First off: I didn’t even know Walter Mosley was writing for Star Trek: Discovery, which is sad, because he’s a pretty famous author and is well known for his books that explore racial themes, in both the science fiction and mystery genres.
But perhaps they didn’t want to announce his hiring too soon, because it appears he quit this week over something, uh, unusual: his use of the N-word.
Now, let’s let Mosley himself describe what happened:
I have to stop with the forward thrust of this story to say that I had indeed said the word in the room. I hadn’t called anyone it. I just told a story about a cop who explained to me, on the streets of Los Angeles, that he stopped all niggers in paddy neighborhoods and all paddies in nigger neighborhoods, because they were usually up to no good. I was telling a true story as I remembered it.
Someone in the room, I have no idea who, called H.R. and said that my use of the word made them uncomfortable, and the H.R. representative called to inform me that such language was unacceptable to my employers. I couldn’t use that word in common parlance, even to express an experience I lived through.
He wasn’t calling someone else the N-word or bullying anyone. He was telling a true story of what happened to him.
Now, I understand why a person might feel uncomfortable, but instead of telling HR, they should have interrogated their feelings and asked why they feel uncomfortable listening to Mosley — a black man who has been subjected to racism his entire life — tell a story about a cop using the N-word. Instead, they merely told HR that Mosley’s use of the word made them “uncomfortable.” And HR told Walter Mosley that even though he could write the word, he couldn’t say it.
So Mosley quit.
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. If my words physically threaten or bully someone, something must be done about it. But if you tell me that you feel uncomfortable at some word I utter, let me say this:
There was a time in America when so-called white people were uncomfortable to have a black person sitting next to them. There was a time when people felt uncomfortable when women demanded the right to vote. There was a time when sexual orientation had only one meaning and everything else was a crime.
The worst thing you can do to citizens of a democratic nation is to silence them. And the easiest way to silence a woman or a man is to threaten his or her livelihood. Let’s not accept the McCarthyism of secret condemnation. Instead let’s delve a little deeper, limiting the power that can be exerted over our citizens, their attempts to express their hearts and horrors, and their desire to speak their truths. Only this can open the dialogue of change.
(I’m still baffled by HR deciding that Walter Mosley can’t use the N-word. Does nobody have any common sense?)