Cultural Critic, Author & New York Times Contributing Writer
A cultural critic for extraordinary times, Thomas Chatterton Williams brings his insightful perspective to subjects of race, Black identity and history, cancel culture, social justice and inequality in America and the world. His thought-provoking talks touch upon some of the most urgent issues confronting American culture today—intertwined with his own family’s compelling multigenerational story of transformation from what is called Black to what is perceived to be white. Read More >
Has Cancel Culture Gone Too Far? | Amanpour and Company
On Race | Bill Maher
On Cancel Culture and Race | Bill Maher
“It is not that I have come to believe that I am no longer Black or that my daughter is white,” Williams wrote in his standout memoir, Self-Portrait in Black and White. “It is that these categories cannot adequately capture either of us.” Through the story of his own family’s multigenerational transformation from what is called Black to what is assumed to be white, Williams questions the very foundation of how we choose to see and define ourselves. With ample references to America’s “maddening and inspiring racial history,” Williams challenges audiences to reject socially dominant categories of race. Inspiring us to think outside social constructs, he boldly examines race, racism and identity through the engaging power of personal narrative and insightful cultural commentary.
As a student, Thomas Chatterton Williams felt uncomfortable during Black History Month. While he recalled a “patronizing feeling” and a lack of respect shown by white classmates toward the content, he could not fully articulate the root of his unease until many years later. In this provocative talk, drawn from his noted Wall Street Journal essay, Williams calls on all of us to move past the well-meaning Month and toward achieving authentic antiracism—an antiracism that ultimately demands we think beyond the racial categories that prejudice and hierarchy thrive on instead of fashionably reinforcing them. “If we care about solving the racial dilemma once and for all, we should first strive to create a society in which Black people, and by extension, all other identity groups are not considered and celebrated as different,” he writes. “We need to arrive at a psychological place where we no longer require a Black History Month.” Contending that the history of Black Americans should be taught as a central part of U.S. history, not set aside and contemplated in isolation, Williams envisions a society that has moved beyond the binary of Black and white by transcending the very concept of race itself.
There are moments in history that can define a generation. As Woodstock shaped the Boomers and 9-11 molded Generation X, Thomas Chatterton Williams examines how the Summer of 2020—the Summer of George Floyd—is on track to define the culture, outlook and hopes of Generation Z. In this insightful talk, Williams unpacks the unparalleled confluence of race and pandemic that spurred a perfect storm of social awareness and upheaval. From COVID shining a harsh spotlight on health and economic disparities to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police, Williams scrutinizes a season of history that has forever changed America—leaving an indelible impression on those that are coming of age during this time.
By now, most of us are familiar with “cancel culture,” a form of ostracism in which someone is thrown out or “cancelled” from social or professional circles because of objectionable opinions or behaviors. Thomas Chatterton Williams was one of its earliest and most ardent critics, helping draft and organize the landmark “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” that appeared in Harper’s Magazine. Signed by more than a hundred notable authors, academics and intellectuals, the letter condemned an atmosphere of creeping censoriousness and illiberalism for constricting “the free exchange of information and ideas” and creating “an intolerance of opposing views and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” Williams addresses the danger to ideological diversity and debate that cancel culture poses, its chilling effect on experimentation and risk taking, and the threats to free speech in our cultural institutions that it creates.
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