Altered States, or, A Work of Scientific Fiction

By Williams, Patricia J. | The Nation, May 8, 2000 | Go to article overview

Altered States, or, A Work of Scientific Fiction


Williams, Patricia J., The Nation


Chapter One. In Which I Am Elevated by Grand Sentiment: "Where Descartes's search for certainty leads him to conclude: I think therefore I am, Williams demonstrates...that I am where I am thought by, and think, the other." [Barbara Johnson, The Feminist Difference, Harvard University Press, p. 182]

Chapter Two. In Which a Letter From a Friend Reveals That I Have Been Canonized in Section I, Verbal Questions 21-31 of Test Preparation Materials for the SAT: "Dear Pat, Here's the SAT sample question that my daughter was given." She goes on to quote the question, of which this is the relevant part:

This passage is from a book by an African American woman who is a law professor: "I have been focussing on the ways in which gender affects individuals' perspectives--gender in this instance having less to do with the biology of male and female than with the language of power relations, of dominance and submission, of assertion and deference, of big and little...."

My friend's letter continues: "Curiously, they actually altered your passage from page 12 of The Alchemy of Race and Rights. For example, they substitute 'language' for 'semiotics' of power relations, they eliminated 'semantic,' and omitted the whole phrase 'as well as gender issues specifically based in biology....' But by simplifying the passage, I guess they can suggest a 'right' answer a little more readily." [Letter from Lori, February 19, 1999]

Chapter Three. In Which I Discover I Have Been Misquoted: E.R. Shipp has written a column about police brutality in which she cites New York University Law Professor Derrick Bell, who has written: "Columbia Law School Professor Patricia Williams has written: 'White America wishes that blacks would just go away and shut up and stop taking up so much time and food and air, and then the world would return to its Norman Rockwell loveliness.'" [E.R. Shipp, "A Backdrop of Pain and Anger," New York Daily News, April 3, 2000]

Chapter Four. In Which My Refined Sensibilities Are Subjected to a Vicious Volley of Unwarranted Slings and Parturient Arrows: "Dear Hypocrite, Saw you quoted in The Daily News. You are a reverse racist. If you %#@& don't like white people, why don't you go back to the jungles of Africa and try complaining under Communism." [Composite missive whose principled fictionalization will no doubt generate controversy among my objectivist colleagues in the legal profession.]

Chapter Five. In Which I Attempt to Set the Record Straight: "To the Editor: It has come to my attention that I was misquoted in E.R. Shipp's otherwise wonderful column of April 3. In an article appearing in The Nation, July 10, 1995, about capital punishment and the risks to democracy of sensationalized and racialized vengeance-seeking of the sort to be heard on 'shock jock' talk radio, I wrote: 'One of racism's many manifestations is...the wish that black people would just go away and shut up and stop, etc, etc....' Nowhere did I attribute that belief to white people generally--and most particularly not in the context of New Yorkers' unusually broadly shared concern about Mayor Giuliani's responses to excessive and deadly police force. …

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