Morten Høi Jensen w recenzji książki Thomasa Chattertona Williamsa „Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race” (2019) w piśmie The American Interest („Can Americans Unlearn Race?”, 15 X 2019) cytuje myśl Ryszarda Kapuścińskiego, która stała się inspiracją dla Williamsa. Fragment recenzji:
„His book, anchored in the personal, untethers itself to become a kind of existential meditation on the whole sorry “fiction of race.” Along the way, we are reminded that racial categories as we understand them were only invented during the European Enlightenment (“I have stayed in inns in Germany and eaten at taverns in Spain that have been continuously operating longer than that,” Williams quips); that Williams’s daughter would have been considered a “Negro” under the one-drop laws of the previous century; and that racial identity is determined not only by the color of our skin but by our geographical location.
This broadening of the discussions around race and identity yields unexpected results. Repeating some of his criticisms of Coates and the “woke” anti-racist movement, Williams likens what he calls the “one-size fits all contemporary populism around implacable white supremacy” to the German notion of Sonderweg, or “special path,” a once-common myth on both the Left and the Right that the trajectory of German history could be explained according to a collective essence peculiar to the German people. Some historians, for instance, have viewed the Holocaust as the logical product of centuries of German history, drawing a clear line from Luther to Hitler, which, as Williams rightly points out, leaves a lot of nuance, ambiguity, and general historical messiness unaccounted for.
Williams argues that a similar idea has recently taken hold in America: “Its roots lie in the national triple sin of slavery, land theft, and genocide. In this view, the conditions at the core of the country’s founding don’t just reverberate through the ages—they determine the present. No matter what we might hope, that original sin—white supremacy—explains everything, an all-American sonderweg.”
This view of race and history only further legitimizes the fiction of race, Williams argues. Race is viewed as real, not in a biological sense, but as a social construct that at bottom is no less deterministic.
Yet if race is not measurable in any biological or scientific way, why keep it alive by other means? One of the most salient arguments in Self-Portrait is Williams’s claim, gleaned from the critic and essayist Albert Murray, that “black” and “white” are essentially just bad metaphors that do not stand up to the complexity and messiness of real life, to say nothing of any kind of scientific security. (Williams is fond of quoting Murray: “But any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and that black people are not black.”) To go on using these terms is to become the victim of racism a second time, Williams claims, an insight he arrives at by quoting a passage from the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Imperium:
Only one thing interests the [dissident]: how to defeat communism. On this subject he can discourse with energy and passion for hours, concoct schemes, present proposals and plans, unaware that as he does so becomes for a second time communism’s victim: the first time he was a victim by force, imprisoned by the system, and now he has become a victim voluntarily, for he has allowed himself to be imprisoned in the web of communism’s problems. For such is the demonic nature of great evil—that without our knowledge and consent, it manages to blind us and force us into its straitjacket.
In other words, by continuing to use its metaphors we are merely prolonging the fiction of race. “The truth is that no matter how hard you try,” Williams comments, “you cannot struggle your way out of a straitjacket that does not exist. But pretending it exists, for whatever the reason, really does leave you in a severely restricted posture.”
Better, then, to reject the concept of race altogether. Williams is under no illusion that this will be easy or even, at times, desirable to achieve. “I am aware—and from time to time still feel it in myself—of the terror involved in imagining a total absence of race,” he admits. The proud and defiant traditions of black culture in America speak for themselves, yet the idea that in order to go on appreciating Bessie Smith or Ralph Ellison or Henry Ossawa Tanner one must accept the logic of race is absurd. On the contrary, we can reject the abstract mystifications of race and still appreciate the very real cultural and artistic achievements inspired by it, as indeed the worldwide appeal of so much “black” culture clearly demonstrates.”