"Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal" by Mumia Abu-Jamal, edited by Johanna Fernandez (City Lights Publishers, 2015).
In honor of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s recent birthday, we here at Tikkun Daily thought we would mark the day by publishing an interview with Johanna Fernández, a professor of History at Baruch College (CUNY) who edited Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal that was published last year.
We caught up with Fernández in February after she, activist Angela Davis, and KPFA host Walter Turner held a public discussion about the book in Oakland. The talk was anchored by discussions of Abu-Jamal and his writing but also expanded on the themes of mass incarceration, systemic racism, class warfare, and the promise of modern social uprisings, through the lens of what they referred to as black radicalism and the black prophetic tradition.
Fernández and Davis describe Abu-Jamal’s work in Writing on the Wall as being measured and reasonable as well as honest, strong, and transparent. They read passages from the book that shared the voice of someone calling upon readers to engage with American history as a history of brutality – an America Abu-Jamal sees as accurately reflected by practices like the torture at Abu Ghraib.
“When will these dismal days of our mind-rending pain, our oppression, our accustomed place on the bottom rung of the human family, end? When will our tomorrows brighten? It will come from ourselves, not from this system. Our tomorrows will become brighter when we scrub the graffiti of lies from our minds, when we open our eyes to the truths that this very system is built not on ‘freedom, justice and brotherhood’ but on slavery, oppression and genocide,” Davis read from the book.
Davis, Fernández, and Abu-Jamal each assert that until the public grapples with this history, the history of oppression and violence that they see as at the core of all systems of power, there will be no meaningful change, and the dignity of all human beings will not be reflected by the governing powers.
Despite Abu-Jamal’s assertion that the only way to live in a just society is through “scrubbing the lies” of a dishonest history from the collective mind and grappling honestly with the violence and conquest at the heart of Western history, Davis and Fernández were clear that this was a man rooted in a deep and abiding sense of love, hope, and what Fernández dubbed “radical empathy.”
This “radical empathy” is Abu-Jamal’s community based counter to what he sees as neoliberal individualism. It is a call for radical global community that acknowledges the intersectionality of oppressions and the common struggle against elites.
Here is our interview with Professor Fernández: