Patricia J. Williams

Columnist and Professor of Law, Columbia University

What is the meaning of race in America today? How might we understand the complex interrelationship of race, gender, class, and culture? And how does this matrix of cultural meanings affect our view of law and legal institutions? Racism, Patricia Williams has written, is an enormously subtle perceptual matter. Understanding its conventions involves figuring out how to insinuate one's way through all sorts of well-guarded social hierarchies Finding a door in is a trick of social vision as much as it is of legal remedy or political recourse. Professor Williams opens that door by offering us a rich and distinctive vision of this cultural and legal landscape, a vision in which legal concepts and cases are understood through the kaleidoscopic lens of popular culture, personal experience, and an underlying commitment to the shimmering brilliance of our common, ordinary humanity.

Patricia J. Williams (J.D. Harvard Univ. 75, B.A. Wellesley 72) is the James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. After graduating from law school, she worked for several years as a Deputy City Attorney in Los Angeles and as a staff attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty before entering teaching. She has been on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin School of Law, the City University of New York Law School, and the Golden Gate University School of Law. She was a visiting professor of women's studies at Harvard University, a visiting professor of law at Stanford Law School, and a visiting scholar at Duke University and at Stanford's Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Professor Williams has held fellowships at the School of Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth College, the Humanities Research Institute of the University of California at Irvine, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. At present, she serves on the boards of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Society of American Law Teachers. She has received honorary degrees from Northeastern University and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is also a winner of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Professor Williams has published widely in both scholarly journals and the popular press on issues of gender, race, law, and legal theory. Her books include: The Alchemy of Race and Rights; The Rooster's Egg; and Seeing a Colorblind Future: The Paradox of Race. She also participates in public dialogue over current issues through her column in The Nation and her many radio and television appearances. Her work, both scholarly and popular, is noted for its blend of rigorous analysis and trenchant social criticism and its beauty of langue. Professor Williams reads legal and cultural artifacts as text on the meanings of race and gender in our society. Her sensitive and nuanced readings reject the oversimplified terms that confine our public dialogue about these issues and that limit our imaginative possibilities.

Professor Williams's use of metaphor and juxtaposition allows her to capture these phenomena in ways that bring greater understanding without sacrificing complexity. Hers is a voice of compassion, and a voice for justice, on the issues that divide us. Through the beauty of her prose style and its power to move the reader, she offers us the possibility of listening across that great divide, of being surprised by the Unknown, buy the unknowable.