Patricia Williams, an author and professor of law at Columbia University, spoke last night of media, race and image before a crowd of 150 people in Andover Hall.
Williams, whose column "Diary of a Mad Law Professor" appears weekly in The Nation, spent most of the hour-long session reading from her work-in-progress "Anatomy of Crossover."
Relating her own experience with the media in Britain, Williams said the press tends to distort individuals.
As a result of this distortion, she said black women are forced to fit into categories created by the images of high-profile women.
She said the media has yet to define a "collective status of black women."
Williams, the author of The Alchemy of Race and Rights and On Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race, discussed the recent appearance of Oprah Winfrey on the cover of Vogue to illustrate the difficulties that come from simplifying the identity of black women.
She claimed the nature of the cover, as well as Winfrey's expression and mannerisms, has the potential for either heightening the "desirability of black women" or drawing black women into the body-conscious obsession stereo-typically associated with white women.
Further relating race to culture, Williams spoke of the release of Winfrey's latest movie, Beloved.
Williams theorized that Winfrey's involvement in the movie has increased her pull as a media icon and makes her a candidate for the transformation of cultural ideals.
Williams was well-received by her audience.
Janet K. McLauglin '99 praised Williams' ability to "relate the things that seem mundane and trivial to her general questions about race and class and the way people are perceived in a sometimes humorous, yet not dogmatic, way."