I’ve read thousands of books by now so rarely does a book stand out as amazing. “Losing My Cool” by Thomas Chatteron Williams is indeed amazing. I recommend everyone read this.
It was written by an American man who is part white, part black. His parents gave him a gift when they explained at an early age that he was not white, but black. “There is no such thing as being half white, for being back, as they explained is less a biological category as a social one.” As anyone from a mixed background can attest to, this is entirely true! This early wisdom gives him a unique perspective on the world, one that could easily be a stereotypical account of growing up as a minority, or on the streets, but it’s not. This is not a book about a young man pulling himself out of poverty rapping or selling drugs, this is a story of self-realization, philosophy, and learning to drop the idea of fitting in to be true to yourself.
What makes this book “amazing” is that what he writes is not just for black boys and girls growing up in the institutionalized racism of America, but for anyone who is trying to be “real” to their own culture/race/nationality/religion instead of just being themselves.
I grew up in a liberal, intellectual, and loving, but also multi colored, non traditional family who lived in several states. I constantly tried to keep real to the different sides of me. I struggled and made choices that stopped me from achieving. I wasted a lot of time trying to fit in when all along I just needed to accept myself.
During this book Thomas reveals his successes and failures as he balances being “real” at school with learning from his well-educated father at home who expected his son to be real to himself. He traverses the middle class comfort and conformity of the suburbs to a new world in college and eventually out of the country in a successful attempt to form his own opinions. While he almost blows his chance of stepping outside his comfort zone during his freshman year at Georgetown, his willingness to accept a different path than many of his peers saves him from mediocrity or worse. Drawing on philosophy and critical thinking skills he is able to find his own path.
In the end of the book Thomas recounts how two of his friends were visiting Paris for the first time(another country for the first time). They had never been in a place so foreign and at first reveled in the excitement of this new world, but eventually realized that they had been hoodwinked all their life into believing that how they grew up was the only option. That is to say that they had bought into a stereotypical way of being black. “All that matters at that moment is the lie itself, the fiction that says that for you and your kind alone an authentic existence is a severely limited one. You have been lied to(and for how long?) and now you know that you have been lied to and you can’t deny it and you are naked.” If you wanted to sum up his experience with a quote this would be the elevator pitch.
It’s an awe-inspiring somewhat fearful emotion to feel so raw and not one to be taken lightly. It is an experience that more of us need to feel so that we can see not just the differences in those unknown, but the similarities. Growing up in the USA and most developed countries we are constantly bombarded with views of how we should fit in, but if you look closely those are really based on a fear of the foreign, a fear that is easier for those who stay in one place, literally and figuratively their whole lives to cultivate. Xenophobia is a nasty effect of keeping our minds closed as our world expands into a global community. In order for our species to continue evolving we must step out of our boxes, our stereotypes, and our ideas of what is true, to accept a world that has billions of individual truths.
Update: Men need resources to rethink how they “should” be. Here are two random blog posts dealing with male stereotypes. I recommend following their blogs.