Life Out of Context

I was an early inductee into the Walter Mosley mojo (Easy Rawlins is one of the best characters introduced onto the American literature scene - ever), but I have to confess that I started to doubt when Mosley transitioned from the gritty, street tales that he has a real ear for into realms as far a field as science fiction. That is a point more on who I am than who Mosley is as a man (he contains multitudes) and as an author; I am very much a fan of a structure – the right thing in the right place. Heck, it even relates back to my selection of an undergraduate major (electrical engineering) and the focus (digital logic) I choose (analog was so messy - too voodoo-y for my ordered world). So the very concept of an author of detective novels composing sci-fi tales left my brain in an endless "does not compute", If-Then-Else loop.

And then a book club I was in selected a book from Mosley, "Life Out of Context". Wow. In this book, Mosley weaves together all of the disparate threads that have always lurked within the sub-context, the underbelly if you will, of his fiction. In this tome it is revealed as the sense of what it means to be a citizen of the world's most powerful nation – but defined by others to be a second-class citizen – based on personal attributes that were selected for you at birth. And if that does not make sense – good, because a reality like that is not supposed to make sense, can never make sense.

The book opens with Mosley in the company of giants and reads almost like a continuous stream-of-consciousness report of his experiences and thoughts as his life winds amongst 20th century Afrikan /Afrikan-American royalty. Throughout it all, Mosley describes the mundane tasks of his life and his writing in such detail that it is as though he has invited us to look over his shoulder as he draws from that stream the elements of the book. Life Out of Context is then a book that is not so much read as it is experienced, a book through which we experience Mosley’s thoughts contemporaneously with him – which means his conclusions are not so much told to us – instead we reach them together.

I will not report those conclusions here, rather I will urge you to buy the book or pick one up from your local library – or read it one afternoon at your favorite book store (it is not too long); do what you must, but read this book.

I give it 5 Stars.

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Juneteenth / The Maafa

Here it is . . . . BAM!

When I was a child, 4 July was more or less just another day. Oh sure, Dad would break out the grill and we might have a picnic or something, but the emotion was reserved for a time a few weeks earlier on the calendar. When my Dad first told me about Juneteenth - the celebration that commemorates the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation to the Africans enslaved in Texas - he first described it as: "that was the only day of the year your Mother and I could go to the amusement park in Tulsa when we were kids."

One day.

A year.

To a child, that was traumatic.

It was only later that I learned the larger story behind the celebration, but whenever anyone tells you that "slavery ended back in 1865", you should remind them that until 1964, most Southern states felt completely comfortable with implementing enforced segregation between the races - down to the level of ensuring that when highways got built, they ensured they were routed through black neighborhoods and around white neighborhoods (this example actually holds true for every city in the country with a significant Black population - every wondered why the route North from downtown Chicago is a winding trail, while the path South is ruler straight, six-lanes wide in each direction?).

But today - with the onset of yet another "immigration debate" - I wanted to ask myself if slavery was truly ended with the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution (patently not true as we required the 1964 and 1965 Acts for Civil Rights and Voting Rights), so here is the question before us: what is the difference between the Constitution's declaration of non-persons and our modern day declaration of "illegal aliens"?

Truthfully, I cannot see any difference. Yes, at the micro-level Africans were captured and then sold into slavery, transported to the other side of the world and then forced to live and work as slaves in perpetuity. That is a key difference and yes, this country has successfully made the step to a point where chattel slavery no longer exists.

But I speak of the macro level and here the similarities between what happened then and what is happening now are striking:

  • First, placement into a legal vacuum, a separate class of sub-humans.
  • Second, accusations that these "others" will corrupt the "purity" of this democracy.
  • Third, dangerous ingress into the country - before over oceans and now over deserts - where those who die during the journey are discarded as though they were trash.
  • Fourth, burdened by a proclamation that the "slave" or the "illegal alien" owes a debt to those who brought them here in bondage.
  • Fifth, described as necessary for the nation as "they do jobs that citizens will not do".
I imagine that if I sat here, I could easily double this list; furthermore, if I had the time I am sure I could produce a book-length study that parallels these two groups, but the purpose here today is to ask this: why do we continually allow ourselves to fall into these traps of fearing some mysterious other?

Finally, let me turn to The Maafa. This is a kiswahili word for "disaster" and it provides us with our own words to tell our own story. If we begin to tell our own story - to ourselves, to our children - we can begin to take control of our past, our present and our future.

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Life or death - it doesn't matter, I come again

There is so much fear in the world today; no, I did not watch the Republican debate last night. I had plenty of Rudy G. when I sojourned in NYC for six years. I could tell you stories of that man that would make you weep. Regardless of my actual view status of the debate, I know well enough what was said: there was some Clinton bashing (both Bill and Hillary), there was some chest-thumping on the war (mostly by those who have never been to war, but also by a "war hero", whose claim to fame was being shot down by second-hand anti-aircraft armaments). Mostly though, Republicans - since the age of Nixon - have loved to pin all of their troubles on some mysterious "other"; substituting - temporarily? - for the Negro is "the immigrant", although the preferred parlance is "illegal alien".

I have been accused of having an outlook on immigration that smacks of a Pollyanna worldview; one reason this is so is because I choose to adhere to the poem that adorns a plaque at the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Sure, these are but the words of a woolly-headed poet and there has never been, is not now and perhaps may never be a land that embodies these words as true; but does that mean we should not strive for perfection? Can someone explain the goal of trading off the pursuit of perfection for the attempt to attain only that which we know we can do?

Spare me the pleas for safety! Was it so long ago that we proudly (blindly?) strode through the world, secure in the knowledge that yes, there were obstacles before us - but none so great that we need turn aside? How is it that we are the first generation of Americans to wither in fear on the cue of color-coded calls to quake? Why is it we teach our children to scurry about from one refuge to the next, always mindful of an ever-present, omnipotent, omniscient terror?

Bollocks! When I was a child, the only entity with these awesome powers was God - and lo did we fear him! But to fear a man so? To imbue a man - or a class of people in this case - with such power is to create a false god and woe be unto him who succumbs to the sway of a false god!

Guess what? Immigrants - legal, illegal, alien or otherwise - are just people. As such, we should be comforted in the knowledge that we know what they want; they want what we want. There is no mystery here. The creation of an "other" is just a ploy the powerful use to control the weak (meek? surprise ending here though; the meek shall indeed inherit the earth!). Cast away the chains of fear that bind ye and you will see that they are as powerless to constrain your possibilities as the gossamer from which they were spun.

To pretend this rant has a sense of coherence to it, I must state that I do not support this "amnesty" bill, as it provides our current President with something he can claim as a victory and I choose not to aid him in expanding his fearsome ego.

The problem - and listen closely here - is not now and has never been "illegal" people; there is no such thing as an illegal person; a human being can never be an alien (say it with me: a human can never be an alien!). The problem is this: our designation of a class of humans as illegal, creates a market in illicit services for those people to perform. Creating a class of people who are "illegal" identifies for employers where the cheapest labor can be found.

Solution: no class of people named as "illegal"; no class of people who can then be paid under the table - which is merely a means to increase profits. Pay everyone above the table and pay them all the minimum wage or above. The idea that a minimum wage causes jobs to disappear is an economist joke. Jobs exist because there is work to be done; raising the wage does not remove the work - it reduces the profit. Fortunately, it is not the job of government to guarantee profit; it is the job of government to ensure a just society for all.

A capitalist society is driven by the relentless search for profit and as long as this class exists, it will be exploited. Call them slaves, call them aliens - call them what you will. They - we - are people.

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