Walter Mosely has written some 40 books, including his popular mysteries series featuring Easy Rawlins.
Hundreds of students, faculty, and Boston-area residents filled the orchestra section of Emerson College’s Paramount Mainstage on the evening of November 4 to hear award-winning and renowned author Walter Mosley give a talk called “Interrogating Whiteness: Part 1.”
The event, as well as Mosley’s “Obsessive Residency,” were organized by ArtsEmerson in conjunction with Future Boston Alliance (executive director Malia Lazu ’99) and sponsored by Fresh Sound Foundation. Mosley’s residency takes place over 11 days.
Over the course of his career, Mosley, 63, has written more than 40 books—the most popular being his series of mysteries featuring Easy Rawlins—in several genres that have been translated into 23 different languages. He has been published in the New York Times Magazine and The Nation, and has won awards, including a Grammy in 2001 for Best Album Notes for Richard Pryor’s comedy compilation album …And It’s Deep Too! and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
In his talk, Mosley deconstructed the idea of whiteness, proposing that he simply does not believe in the social construction of race, and racism cannot be eradicated until white people are willing to deny their “whiteness.” He noted that until the genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of African Americans, the ancestors of white people considered the term “white” racist for grouping all white backgrounds into one group, rather than a term with implications of power and privilege.
“America was colonized by Europeans who, over time, started to see themselves as one race,” he said in his speech, recalling a time when white people as we know them today were once identified by religion. “Race was formed by economic necessity.”
He shared anecdotes from his time in Boston when people of color were murdered for no reason other than the color of their skin; discussed the opinion pieces and books he has written about race that no one will publish; and raised the question, “What is a white man?” if they all look different. When audience members asked him how we get to a world that is, as he suggests, truly post-racial, he admits that he’s not entirely sure.
“The truth is I don’t have all the answers,” he said in an interview after the talk. “What I’ve been doing is having a discussion. I’m not saying ‘I figured all this out; here’s your answers.’ I think that I’ve figured out some things, and I think I’m saying things that a lot of people suspect.”
Breauna Roach, MFA ’17, said that although the conversation with Mosley was an important one to have, the community’s job as activists is far from over.
A Walter Mosley classic
“Being affiliated with Emerson College or any college or academic institution is not necessarily the reality for a large majority of the population,” she said. “As we’ve done some work, there are still thousands of other types of humans who will never be in those rooms having those conversations, so we need to forward this dialogue and do this work on a micro-level on a daily basis.”
Mosley has five days left of the 11-day “Obsessive Residency,” which includes a launch party for his autobiography The Graphomaniac’s Primer: A Semi-Surrealist Memoir; screenings of Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Devil in a Blue Dress; and a visual art exhibit in the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre called An Exploration of Walter Mosley’s Mind.
All of the events in Mosley’s residency are free and open to the public, and tickets can be reserved through ArtsEmerson. Earlier this week, Mosley led play readings and facilitated discussions at the Paramount Center.
“Interrogating Whiteness: Part 2” will take place on Tuesday, February 9, when Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Sylvia Spears leads a discussion about the theatrical production An Octoroon, by ArtsEmerson and Company One.
More information about the events surrounding Mosley’s residency can be found at ArtsEmerson.