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Patricia J. Williams


Patricia J. Williams is a graduate of Wellesley College and Harvard Law School. She began her career practicing law as a consumer advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and as a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Los Angeles. Upon leaving practice, she served on the faculties of the University of Wisconsin School of Law, Harvard University Women’s Studies Program, and CUNY Law School at Queen’s College. Since 1992, she has been the James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University School of Law.

She is the recipient of honorary doctorates from Northeastern University School of Law, John Jay College of the City University of New York, the College of Wooster, Smith College, and Old Dominion University. She has received numerous awards, including from from her alma maters—an Outstanding Alumna Award from Latin School in Boston, an Alumnae Achievement Award from Wellesley College, and a Graduate Society Medal from Harvard.

Her book The Alchemy of Race and Rights was named one of the twenty-five best books of 1991 by the Voice Literary Supplement; one of the “feminist classics of the last twenty years” that “literally changed women’s lives” by Ms. magazine; and one of the ten best non-fiction books of the decade by Other books include The Rooster’s Egg (Harvard Press, 1995), Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1998), and Open House: On Family, Food, Piano Lessons, and The Search for a Room of My Own (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2004).

Professor Williams has appeared on radio and television shows around the world, and in 1997 delivered the annual Reith Lectures for the BBC, Radio Four. She has appeared in a number of documentary films, including “That Rush!” which she wrote and narrated. Directed by British film-maker Isaac Julien, this short study of American talk show hosts was featured as part of an installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London.

She has held fellowships at the School of Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth, the Humanities Research Institute of the University of California at Irvine, the Institute for Arts and Civic Dialogue at Harvard, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. In 2000, she was named a MacArthur fellow.

  • History February 16, 2006

    Emotional Truth

    In a DNA-driven search for biological roots, it behooves us to be less romantic about connecting with our ancestors. If we biologize our history, we will be forever less than we could be.

    Patricia J. Williams

  • Covert Ops February 2, 2006

    All the King’s Horses…

    Worry about the CIA's new Open Source Center, which aims to piece together all sorts of unclassified information to create a broad picture of where trouble is likely to arise.

    Patricia J. Williams

  • Journalists and Journalism January 19, 2006

    Foggy Bottom

    If we are suspending the law in deference to Bush's unchecked impulses, let's call it by its proper name: Benign lawlessness? Gitmo Governance? Fear Factor?

    Patricia J. Williams

  • National Security January 5, 2006

    Pandora’s Box

    A deep planetary insecurity has fostered a rush to build boundaries around ourselves--psychic green zones--no matter how irrational, separating white from black or brown, Christian from Muslim, European from Arab.

    Patricia J. Williams

  • Journalists and Journalism December 1, 2005

    Killing the Messenger

    It's one thing for our State Department to plant phony stories in the media or jam broadcasts in Cuba. It's quite another for conservative policy analyst Frank Gaffney bolster's George Bush's grudge against Al Jazeera by arguing that it was "imperative that enemy media be taken down."

    Patricia J. Williams

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  • November 17, 2005

    Unholy Wars

    The conduct of the war in Iraq has embarrassed us, lowered us, endangered us and betrayed our best ideals. The debasement of our soldiers and the lawlessness of our leaders is shocking, merciless and infinitely destabilizing.

    Patricia J. Williams

  • Education November 3, 2005

    Genes, Genius, Genies

    The right has ushered in a moment of cult celebrity for the pre-born. But let's not be seduced by this idea of personhood. Remember the poor and not-so-perfect post-born children of America? Aren't they persons, too?

    Patricia J. Williams

  • Racism and Discrimination October 20, 2005

    Nearer, My God, to Thee

    Follow a mythical voyage through America's nightmare, on a ship with an uncaring captain, a subsequent shipwreck, and the poor are left behind to perish.

    Patricia J. Williams

  • Politics October 6, 2005

    The Little Black Book of Virtues

    The Wicked Witch stomps in his defense and the wise old tortoise explains his reasoning. But Mother Courage knows the truth behind William Bennett's racist comments.

    Patricia J. Williams

  • Cities September 8, 2005

    The View From Lott’s Porch

    Some storm victims evacuated from New Orleans were "sorted" by age, race or gender. Is breaking up families and prioritizing by race any way to deal with disaster?

    Patricia J. Williams