one look at Sarah on her first day and told Sarah to dance to black girl booty shaking music because guys love to see white girls with juicy asses shake their stuff. Sarah blushed, and pivoted to get a better look at her ass. She said, “My ass is juicy?”

Candy laughed and grabbed a handful of Sarah’s ass, but Sarah already knew she had a juicy ass and where it came from. Her mother is black and her father is white but for years people have assumed she’s a white girl because she has green eyes and straight blonde hair. She’s not ashamed of who she is but in Baltimore it’s easier to be a white girl with a black girl’s ass than to be a black girl who looks white or any other kind of black girl for that matter…

Read the short story here.

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In Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women, you’re either difficult or you’re dead

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-01-10 01:36Z by Steven

In Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women, you’re either difficult or you’re dead


Constance Grady, Culture Writer

When Roxane Gay picks up a label, she’ll play with it, rip it apart a little, break it down, and finally embrace it. She did it in 2014 with her essay collection, Bad Feminist, which explored what it means to be a committed feminist who also likes to dance to “Blurred Lines,” who is not beholden to an ideological purity. And now she’s doing it again in her new short story collection, Difficult Women.

A difficult woman, in these stories, is usually a woman who has been hurt, typically by living under the patriarchy and under white supremacy. The injuries vary, ranging in scope from the blunt force of unimaginable trauma to the death-by-a-thousand-papercuts of daily microaggressions.

In “I Will Follow You,” the difficult woman was kidnapped by a child molester when she was 10 years old. In “La Negra Blanca,” she’s a mixed-race med student who moonlights as a stripper and is constantly fetishized by men who think of her as a white girl with a black girl’s ass. In “Best Features,” she’s a fat woman who is quietly furious at how worthless the world considers her to be…

Read the entire review here.

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What does it mean to be “black enough?” Three women explore their racial identities

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2016-12-18 23:48Z by Steven

What does it mean to be “black enough?” Three women explore their racial identities

The Washington Post

On “Historically Black,” our podcast about black history, narrator Roxane Gay introduces three new voices.

“What are you?”

“Are you adopted?”

“What are you mixed with?”

Many photos and stories submitted to “Historically Black,” The Washington Post Tumblr project, have touched on what it means to identify as a particular race and ethnic background. Throughout this project, multiple stories surfaced a theme that pointed to an ongoing internal and external conflict based on the societal criteria that deemed a person “black.” These stories identified the struggle to understand the judgment — by both black and non-black communities — based on the way one dresses, speaks and acts.

This has led to a hard, and conflicting, question: What does it mean to be “black enough” in modern America?

That’s the question Marcelle Hutchins faced ever since she, her twin sister and their mother emigrated from Cameroon to Portland, Maine. Hutchins’s mother married a white man, and together they settled in as a family. But as early as the third grade, Hutchins faced the harsh reality of integrating into American society.

“Growing up, I really struggled with my identity in America. For a long time, I often questioned, you know, who I was in this world. And I was told by a variety of different people that I didn’t fit my birthright, that I didn’t act the way I should act or the way black people should act, and because of my mannerisms I was too white,” Hutchins said.

According to Jelani Cobb, a historian and writer at the New Yorker, defining “blackness” is inherently complicated — because race is an invented category dating back to slavery, and the category can encompass a range of identities and cultures. People identify as black, African American, African, Muslim, Native American, biracial and sometimes more.

“The most kind of basic understanding is the one-drop rule, wherein people said if a person had any drop of blood, black blood, they were black. And the purposes of that were to present whiteness as a category of purity and that any tincture of African ancestry would irrevocably taint a person and remove them from the, you know, pure category of whiteness,” Cobb said. “There’s a wide range of ancestries that are included within the category of black, and so the category itself is amorphous.”…

Read the entire article here.

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