Rooster's Egg The Rooster's Egg / Edition 1

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Overview

"Jamaica is the land where the rooster lays an egg...When a Jamaican is born of a black woman and some English or Scotsman, the black mother is literally and figuratively kept out of sight as far as possible, but no one is allowed to forget that white father, however questionable the circumstances of birth...You get the impression that these virile Englishmen do not require women to reproduce. They just come out to Jamaica, scratch out a nest and lay eggs that hatch out into 'pink' Jamaicans."

--Zora Neale Hurston

We may no longer issue scarlet letters, but from the way we talk, we might as well: W for welfare, S for single, B for black, CC for children having children, WT for white trash. To a culture speaking with barely masked hysteria, in which branding is done with words and those branded are outcasts, this book brings a voice of reason and a warm reminder of the decency and mutual respect that are missing from so much of our public debate. Patricia J. Williams, whose acclaimed book The Alchemy of Race and Rights offered a vision for healing the ailing spirit of the law, here broadens her focus to address the wounds in America's public soul, the sense of community that rhetoric so subtly but surely makes and unmakes.

In these pages we encounter figures and images plucked from headlines--from Tonya Harding to Lani Guinier, Rush Limbaugh to Hillary Clinton, Clarence Thomas to Dan Quayle--and see how their portrayal, encoding certain stereotypes, often reveals more about us than about them. What are we really talking about when we talk about welfare mothers, for instance? Why is calling someone a "redneck" okay, and what does that say about our society? When young women appear on Phil Donahue to represent themselves as Jewish American Princesses, what else are they doing? These are among the questions Williams considers as she uncovers the shifting, often covert rules of conversation that determine who "we" are as a nation.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

Written in a personal and anecdotal style from the author's perspective as a professor, a single black mother, and (much less important) a lawyer...Many [of Williams's essays] are inspired by a popular event or personality, which becomes the springboard for her hyper-intelligent musings...She emerges as a thoughtful social critic from the left...Her arguments are anything but doctrinaire.
— Saul B. Shapiro

In These Times

[Williams's] overall contribution to contemporary political debate is invaluable. Her insights are complex and compelling. Few today see so clearly, and write so engagingly, about the prejudice that has settled so insidiously into our lives.
— Jane Goldman and Miranda Joseph

Contemporary Sociology

The Rooster's Egg is masterfully crafted and complex. Williams's outrage and despair leavened by her insight and wit make her perhaps uniquely able to get us past that Catch-22 that leads to either silence or hostility to a place where a conversation about prejudice can occur.
— Patricia Ewick

Jewish Chronicle

Williams...writes with passion from a feminist/neo-Marxist point of view, demonstrating how the tolerance of intolerance helps to keep enshrined segregation and prejudice in a society which is theoretically integrated.
— Gerald De Groot

Law and Politics Book Review

The latest book by Patricia Williams has two striking features. The first is its breadth. In the course of thirteen short chapters, Williams takes a brisk tour of contemporary American politics and culture...Beyond its electicism, William's book is also striking because of its sheer readability. Unlike many law professors who have abandoned academic convention for the sake of presenting narratives, Williams writes with engaging style. She knows how to turn a phrase and how to tell a good story—two talents which permit her to produce enviably fluid prose...Her insights into the varied notions of identity, difference, and value embedded within a range of contemporary debates are truly first rate.
— Keith J. Bybee

New York Law Journal

[The Rooster's Egg] serves as a reminder that the problem of race is a constant yet to be addressed by the powers that be...The analysis comes from a female voice with enough clarity, stylings, and strength to make it a fresh and forceful analysis...This is a commendable contribution by a strong and commanding African-American female voice.
— Oliver A. Smith

Feminism & Psychology

Williams's writing exceeds the usual boundaries of legal, and even of political, concerns. Her focus remains the translation of beliefs and values, including her own, into various legal, social, pedagogical and political practices...What emerge in these essays are the consequences of received and esteemed social knowledges, for the 'market' in adoptive children, for the survival of black families, for justice, for communal ties and for the aspirations of racially marked people...[This book] will be enormously useful to those who wish to challenge the racial, ethnic, gender and national solipsism of much of what passes for foundational 'knowledge'.
— Cynthia Burack

Canadian Philosophical Reviews

In The Rooster's Egg: On the Persistence of Prejudice Patricia Williams brings her searing and formidable intellect to a vast array of the images, texts and practices of American popular culture, analysing them along lines of race, gender, class, culture, and sexual orientation.
— Annalise Acorn

The Year's Work in English Studies [UK
Patricia Williams's The Rooster's Egg...extols the utility of a heterogeneous approach and the radical possibilities of narrative--or, indeed 'narrative jurisprudence'. Although not highly theoretical, Williams (once again) draws the discourses of law, race, sex and class into a sustained critique of US identity politics. In the midst of, and perhaps in defiance of, criticism of autobiographical legal scholarship...Williams seamlessly incorporates personal narrative into her objective analysis, and makes striking connections between race and the often neglected discourse of class.
The Year's Work in English Studies [UK]

Patricia Williams's The Rooster's Egg...extols the utility of a heterogeneous approach and the radical possibilities of narrative—or, indeed 'narrative jurisprudence'. Although not highly theoretical, Williams (once again) draws the discourses of law, race, sex and class into a sustained critique of US identity politics. In the midst of, and perhaps in defiance of, criticism of autobiographical legal scholarship...Williams seamlessly incorporates personal narrative into her objective analysis, and makes striking connections between race and the often neglected discourse of class.

New York Times Book Review - Saul B. Shapiro
Written in a personal and anecdotal style from the author's perspective as a professor, a single black mother, and (much less important) a lawyer...Many [of Williams's essays] are inspired by a popular event or personality, which becomes the springboard for her hyper-intelligent musings...She emerges as a thoughtful social critic from the left...Her arguments are anything but doctrinaire.
In These Times - Jane Goldman And Miranda Joseph
[Williams's] overall contribution to contemporary political debate is invaluable. Her insights are complex and compelling. Few today see so clearly, and write so engagingly, about the prejudice that has settled so insidiously into our lives.
Contemporary Sociology - Patricia Ewick
The Rooster's Egg is masterfully crafted and complex. Williams's outrage and despair leavened by her insight and wit make her perhaps uniquely able to get us past that Catch-22 that leads to either silence or hostility to a place where a conversation about prejudice can occur.
Jewish Chronicle - Gerald De Groot
Williams...writes with passion from a feminist/neo-Marxist point of view, demonstrating how the tolerance of intolerance helps to keep enshrined segregation and prejudice in a society which is theoretically integrated.
Law and Politics Book Review - Keith J. Bybee
The latest book by Patricia Williams has two striking features. The first is its breadth. In the course of thirteen short chapters, Williams takes a brisk tour of contemporary American politics and culture...Beyond its electicism, William's book is also striking because of its sheer readability. Unlike many law professors who have abandoned academic convention for the sake of presenting narratives, Williams writes with engaging style. She knows how to turn a phrase and how to tell a good story--two talents which permit her to produce enviably fluid prose...Her insights into the varied notions of identity, difference, and value embedded within a range of contemporary debates are truly first rate.
Lea B. Vaughn
In her second book, Professor Williams turns a focused look at what forces in American society result in the 'persistence of prejudice.' This baker's dozen of essays covers a wide range of topics, including talk show 'town halls,' single mothers, talk radio, Lani Guinier, welfare, Clarence 'X' Thomas, affirmative action, and adoption. With disarming wit, Williams skillfully and pointedly uses stories, anecdotes, and analysis to examine these and other issues...The Alchemy of Race and Rights [her previous book], and The Rooster's Egg will frustrate, disquiet and aggravate some readers by relentlessly delving into the changing and often hidden facets of racism or sexism. But this is her intent.
New York Law Journal - Oliver A. Smith
[The Rooster's Egg] serves as a reminder that the problem of race is a constant yet to be addressed by the powers that be...The analysis comes from a female voice with enough clarity, stylings, and strength to make it a fresh and forceful analysis...This is a commendable contribution by a strong and commanding African-American female voice.
Feminism & Psychology - Cynthia Burack
Williams's writing exceeds the usual boundaries of legal, and even of political, concerns. Her focus remains the translation of beliefs and values, including her own, into various legal, social, pedagogical and political practices...What emerge in these essays are the consequences of received and esteemed social knowledges, for the 'market' in adoptive children, for the survival of black families, for justice, for communal ties and for the aspirations of racially marked people...[This book] will be enormously useful to those who wish to challenge the racial, ethnic, gender and national solipsism of much of what passes for foundational 'knowledge'.
Canadian Philosophical Reviews - Annalise Acorn
In The Rooster's Egg: On the Persistence of Prejudice Patricia Williams brings her searing and formidable intellect to a vast array of the images, texts and practices of American popular culture, analysing them along lines of race, gender, class, culture, and sexual orientation.
New York Law Journal
[The Rooster's Egg] serves as a reminder that the problem of race is a constant yet to be addressed by the powers that be...The analysis comes from a female voice with enough clarity, stylings, and strength to make it a fresh and forceful analysis...This is a commendable contribution by a strong and commanding African-American female voice.
— Oliver A. Smith
New York Times Book Review
Written in a personal and anecdotal style from the author's perspective as a professor, a single black mother, and (much less important) a lawyer...Many [of Williams's essays] are inspired by a popular event or personality, which becomes the springboard for her hyper-intelligent musings...She emerges as a thoughtful social critic from the left...Her arguments are anything but doctrinaire.
— Saul B. Shapiro
Jewish Chronicle
Williams...writes with passion from a feminist/neo-Marxist point of view, demonstrating how the tolerance of intolerance helps to keep enshrined segregation and prejudice in a society which is theoretically integrated.
— Gerald De Groot
In These Times
[Williams's] overall contribution to contemporary political debate is invaluable. Her insights are complex and compelling. Few today see so clearly, and write so engagingly, about the prejudice that has settled so insidiously into our lives.
— Jane Goldman and Miranda Joseph
Contemporary Sociology
The Rooster's Egg is masterfully crafted and complex. Williams's outrage and despair leavened by her insight and wit make her perhaps uniquely able to get us past that Catch-22 that leads to either silence or hostility to a place where a conversation about prejudice can occur.
— Patricia Ewick
Law and Politics Book Review
The latest book by Patricia Williams has two striking features. The first is its breadth. In the course of thirteen short chapters, Williams takes a brisk tour of contemporary American politics and culture...Beyond its electicism, William's book is also striking because of its sheer readability. Unlike many law professors who have abandoned academic convention for the sake of presenting narratives, Williams writes with engaging style. She knows how to turn a phrase and how to tell a good story--two talents which permit her to produce enviably fluid prose...Her insights into the varied notions of identity, difference, and value embedded within a range of contemporary debates are truly first rate.
— Keith J. Bybee
Feminism & Psychology
Williams's writing exceeds the usual boundaries of legal, and even of political, concerns. Her focus remains the translation of beliefs and values, including her own, into various legal, social, pedagogical and political practices...What emerge in these essays are the consequences of received and esteemed social knowledges, for the 'market' in adoptive children, for the survival of black families, for justice, for communal ties and for the aspirations of racially marked people...[This book] will be enormously useful to those who wish to challenge the racial, ethnic, gender and national solipsism of much of what passes for foundational 'knowledge'.
— Cynthia Burack
Canadian Philosophical Reviews
In The Rooster's Egg: On the Persistence of Prejudice Patricia Williams brings her searing and formidable intellect to a vast array of the images, texts and practices of American popular culture, analysing them along lines of race, gender, class, culture, and sexual orientation.
— Annalise Acorn
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a series of ruminative and sometimes trenchant essays, Columbia University law professor Williams (The Alchemy of Race and Rights) reaches beyond legal cases to probe America's obsession with race. The campus crisis over ``political correctness,'' she observes, is a necessary part of our halting attempt to have a serious conversation about race at a time when integration now often means assimilation. Listening to right-wing talk radio, Williams doesn't froth at outrageous comments about race and gender but discerns ``a much more general contempt for the world.'' She deftly deconstructs the media war against Lani Guinier, President Clinton's nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights, noting that demagogic City College professor Leonard Jeffries got a greater chance to have his views aired-again and again. A single mother of an adopted son, Williams dissects myths about single mothers and reveals how race and racism affect the adoption market. These essays, some published in magazines like Ms. and the Nation, are usually interesting; however, they don't gain much as a collection. (Oct.)
Booknews
Williams (law, Columbia U.) reveals the shifting, often covert rules of language that determine who "we" are as a nation, through a sane, eloquent, and lively discussion of topics such as feminism, race and culture, and affirmative action. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Keith J. Bybee
The latest book by Patricia Williams has two striking features. The first is its breadth. In the course of thirteen short chapters, Williams takes a brisk tour of contemporary American politics and culture. She examines political figures ranging from Dan Quayle to Lani Guinier; television personalities from Oprah Winfrey to Rush Limbaugh; and political trends from the demonization of welfare mothers to the discovery of the angry white male. And, if this were not enough, Williams complements her analysis with a host of her own personal experiences, drawing on her conversations with friends, her trips to the local five-and-dime, and her recent experience with adoption. Beyond its eclecticism, Williams's book is also striking because of its sheer readability. Unlike many law professors who have abandoned academic convention for the sake of presenting narratives, Williams writes with engaging style. She knows how to turn a phrase and how to tell a good story -- two talents which permit her to produce enviably fluid prose. Unfortunately, the broad scope of Williams's work, coupled with her remarkable eloquence, present the reviewer with a challenge. Williams weaves her topics together in a virtually seamless manner, moving easily from Barbie dolls to the racialization of crime to the cover illustrations of THE NEW YORKER. Williams rarely pauses to formulate conclusions, draw morals, or make synthetic assessments. Her book does not march in a straight line from proposition to proposition. Indeed, Williams offers neither an introduction nor a conclusion; instead, her chapters circle on a shared plane, continually revisiting the same questions and themes. Thus, perhaps the best way to approach Williams's protean book is to describe the themes which emerge from the text as a whole. Williams's main concern is that "[d]espite the enormous social, political, and legal fluctuations of twentieth-century American life, there has been a remarkable stasis in race relations [and] an intractability of gender hierarchy..."(16). Williams counters entrenched prejudice by providing statistics on the socioeconomic position of racial minorities and women. Yet her reliance on such information is largely intermittent. According to Williams, the basic problem is that prejudice has prevailed at the rhetorical level of myth and metaphor. While most people on welfare are white, for example, the perception remains that a vast army of black single mothers are milking the system for more than they deserve. "This powerful ideological myth," Williams writes, "has somehow trumped every bit of empirical reality even in the minds of well-educated policymakers" (175). The language and imagery of political discourse has been contorted, generating rhetorical frameworks in which realities of racial and gender discrimination become either natural or invisible. Prejudice persists because Americans have adopted ways of speaking and thinking which simply assimilate discrimination out of existence Page 69 follows:. Williams discusses literally dozens of instances in which the terms of public debate have been subtly skewed or implicitly loaded, rendering the very claim of discrimination problematic. For example, Williams notes that there "is a popular insistence that the solution to the struggle over campus multiculturalism is to just talk about it, one-on-one, without institutional sanction or interference. Free speech as free enterprise zone. But this solution makes only certain students -- those who are most frequently the objects of harassment -- the perpetual teachers, not merely of their histories, but of their very right to be students. This is an immense burden, a mountainous presumption of noninclusion that must be constantly addressed and overcome. It keeps them eternally defensive and reactive" (39). Similarly, when assessing recent court rulings on affirmative action, Williams argues it is distressing "to observe the extent to which both liberals and conservatives seem to rely on a conception of affirmative action as favoritism.... [A]ntidiscrimination and diversity are polarized, so that it is no longer possible to recognize diversity without its being -- not merely risking being -- discriminatory.... The focused and meaningful inquiry of strict scrutiny has become a needle's eye through which minority interests are too inherently suspect to pass. Racial and ethnic identification as that against which one ought not to discriminate has been twisted; now those very same racial and ethnic categories are what discriminate" (106-7). In the face of such public discourse, Williams repeatedly calls for the initiation of serious conversations about difference -- conversations which move beyond the extremes of denial and accusation in order to address the concrete histories of individuals and groups. Williams refers to the dialogical recognition of connection and difference as "fluid hybridity" (189). Under this view, society looks less like a collection of self-contained atoms and more like a shifting mass of soap bubbles: "although we can be grouped according to our similarities, difference and similarity are not exclusive categories, but instead are continually evolving. Equal opportunity is not only about assuming the circumstances of hypothetically indistinguishable individuals, but also about accommodating the living, shifting fortunes those who are very differently situated" (86). Williams hopes that such conversations will undermine the rhetorical abstraction and cultural amnesia that have helped prejudice persist. Williams carefully avoids linking her hope to a storybook picture of social harmony. She explicitly dismisses "resolutions based innocently assimilative, dehistoricized ideals" (191) as efforts which may simply reproduce existing problems. Instead, Williams emphasizes "the possibility that simple cantankerous coexistence may be what we should be aiming for in a democracy based on live-and-let-live" (192). Talking to one another in the right way ameliorates social ills without miraculously curing them. On the whole, then, what can be made of Williams's work? At times her assessment of metaphor and discourse is a bit strained. She occasionally supports a weighty meditation on rhetorical meaning with nothing more that a snatch of conversation caught while channel surfing daytime TV. Nonetheless, Williams generally approaches the terms of public discussion with great care and intelligence. Her insights into the varied notions of identity, difference, and value embedded within a range of contemporary debates are truly first rate. Page 70 follows: Her appeal to conversation as a response to persisting prejudice is more problematic -- and interestingly enough it is Williams herself that points this out. For all her efforts to rework the terms public discussion, Williams often acknowledges that such reworking is not enough. She argues that our reigning metaphors and myths are not simply reflected in mass media; instead, the media actively selects and reinforces specific tropes, promoting certain voices while others are quietly read into the background. As Williams writes, "The infinite convertibility of terms is, I suppose, what makes the commerce of American rhetoric so very fascinating. But these linguistic flip-flops disguise an immense stasis of power and derail the will to undo it" (107). In a context of collectively enforced conceptions, individual efforts might well founder. "Every generation has to go through a purging of language, an invention of meaning in order to exist. Renaming as fair turnaround; renaming as recapture from the stereotypes of others. Yet... somehow... it seems I am running out of words these days.... The moment I find some symbol of my presence in the rarefied halls of elite institutions, it gets stolen, co-opted, filled with negative meaning" (27). Williams's loss of words seems odd in a book appealing to conversation. More broadly, her wordlessness raises complex questions about the relationship between social structure and individual agency. Who is it that steals and co-opts Williams's own words? How do the various organs of the press coordinate into a single coercive force? Is active coordination even required? If our collective, cultural imagination operates at "a million nuanced levels" (101), how can individuals ever conduct a conversation fully recognizing each speaker in her own particularity? How can our individual notions of similarity and difference remain fluid in the face of structural pressure to the contrary? In response to such questions, Williams can (and does) offer her personal experiences negotiating the jagged boundaries between individual creativity, group history, and cultural assimilation. Her reflections provide a provocative beginning. Yet, while an account of her participation in a hip-hop dance class filled with Japanese students tell us something about "fluid hybridity," it remains a step removed from the complexities of the concrete conversations she advocates.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674779433
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/25/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 0.62 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia J. Williams is Professor of Law, Columbia University.
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Table of Contents

Scarlet, the Sequel 1
Pansy Quits 15
Radio Hoods 42
Unbirthing the Nation 57
White Men Can't Count 87
Town Hall Television 109
Clarence X 121
A Hearing of One's Own 137
Quayle Has a Cow 150
The Unbearable Autonomy of Being 169
Black-Power Dream Barbie 182
In Search of Pharaoh's Daughter 213
The Rooster's Egg 229
Notes 245
Acknowledgments 256
Index 257
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