Seeing a Color-Blind Future The Paradox of Race

Patricia J. Williams

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

84 Pages



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In these five eloquent and passionate pieces (which she gave as the prestigious Reith Lectures for the BBC) Patricia J. Williams asks how we might achieve a world where "color doesn't matter"—where whiteness is not equated with normalcy and blackness with exoticism and danger. Drawing on her own experience, Williams delineates the great divide between "the poles of other people's imagination and the nice calm center of oneself where dignity resides," and discusses how it might be bridged as a first step toward resolving racism. Williams offers us a new starting point—"a sensible and sustained consideration"—from which we might begin to deal honestly with the legacy and current realities of our prejudices.


Praise for Seeing a Color-Blind Future

"This powerful text examines the everyday realities of race in such a powerful and poignant way that we can never fall back on the myth of color blindness even as we transcend race in our quest for humane ends and aims."—Cornel West

"Seeing a Color-Blind Future is a slender book that challenges us to dream the biggest dream--a deep democracy in which we see ourselves in each other. Patricia Williams instills it with her gifts of intelligent rage, compassion, and hope."—Gloria Steinem

"Some forty years ago, James Baldwin informed White America: 'We know more about you than you know about us.' Today, Patricia Williams sets out to repair this failing, this retardedness, that, unless recognized, may become the wound that will not heal. With acerbic wit, easy grace, and telling anecdote, she offers a remedy: our native intelligence."—Studs Terkel

"These five related essays, originally given as the 1997 BBC Reith Lectures, showcase the subtle thinking of Columbia University law professor Williams. The notion of a 'color-blind' society, in which everyone is judged by their performance and behavior, rather than by their racial makeup, is one of the cliches of American political discourse, wielded by both right and left. Williams tells her audience at the outset of this slender but immensely suggestive volume that 'I embrace color-blindness as a legitimate hope for the future, [but] I worry that we tend to enshrine the notion with a kind of utopianism whose naivety will ensure its elusiveness.' Williams dissects with a scalpel-sharp wit the many layers of paradox at the heart of the American (and English) racial divide. Despite the subtitle, the racial question is not one paradox but a fabric woven of many paradoxes. Among the paradoxes she highlights are the plight of African-Americans poised between two poles—the hypervisibility of being scapegoated and the oblivion of social neglect; the O.J. Simpson case being used as a crude parody of racial dialogue; the strange fact that 'whiteness' is never coded as race but treated as normative. Williams readily admits that, unlike most pundits in this overcrowded field, she has no single, simple answer, no checklist of prescriptions, nor does she give credence to the idea of a society in which all is peace and light. Rather, she offers a commonsensical plea for empathy with the Other as the first step toward bridging the gap among white, black, red, yellow and brown. Written with an unerring eye for the thought-provoking and fresh metaphor, and with a skillful blending of personal and professional observation, this is one of the most intelligent commentaries on the vexed subject of race in many years."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Patricia J. Williams

  • Patricia J. Williams is a columnist ("Diary of a Mad Lawyer," The Nation), and a professor of law at Columbia University. Her previous books are The Rooster's Egg and The Alchemy of Race and Rights. She also contributes regularly to Ms. and The Village Voice.

  • Patricia J. Williams Copyright Gasper Tringale