Best-Selling Author of Self Portraits in Black and White & Losing My Cool, and Cultural Critic
Thomas Chatterton Williams is an American cultural critic, contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and columnist at Harper’s. Read More >
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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 kids are white, Williams notes. It is that these categories cannot adequately capture either of them ― or anyone else, for that matter. In his compelling presentation, Thomas addresses this subject and though it is bound to upset received opinions on race — he demonstrates why it is an urgent work for our time.
Growing up, Thomas Chatterton Williams knew he loved three things in life: his parents, literature, and the intoxicating hip-hop culture that surrounded him. For years, he managed to juggle two disparate lifestyles, "keeping it real" in his friends' eyes and studying for the SATs under his father's strict tutelage ― until it all threatened to spin out of control. In this compelling presentation, Losing My Cool portrays the allure and danger of hip-hop culture with the authority of a true fan who's lived through it all, while demonstrating the saving grace of literature and the power of the bond between father and son.
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