In THE ALCHEMY OF RACE AND RIGHTS, Patricia Williams dares to violate the formalistic conventions of legal writing by laying bare her soul. She reveals the deep entanglements of law, rights, and race within her passionate, reflective, angry, and frightened self. Skillfully interweaving sophisticated discussions of contract law with personal meditations on her great-great-grandmother who was sold as a piece of property, she confronts the arguments of the Critical Legal Studies Movement against the theoretical usefulness of the concept of rights with a moving testimony to the actual importance of rights to generations of blacks in their struggle against the terrifying injustice of a society whose Supreme Court not so long ago proclaimed that blacks had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Williams is courageous because she dares to show her pain at being torn by the inescapable presence of racial prejudice in our society. She reveals that the wounds of racial hatred have not healed, but are still festering in us. Through sensitively modulated reflections on her own personal experiences of prejudice and powerful analysis of racial paranoia enacted in recent events such as Howard Beach, the Goetz subway shooting, and the Tawana Brawley media show, Williams makes it impossible to pretend that we live in a color-blind society.
THE ALCHEMY OF RACE AND RIGHTS is an unsettling but important book. Unsettling, because we don’t like to confront hurt, failure, and injustice; important, because as Carl Jung reminds us, “There is no birth of consciousness without pain.”