History

The Autobiography of an Ex-Black Man: Thomas Chatterton Williams

The new memoir Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race is a powerful personal statement and national call to arms.

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"I'd become an ex-black man…not because I'd ceased loving what I've been taught to call "black," or because I…wished my daughter to blend in to what I'd been taught to call "white," but simply because these categories cannot adequately capture either of us—or anyone else, for that matter. I had no guilt about it anymore because blackness, like whiteness, isn't real.

That's a passage from the new memoir Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race, by Thomas Chatterton Williams. In a world that is increasingly embracing identity politics that sort people along racial and ethnic lines, Chatterton Williams is moving in a radically different direction. His book is an explicit call to "unlearn race" and embrace individual diversity.

The 38-year-old Chatterton Williams is the author of a previous memoir, Losing My Cool. He is biracial himself and grew up in New Jersey identifying as black. He is married to a white French woman, lives in Paris, and describes how the birth of his first child—a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl—forced him to interrogate and ultimately discard ideas about identity that he and the rest of us have long taken for granted.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Chatterton Williams and Nick Gillespie talk about race relations in 21st century America; how class and gender intersect with ethnicity; and whether it's really possible to "unlearn race" in a country that has spent so much time and energy defining national character along racial lines.

Audio production by Regan Taylor and Ian Keyser.