Williams Has No Qualms About Giving a Damn


07.13.21 — In Giving a Damn: Racism, Romance and Gone with the Wind (Harper Collins, 2021), Professor Patricia Williams finds that when you begin to unpick current debates around immigration, freedom of speech, the culture wars and wall-building, beneath them lies the unexamined history of laws by which human beings were rendered property. Williams argues that practices of  dehumanization rely on structures of relationthat can be traced all the way from the plantation to ex-President Trump’s Twitter account. 

“This is a legacy that cannot be fully understood as a simply a matter of personal prejudice or individual blame or innocence.  I’m interested in less visible cultural artifacts that affect us all, like the aesthetics of hierarchy, the sense of geographic place, or normed modes of  address,” says Williams, a past recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.

Williams begins in the American South with Gone With the Wind (still the second most popular book in the US after the Bible), that nostalgic tale full of the myths of the Southern belle, Southern culture, “good food and good manners.” The scene is seductive, from a distance. How nice it is to paper over the obliging slavery at the novel’s core and enjoy the wisteria-covered plantations, now the venue for weddings. But papering over has left us in a world that has never been more segregated, incarcerated or separated from each other, according to Williams. She wants to know which ideas brought the richest and most diverse nation on the planet to the brink of resurgent, violent division and what this means for the rest of the world.

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