A New City, a New ProjectPrint
Moving to Berlin
By Thomas Chatterton Williams
September 6, 2017
As of this week, the View from Rue Saint-Georges is migrating north and east to Lake Wannsee. I’ll be spending the rest of the year at the American Academy in Berlin at work on my second nonfiction book, a reckoning with the way that race is constructed in America and abroad. The project began as an expansion of an essay, “Black and Blue and Blond,” published in The Virginia Quarterly Review in 2015—a personal reflection on the stunningly white appearance of my infant child, and the beginning of a larger reevaluation of my own lifelong investment in (and lack of skepticism toward) the cold plantation logic of the “one-drop rule,”or the notion that even a single drop of “black” blood makes a person “black.” How is my father “black” and my daughter “white,” I began to wonder after her birth, when they both have the same mischievous smile? And what kind of “black” man am I if I am capable of having a daughter who is significantly paler than her “white” mom? Is it possible to reject these artificial color categories—albeit with very real social implications—that we continue to reify and live by while paying lip service to the scientific consensus that the human species comprises but one “race”? If so, how?
Germany is a good place to consider questions like these, and the American Academy is a wonderful environment to think about anything at all. I’ll get out on the weekends and keep the column as lively as I can, but from a vantage I haven’t had before.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.
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