Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race

Norton. Oct. 2019. 208p. notes. ISBN 9780393608861. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393608878. SOC SCI
New York Times Magazine contributing writer Williams (Losing My Cool) probes his own experiences and ponders the future of his biracial daughter, Marlow, to explore dimensions of personal and group identity. He excoriates the social construction of “race,” illustrating its illusions by parsing what he considers to be an anachronistic and fading lexicon that the black-white conceptual binary of the one-drop rule has imposed. The essentialism of groups such as “blacks” and “whites,” or of conceptions such as a “black sensibility” or “black culture,” exposes illogical racial classifications, he maintains. Williams also insists that counterproductive fictions confuse labels with lived experience and reduce individuals from actualities to abstractions. Arguing for transformational exchange in order to break the tortuous cycle of racial determinism, Williams asserts the self-healing potential to renounce race and transcend racism at an interpersonal level.
VERDICT Provocative in its review of and reflections on race and racism amid continuing de facto segregation, this work argues that personal identity does not exist as a checked box. It promises to appeal to readers willing at least to consider unlearning race so as to imagine a future without it and advance his vision of a multigenerational transformation of social repair.

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