Self-Portrait in Black and White

Unlearning Race

This year, New America celebrates 20 years of creating and incubating the next big ideas that address some of the nation's and the world’s toughest problems. We are thinkers, researchers, problem-solvers, and storytellers, united by our goal to hold our nation to its highest ideals. We recognize the challenges presented by rapid technological and social change, and work to ensure that the solutions made possible by those changes lead to greater opportunity for all. As we reach forward toward the next 20 years of New America, we will strive to be an engine of American renewal, at home and abroad.

Read more about our 20th anniversary.

A meditation on race and identity from one of our most provocative cultural critics.

A reckoning with the way we choose to see and define ourselves, Self-Portrait in Black and White is the searching story of one American family’s multigenerational transformation from what is called black to what is assumed to be white. Thomas Chatterton Williams, the son of a “black” father from the segregated South and a “white” mother from the West, spent his whole life believing the dictum that a single drop of “black blood” makes a person black. This was so fundamental to his self-conception that he’d never rigorously reflected on its foundations―but the shock of his experience as the black father of two extremely white-looking children led him to question these long-held convictions.

It is not that he has come to believe that he is no longer black or that his kids are white, Williams notes. It is that these categories cannot adequately capture either of them―or anyone else, for that matter. Beautifully written and bound to upset received opinions on race, Self-Portrait in Black and White is an urgent work for our time.

Join New America's Fellows Program with Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of Self-Portrait in Black and White, David Swerdlick, Washington Post Assistant Editor Outlook section, and Theodore Johnson, Class of 2017, for a discussion about race and identity.

Registration to begin at 11:30 PM; conversation begins at 12:00 PM.

Lunch will be served.


Thomas Chatterton Williams, @thomaschattwill
2019 National Fellow, New America
Author, Self-Portrait in Black and White

David Swerdlick, @Swerdlick
Assistant Editor, Washington Post Outlook section


Theodore Johnson, @DrTedJ
2017 National Fellow, New America
Senior Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice

Copies of Self-Portrait in Black and White will be available for purchase through our bookselling partner Solid State Books, and a book signing will follow the discussion.