Author preaches merits of discourse on race, discusses pub incident
Patricia Williams describes herself as "an anxious mother, a worrier by habit, and therefore a pretty decent lawyer."
During Friday's Common Hour lecture "Eradicating Prejudice," Williams addressed the need for communication between different groups of people, drawing upon personal anecdotes from her life as a lawyer, professor, and "practioner of the dark art of liberal bias."
Williams is currently a professor of law at the Columbia University School of Law, and in the past has been a practicing consumer attorney and a deputy city attorney. The recipient of the MacAuthur Foundation "genius" grant, Williams has written numerous "brave, leftist articles" for scholarly journals and news sources, and has written two books, The Alchemy of Race and Rights and Seeing a Color Blind Future: The Paradox of Race.
Williams began her talk by addressing the recent racial controversies facing the Bowdoin community, extending both "her sympathies and congratulations" for confronting such a "thorny" issue. She mentioned several factors that could have contributed to the series of racially-charged events which took place on February 12 at Jack Magee's Pub, including alcohol consumption and scheduling conflicts.
Williams said the true root of the problem was likely to be resentment on campus. She went on to share her perspective on the issue of racial tension, touching on her own past experiences with communication barriers and prejudice.
"When not consumed by my many official duties as a politically-correct, femi-nazi, black, single mother," Williams began her story, "I like poetry, walking on the beach at sunset, and traveling to new places."
She continued with a humorous tale of the "dinner party from hell," an evening when she found herself amid hostile conservative company. She recalls being seated next to the head of a local Federalist society, whose "position of legal issues," she explained, "fly as far to opposite extreme of everything I believe in as possible under the cosmos." While attending such a dinner party challenged her sensibilities and resulted in occasions of unpleasant discourse, Williams went on to stress the importance of people stepping outside their comfort zones and embracing difference.
In her discussion of prejudice and stereotypes, Williams said, "I think being stereotyped is a bit like living in a state of perpetual victimization by identity thieves." She believes that at some point, all people "tend to pretend a bit," and they seek a sense of belonging and acceptance. She explained, "We all translate between one group or another depending on who we're with." Williams expressed her belief that most people are forced into conformity on some level. "Too many of us are weary pilgrims, nostalgic for a place where we are known but that we have never known," she said.
Williams continually emphasized the need for communication, especially between disparate groups. She stressed the value of forums in which issues of conflict can be addressed. "Being in a space together is part art," she said. "It's also part healing art whose end is to repair alienation and restore integrity."
"Real candor across race and class boundaries simply doesn't emerge without a great deal of time, effort, anger, and ultimately trust," she said.
Members of a college community such as Bowdoin have the necessary motivation and resources to open such a channel of communication. If there is one lesson that Williams' past experiences have impressed on her, it is that "you have to make good, strong bridges in this world."
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