We often talk about minorities as though they are “cultural dopes,” passive actors reproducing social inequalities without even being aware of it. In seeking to come to terms with racism and historical injustice, we run the risk of downplaying the amount of agency they wield over their own lives. At what point might a member of an oppressed group contribute to her own plight? Are certain modes of being more conducive to success than others? In 2007, Thomas Chatterton Williams published an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that mainstream U.S. black culture in the age of hip-hop became dangerously narrow and overly conflated with black street culture. Losing My Cool is the book that grew out of that op-ed, an account of the choices his peers and himself made growing up in the hip-hop era. It is the story one individual’s struggle to define himself and not be defined by others.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool (Penguin Press, 2010; forthcoming in French from Editions Grasset), and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, the London Review of Books and many other places. His essay “Black and Blue and Blond” about his experience being the black father of a white-looking daughter in Paris was collected in The Best American Essays 2016, and he is expanding it into a book that reckons with how we construct race in America and beyond. He is the recipient of a Berlin Prize.
Zeke Turner covers German companies and business, and the news that shapes their world, from the Berlin bureau of the Wall Street Journal. He has written for the Journal about nuclear final waste repositories from Finland, the secretive grocery chain Aldi’s move into the U.S. and the Berlin cryptocurrency scene. He joined the Journal in 2016 to cover politics.
His writing has appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker and Politico.