Life on the Color Line Essay - Critical Essays

Gregory Howard Williams


By the end of Life on the Color Line, a reader may come to believe that ideas of race are social inventions. While growing up, Williams lives in two worlds: the white one, where he is highly regarded, and the black one, where he is severely oppressed. He is the same person in each, however. The only differences are his perception and treatment by others. Initially, when his teachers and coaches in elementary school and high school view Gregory as white, they assume he is a bright youngster with a prestigious college and a brilliant career looming ahead. However, when they see his racist school record, where the W for white is crossed out and a C for colored is written in, they fail—with the exception of one or two good souls—to provide any opportunities for him whatsoever. Indeed, Williams is never approached by a guidance counselor during his entire four years of high school. While he is admired for his athletic prowess, he is scorned for even looking at the sister of a white teammate. He is also excoriated for dating a girl with darker skin than his. He is almost literally torn in two.

Williams does not provide sociological constructs or analysis to deliver his message concerning racial identity in America. His powerful memoir utilizes everyday people living everyday American lives to illustrate how deeply racial bias is ingrained into the American psyche.