A legal scholar and critical race theory advocate, she is best known for her 1991 work, The Alchemy of Race and Rights: A Diary of a Law Professor. Her other published works include The Rooster's Egg (1995) and Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race (1997).
She graduated from Wellesley College in 1972 and went on to attend Harvard Law School. She began teaching law at Columbia University in the early 1990s.
She wrote the column, Diary of a Mad Law Professor, for The Nation magazine.
She was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Isaiah and Ruth Williams. She later had a son named Peter.
She and violinist Regina Carter were both recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship.