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.


"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.

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  1. >>I had no guilt about it anymore because blackness, like whiteness, isn’t real.

    about goddam time someone with a platform says it.

    1. about goddam time someone with a platform says it.

      Amen to that.

      Just like the last time.

      And the time before that. And the one before that. And the fifty or sixty times before that. And the one before that. And the hundreds and hundreds of times before that.

      Because what we need is another self-righteous asshole prattling on about the same garbage his kind always prattle on about.

      And if you can’t see that this is just one more racist asshole in the asshole parade then you’ve torn your damned eyes out.

      1. i’m happy w/”none of it is real”

  2. He is biracial himself

    Apparently The Jacket still needs to unlearn.

  3. I was half-impressed by his calmness.

    Then he thinks reparations would go a long way towards healing society.

    Fuck off, slaver. Come back when you can define who gets them and who pays them and why. By garrrr! if someone thinks I owe them money for what someone else’s ancestors did to some other else’s ancestors, I’ll revive that old saying that if I am going to be punished for something I didn’t do, I may as well start doing it.

  4. 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

    Some of us have taken to heart the admonition to judge people by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin and tried to move past defining national character along racial lines, others persist in claiming that racism is so deep in our foundational DNA that our national character can be defined in no other way.

    It should be no surprise that the same racist political party that declared “segregation now, segregation forever” is once again rearing its ugly head and openly supporting segregation by cleverly re-defining it in terms of “safe spaces” for minorities, still defining people by the color of their skin.

    1. I think I used to be one of the most race-ignorant kids alive. But society just won’t let go,and most of it is driven by the good racists in reaction to the bad racists. I used to laugh that the best doctor / lawyer / anything was the black female one, because she had had to work twice as hard just to get a chance at proving she was good enough. Then came affirmative action, and now we’ve got all this cultural appropriation and identify politics to keep on reminding everybody how fucked we are. Whites especially keep reminding whites and blacks that only the woke whites can save the world from racism.

      Fuck ’em all.

      I’d love to have a post-racial society, but it won’t happen under woke terms. They just perpetuate it, and it’s not hard to believe they bring it up over and over just to remind themselves who is woke.

      1. >>most race-ignorant kids alive

        kept a ’75 Dusty Baker card in my pencil box and told everyone he was my uncle … until some kid told me he can’t be, because …

  5. He needs to be prepared for woke Twitter mobs to denounce him as a race traitor in 3… 2… 1

    1. He impregnated a hot white chick. That will earn him some obligatory respect.

  6. Uh oh, Ta Nehisi Coates is gonna write an essay on this.

  7. Gillespie needs to learn to let people talk without so many interruptions.

  8. I enjoyed the first half of the interview. But then he started in on the reparations bit and we grew apart. By the end, I found myself not liking him much at all.

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