Life on the Color Line

by Gregory Howard Williams

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What does Williams' narrative in "Life on the Color Line" teach about racism?

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I think that one of the most elemental lessons about racism from the narrative that Williams shares is how brutal a social construction racial identity can be.  It becomes profoundly insightful to see how Williams' entire world as a child is thrown into a state of confusion and limbo even though he has not changed.  He has remained the same.  Yet, the issue of race has drastically altered his world.  In this moment, the social construction of race reduces his own autonomy in his being in the world.  Racism changes the world of the individual through no fault of their own.  Being on one side of the color line shows one particular reality to Williams.  Yet, when he recognizes that through an almost arbitrary process he is on the other side, reality becomes an entirely different experience.  I think that this is where the painful reality of racism becomes evident.  It is almost staggering to consider the number of people in American History whose lives have been altered because of being on one side or the other of "the color line."

An inclination that arises from the reading is to view Williams' struggle and life as one that defeats the limiting function of racism.  Williams' life is one that is heavily defined by racism.  Yet, his own perseverance and drive to succeed is something that defines the narrative.  However, I think that one of the lessons of racism is that there are many narratives tragically altered by racism.  One of the lessons gained about racism from the narrative is that while one must always recognize that racism does drastically alter lives and there might not necessarily be happy endings to these narratives.  I think that racism's effect is trivialized when we automatically presume that "everyone" can transcend a contingent social condition that defines so much of one's reality.

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