Walter Mosley on the ability to speak freely

February 25, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

Sometime in the middle of 2019, Walter Mosley joined the writers room of the third season of Star Trek: Discovery.

It was quite a coup for the producers of the show. Mosley is a well known, much-published author who has won numerous awards, particularly in the mystery genre. He is a giant among mystery writers and certainly one of the genre’s best known African-American authors.

One day, Mosley was telling a colleague a story and used the word “nigger.”

Soon afterwards, he received a call from the human relations department saying that someone had complained that he had said that particular word out loud. Normally, the person explained, he would be fired immediately, but in this case he was getting off with a warning.

There I was being chastised for criticizing the word that oppressed me and mine for centuries. As far as I know, the word is in the dictionary. As far as I know, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence assure me of both the freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness.

How can I exercise these freedoms when my place of employment tells me that my job is on the line if I say a word that makes somebody, an unknown person, uncomfortable?

There’s all kinds of language that makes me uncomfortable. Half the utterances of my president, for instance. Some people’s sexual habits and desires. But I have no right whatsoever to tell anyone what they should and should not cherish or express. Source: Opinion | Why I Quit the Writers’ Room – The New York Times

Mosley was so offended that anyone should attempt to stifle his speech that he quit later that day. Then he wrote an op-ed piece about the incident for the New York Times.

I’m a fortunate guy. Not everyone can quit their job. But beyond that, we cannot be expected to thrive in a culture where our every word is monitored. 

Mosley has published more than 40 books since he began writing at the age of 34. He has created three detective/mystery series: Easy Rawlins, Fearless Jones, and Leonid McGill. His work runs in the same channels as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. His novel Down the River unto the Sea was nominated as a best novel for 2019 by the Mystery Writers of America.

Since achieving success as an author, Mosley has been a supporter of young writers, particularly those of color.


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