Self-Portrait in Black and White Summary and Reviews

Self-Portrait in Black and White

Unlearning Race

by Thomas Chatterton Williams

Self-Portrait in Black and White by Thomas Chatterton Williams X
Self-Portrait in Black and White by Thomas Chatterton Williams
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  • Published Oct 2019
    192 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

A meditation on race and identity from one of our most provocative cultural critics.

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 multigenerational 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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Almost every page contains at least one sentence so resonant that it bears rereading for its impact...An insightful, indispensable memoir." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[A] provocative philosophical argument about the role of race in human identity...Regardless of whether readers agree with his conclusions, these essays are intellectually rigorous, written in fluid prose, and frequently exhilarating." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Thomas Chatterton Williams has the essential things a writer needs―command of language, complexity and depth of thought, and, maybe above all, courage. In Self-Portrait in Black and White he sticks his neck way out in pursuit of unfashionable, necessary truths. This book brings a blast of fresh air that will change your thinking about race in America." - George Packer, author of Our Man and The Unwinding

"Thomas Chatterton Williams' Self-Portrait in Black and White is a gorgeously written and deeply knowledgeable account of fatherhood, identity, and race. Tender and probing, respectful of intellectual disagreement and of the raw emotions these subjects can stir, it nevertheless proceeds fearlessly and rigorously toward his own original and challenging conclusions. This is a book that will surely provoke, inform, and move readers, regardless of where they stand on the political and philosophical divide." - Phil Klay, author of Redeployment

"This is a subtle, unsettling, and brave book. Using his own journey through life as point of departure, Thomas Chatterton Williams launches a major assault on the conventional wisdom about racial categorization in America. Not only does he envision a New World; he dares to point the way toward how we all might yet arrive on those uncharted shores." - Glenn Loury, professor of economics and faculty fellow, Watson Institute, Brown University

This information about Self-Portrait in Black and White was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Thomas Chatterton Williams Author Biography

Photo: Luke Abiol

Thomas Chatterton Williams holds a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Georgetown University and a Master’s degree from the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University. In 2007, he wrote an op-ed piece entitled “Yes, Blame Hip-Hop” for the Washington Post which generated a record-breaking number of comments. He writes for the literary magazine n+1 and currently lives in Brooklyn.

Author Interview

Other books by Thomas Chatterton Williams at BookBrowse
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