As the president of the student group Uncomfortable Learning at Williams College, Zachary Wood knows all about intellectual controversy. From John Derbyshire to Charles Murray, there’s no one Zach refuses to debate or engage with simply because he disagrees with their beliefs—sometimes vehemently so—and this controversial view has given him a unique platform on college campuses and in the media.
But Zach has never shared the details of his own personal story, and how he came to be a crusader for open dialogue and free speech. In Uncensored, he reveals for the first time how he grew up poor and black in Washington, DC, in an environment where the only way to survive was to resist the urge to write people off because of their backgrounds and their perspectives.
By sharing his troubled upbringing—from a difficult early childhood filled with pain, uncertainty, and conflict to the struggles of code-switching between his home in a rough neighborhood and his elite private school—Zach makes a compelling argument for a new way of interacting with others, in a nation and a world that has never felt more polarized. In Uncensored, he hopes to foster a new outlook on society’s most difficult conversations, both on campus and beyond.
Author: Zachary Wood
“Without [the exceptional circumstances that allowed me upward mobility], my life would likely have been just like the other kids’ in Bellevue. I could have had a dad in prison, a mom who was desperately trying to make it and didn’t have the time or energy to give me love and support, and teachers who were sick and tired of my black ass and just wanted me to sit down and be quiet. The drugs, the violence, and the hostility—that was years of oppression and accumulated disadvantages coming out. I knew where that came from. Despite my relative advantages, I felt it every day. But I was also determined to make the most of my unique opportunities and hopefully use them one day to make a difference. And I could do that only by avoiding the traps that were laid at every turn for me and all the other kids like me.”
Zachary Wood is an impressive person. He wrote his memoir like he lives his life: free of judgment, open to interpersonal connection, assertive but not aggressive, and with plenty of room for the reader to maintain his or her dignity and opinion. He seeks to understand, to connect, to challenge assumptions, and to broaden both his and his readers’ understanding of the world.
Zach grew up in his mother’s house. She had significant mental health issues and was both physically and emotionally abusive. Nevertheless, Zach learned to read early and escaped into books. But not fiction—instead, he learned anything and everything he could. Even after he left his mother’s house, he drove himself into the ground (literally) trying to learn, to make himself useful, to be helpful, to defy stereotypes, to change the world. I have never met anyone in my life with a work ethic like Zach’s. It is hard to even believe.
Once he got to Williams College, he became involved with a student group called Uncomfortable Learning. Under his leadership, the group sought to bring speakers to campus who held radically conservative viewpoints—the most extreme of the extreme. His fellow students fought him tooth and nail, wishing to protect the safe space their campus had become for them. But he wanted to debate, to push everyone to think harder and deeper. This did not often make him popular, but it did make a statement. It also brought him national attention.
Zach states several times in his book that he wants to run for President one day. I hope he does; while I obviously can’t decide whether I’d vote for him just by reading this book, his willingness to debate both sides of an argument and his ability to do so in a smart, respectful, effective way is sorely needed in the Democratic Party.
I tore through his memoir in just one day. It reads very well, and it opened my eyes to a perspective and set of experiences that my privileged upbringing never exposed me to. That alone is worth the time to read this book.