This year American scholar Patricia J. Williams was invited to Britain
to speak as Reith Lecturer, only the fourth woman and the third black
speaker to contribute to the prestigious series of lectures which has a
49-year history. Her chosen subject was as topical as it proved controversial.
Professor Williams’s subtle and measured discussion of
the persistence of racism in daily life – and in even the most liberal of
consciousnesses – struck a chord in British society. The furore that
broke in the press was based as much in a certain ‘British’ intransigent
refusal to allow that the persistence of prejudice could possibly
be as ‘bad’ here as across the Atlantic as it was in a basic reluctance
to address distinctive realities in contemporary society. Richard H.
King and I interviewed Williams immediately following the transmission
of the lecture series on Radio 4 and the transcripts, published
by Virago as Seeing a Colour-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race, are
reviewed in this issue by Larry Brown. Brown places Williams alongside
fellow African-American scholar bell hooks in order to assess the
different perspectives they take on issues of race and the politics of
identity, and in order to decide on nature of the often very different
roles of contemporary black intellectuals.