Patricia Williams

Patricia Williams is a legal scholar, and her knowledge of law brings a different perspective to this piece of writing. In “The Death of the Profane,” Williams details an account of a personal experience of hers in New York City. She was not allowed inside a store, despite the fact that it was clearly open, because of the color of her skin. Because of the judgment of the store clerk, a young man in whose hands rested the decision of whether or not to allow her inside. He chose not to.
I was enraged. At that moment I literally wanted to break all the windows of the store and take lots of sweaters for my mother. In the flicker of his judgmental gray eyes, that saleschild had transformed my brightly sentimental, joy-to-the-world, pre-Christmas spree to a shambles. He snuffed my sense of humanitarian catholicity, and there was nothing I could do to snuff his, without making a spectacle of myself. (411)
Her reaction is emotional, but the issue does not stop with her. She had the ability to communicate the incident clearly, and to reach a platform by which to spread the story. She wrote an article for a law review analyzing “how the rhetoric of increased privatization, in response to racial issues, functions as the rationalizing agent of public unaccountability and, ultimately, irresponsibility” (412). And then her piece was edited down, watered down to lack any of the emotional, personal aspects it originally contained.

The review would not name the business, Benetton’s, in order not to offend advertisers (money). The review was above such petty things as describing physiognomy, and so all references to race and sex were removed. All emotion was redacted, because only rationality could be allowed on those vaunted pages. Only ideas that wouldn’t question, let alone attack, the central position of the “typical” reader, who is, of course, white, male and of a comfortable middle age.

How can we speak when the words that we choose, the words that write our bodies, are redacted out of texts for public consumption? When a standard of rationality is elevated beyond reason in order to seem fair. Fair compared to what? Fair for whom? Is neutrality really all that neutral when it tries to reduce all perspectives to that of a single kind of experience?

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