Walter Mosley's Search for ContextMaria Luisa Tucker
Walter Mosley's latest monograph, Life Out of Context, is a cognitive journey that tackles the big questions many of us have furtively attempted to answer. How can we make a difference in a topsy-turvy world where average citizens seem so powerless? What can be done to help the masses of people suffering in poor nations? Is there an effective way for us to individually fight for global justice in a corporatized, corrupted world?
Mosley invites readers into his thought process as he attempts to answer these questions over a series of sleepless nights. He wonders how he, or anyone, can respond to the forces of globalization, exploitation and racism. In taking on such a large task, he thankfully starts from a perspective that many can relate to. He is not part of a movement; his life, he writes, is "filled with contradictions and seemingly nonsensical juxtapositions," just like the rest of us. And that's exactly why Mosley's words resonate.
As the title suggests, Mosley searches for a political context, beginning within his own professional life and moving on to the tragedies of the African continent. Ruminating on the idea of context, Mosley writes: "I am living in a time that has no driving social framework for a greater good. There are many, many disparate notions about how to make a better world, but these are just so many voices singing a thousand songs in different keys, registers and styles—a choir of bedlam."
He argues that it's irresponsible and dangerous to leave the fate of the world up to political leaders because they "are just as likely to mislead as they are to lead." He rightly points out that our political experts "are not interested in the truth. Their only goal is to prove a point of view."
As for Mosley, he focuses on asking questions, imagining change and prompting others to use what they have—their vote, their voices, their profession, their talents and ability to protest—to challenge the forces of economic globalism and exploitation. Among his suggestions are the formation of a Black Party and a House of Representatives comprised of elected officials representing identity groups—gay people, blacks, angry white men, the elderly, etc.—rather than geographical areas.
In essence, he asks that we all re-envision ourselves and our own political context—and he begins with himself:
MARIA LUISA TUCKER: One of the first reactions to your essay is surprise that you have written something outside the context that most readers know you in, which is fiction. How have you responded to that?
WALTER MOSLEY: Well, I know that many people see me as a fiction writer (many others see me as only a writer of crime fiction). I tell people who say this with surprise (or disappointment) that I've written a good deal of nonfictional political work. There are essays here and there in various periodicals, the collections of essays that I edited, Black Genius, my political monographs—What Next, Workin' on the Chain Gang, and now Life Out of Context—and then there's the political aspect of almost all of my fiction.
MLT: What kind of responses have you gotten to your suggestion that black people create their own political party?
WM: To begin with I do not feel that African-Americans should form a political party but that we should form an interest group that hones in on the few issues that are most important to us on racial, economic and moral grounds. Many people are excited to hear someone saying something that has been on their minds too—specifically that the two-party system is corrupt, undemocratic and exclusionary to peoples of color. There are those who claim that my stance is divisive. I understand this response, but I believe that the division is older than this nation and that the only way to come together is to come to our political senses by defining what it is we believe and then concretizing those beliefs.
MLT: The idea of creating a separate black party is not new. The Black Panthers were a political party and now there are groups like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which advocate the takeover of the South, and many hip-hop political organizations, which share the same demands you suggest in your essay (universal health care, revamping of the penal system, etc.). How is your idea of a black party different? Or is it different, perhaps, because it is more palatable coming from someone who is not considered a radical or a separatist?
WM: Again, I am not advocating a political party, per se. My notion of a black voting bloc or interest group is based on the notion that all Americans are the victims of a capitalist oligarchy that keeps us from moving forward in a practical and common-sense fashion. There should be a gay interest group, a real Republican interest group, maybe an angry young white man interest group; there should be political bastions based on age, labor affiliations, and one's status as an ex-convict. My desire is to gain enough seats in the House of Representatives so that neither the Democratic or the Republican interest corporations will have a majority in the House. That way, we the people can have a say in the system that supposedly represents us. If this is more palatable than some other idea—cool.
MLT: You present a picture of people desensitized to atrocity, which is often true. However, I think it's also true that some people respond to the atrocities of the world with huge amounts of grief. I know a lady, for example, who has worked to help poor left-behind children every day of her life but refuses to watch the news because she finds the images too upsetting. So my question is—do you think everyone needs to view him or herself within a global context that includes problems so large and numerous that it is impossible to understand or help in every situation?
WM: With faith and hope, nothing is impossible. Just look at the civil rights movement or the political (nonviolent) successes in South Africa. Should everyone look at the world on a global scale? The more the better I say. But don't get me wrong—people should do what they can. Any step toward the light is a step in the right direction.
MLT: How can people stay in tune to what's happening in the world without being overwhelmed with each day of war, AIDS, pollution, natural disasters and the like?
WM: If I were to say that the pain we are experiencing in the world today was greater than our ability to deal with it, how could I imagine the history of the 20th century? The millions dead from China to Russia to European Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. We can save Africa. We can reduce the prison rolls. We can save the world—again.
MLT: You put forth some ideas that you later retract. For instance, you propose putting up huge electronic billboards in major American cities that show images of starving children and other atrocities, and later you say that this idea is not feasible. Are there any ideas in Life Out of Context that, since its publication, you have changed your mind about?
WM: Life Out of Context is a monograph. That means it is there to cause dialogue. My mind is not in question here. What is in question are issues that must be considered and ways of thinking which are outside of the box that the corporate shills have put us in.
MLT: You ask individuals who live in America to take responsibility for global problems that are caused or exacerbated by American corporations and government. How are some ways that individuals can respond to global problems?
WM: The last chapter of my book talks about how political activism on a personal level has to do with your interests and ideals. One, like your friend, might decide that children suffering anywhere is what he or she wishes to concentrate on. They might start teaching in a prison or working for separate political voting groups. Taking action causes ripples in the system; it transforms not only the one taking action but the people around him or her. Doing anything positive on about the average of an hour and a half a day could begin the avalanche.
(This interview was originally published by AlterNet on March 24, 2006: www.alternet.org/story/33828/)
Maria Luisa Tucker is an AlterNet staff writer and associate editor of CJAS.