Rainbow warrior: James writes of skin and sin
If you're in the mood for some light summer reading, don't look to Greene County author William James. But if you have a hankering for a book on complex social issues and bitter intra-racial realities, then this 58-year-old novelist is right up your alley.
"I write about warmed-over racism, or segregation within a single race. It can be deeply emotional," says James, a UVA doctoral candidate. "People sometimes don't want to believe what I'm writing," he says, "that light-skinned blacks aren't often thought to be better than dark. They'll ask me, 'Where do you come up with this stuff?'"
In response, last June James released his partially autobiographical novel, Living Under the Weight of the Rainbow, which tells the story of a protagonist named Jam- er, Jones, a dark-skinned black man dealing with day-to-day intra-racial segregation.
"I grew up in Fluvanna," says James. "In my own neighborhood, it was practiced. In my own family, it was practiced. My relationships with my father, my teachers, and just about every black person I met were affected by it."
James pulls from this lifetime of experience to write plays as well as books. Last November he worked with director Bill Rough at Live Arts on Fifth & Dice.
"Although it was his first play, it was quite popular," says Rough. "During the stage reading, he packed the house. I'd like to work with him again."
That wish may soon become a reality, since James is currently at work on Love Thyself, a piece about an interracial couple and their child who wants to do away with all racial categories.
"Of course, that's idealistic," says James. "Racism, intra-racial segregation, it's still everywhere. Just take a look at UVA. The majority of black kids on academic scholarships have light skin, and the majority who play sports are dark."
James, a scholar of African-American studies at the university, points out that the problem still exists because of how deeply engrained the stereotypes are.
"People with European blood have, for a very, very long time, been considered intellectually superior to primitive Africans," he says. "The idea was to become white enough, so that you're categorized as white. People know it's true, but they don't like to hear it."
Yet James is determined to speak his mind.
"In one of my books, I just come out and say it: Stop. This is about personality, the self, not any degree of black, white, mulatto," he says. "Some people think my ideas on intra-racial segregation are insane, but some people tell me I've hit it on the head. That's what I'm going for."
William James Sr.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO