Saw this cruising CNN. I have been following their series on race in America. Felt it was well worth sharing…
This piece is part of a special series on CNN.com in which people describe how they see their own identity. Walter Mosley is a prominent American novelist, most known for his crime fiction. He has written a series of best-selling historical mysteries featuring the hard-boiled detective Easy Rawlins, another series featuring Fearless Jones and now, Leonid McGill in Mosley’s latest, “Known to Evil.”
By Walter Mosley, Special to CNNWho am I? I am an American from the soles of my feet to the hair that once adorned my bald head. An American whose black-skinned ancestors were stolen from their lives and cultures and piled in the holds of ships like so many sacks of skin.
An American whose Jewish ancestors stowed their lives into the holds of later vessels running from a thousand years of anti-Semitism that was soon to blossom into a Holocaust.
An American whose ancestors walked across the frozen waters from Asia to North America discovering a new world that would one day be stolen from their descendants. An English-speaking American whose language is also whispering French from my Louisiana relatives and sublime Spanish from the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans I rubbed shoulders with growing up in Southern California.
A man whose music is the blues that became rock and roll and hip-hop, jazz that is the bastard and the heir of the unconsecrated coupling between Africa and Europe.
Who am I? I am a man formed by history but oddly lacking in a clear perspective of the past. A man with so much to me that there is no clear identity to grab onto or claim. I might be related to Thomas Jefferson or any of 10,000 masters who raped and sometimes even loved their slaves.
Who am I? I am the target of ad men and pollsters, census takers and the evening news. To some I am the enemy, both inside this nation and internationally.
To some I am a brother.
I can be at the same time invisible and yet profiled, counted and yet forgotten, imprisoned by circumstance and yet declared free by one of the great documents of political history.
I am prejudged for my skin color, gender, age, education, and even for some things that I’ve done wrong. I am a minor shareholder in the great corporation of America and therefore responsible for everything good and bad that we’ve done in the name of business, things we did before I was born and events that shall occur after I’m gone.
I am the amalgamation of all the ignorance, ambitions, yearnings for freedom, and religions of the world. I am — have been — brainwashed so many times that innocence is second nature to me. Contradictorily, America is what I am but not my history, not my identity.
I am a new man almost every day. I and mine were once colored, Negro, black, Afro-American, African-American, brother, sister, Uncle Tom, revolutionary, good one, bad one, convict, malingerer, miracle, and so much more. In the end I can say with conviction that I am America.
Through my veins run 10,000 years of history that touches every continent, deity, and crime known to humanity. This history is not composed of the false accounts of the past; it is the blood and the beat and the light that passes through my mind, and yours. I am your sibling whether you know it or not, whether you accept me or not.
We, known and unknown to each other, form an identity that I can express but still not know, not completely. And for this state of being I am infinitely grateful because it means that I can be part of something greater than the individual, while still I am at home in my heart.