‘Black and White: The Way I See It’

by Richard Williams with Bart Davis

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 5/9/2014, midnight
Everything can change in an instant. That’s how it goes: one minute, you’re on a good path and the next ...

Everything can change in an instant.

That’s how it goes: one minute, you’re on a good path and the next minute, you’re heading in another direction. The game-changer might be something small, something you never noticed before—or, as you’ll see in Black and White: The Way I See It by Richard Williams (with Bart Davis), (c.2014, Atria, $25.00 / $28.99 Canada, 304 pages) it could be something huge.

Throughout his years, Richard Williams almost died several times. The first was when his laboring mother nearly lost her life and her son en route to a Shreveport, La., hospital that accepted “negroes.”

That was an inauspicious beginning to Williams’ angry childhood, which grew worse due to an absent father and a mother’s struggle to raise her children in poverty. Those—and ever-present racism—were things young Williams noticed. He decided that he wasn’t going to live like his mother, who accepted her lot in life.

From the time he was a preschooler, he fought the people and the situations surrounding him—even when they were good: his mother found a White man who offered help, but Williams refused it. He started getting into trouble, insisting that he was the man of the house, and he gave up childhood pleasures even though he was barely old enough to be in grade school.

Before he was a teenager, he decided he wasn’t going to pick cotton, either, but he would do what he perceived would even the score of racism. He practiced running, fast, which allowed him to escape when approached by White men with clubs. He stole increasing larger things, lied, scrapped, and resisted. More than anything, he hated—White people, other Black people, his situation, poverty, everything.

Knowing that he had to leave Shreveport, Williams made his way to Chicago, but that wasn’t a better place. He headed back to Louisiana, then decided to find his fortune in California. He studied and worked, planned and resisted anew, built a business and worked some more.

And then three things turned his life around: a beautiful woman and two children named Venus and Serena.

“Black and White” is one huge surprise of a book.

For the first half, author Richard Williams (with Bart Davis) rants and roams: the anger is so shockingly strong that it pulses from each page and, much like his daughters’ tennis volleys, the story goes back and forth until you’re dizzy. There are also 70-year-old quotes that are inherently fiction and parts you won’t even want to read, including a gruesome bit about digging in his mother’s grave.

But then this book abruptly switches, focusing like a laser.

Williams hones in on tennis, his decision to raise two stars in the sport, and his 75-page plan to make it happen. This second half of his story is amazing, in part because it contrasts so highly with the angry and scattered first half.

Overall, this isn’t a bad book, but it should be approached with caution and openness. Know that, and Black and White: The Way I See It might serve you well.