Editor's Note: Risë Kevalshar Collins' other essays are available at boiseweekly.com, including "It Will Require All the Love that We Have—and More—to Dismantle All Oppression"; "Leaning Into the Fire of White Supremacy with Love—and More"; and "Challenging American Apartheid, Championing American Decolonization—With Love, and More."
In the spirit of Lucy, the oldest known human discovered in Africa; in the spirit of Lucy, our ancient ancestress; in the spirit of Lucy, mother of humanity—I write.
In the spirit of my mother, Ernestine Elizabeth, creatrix, lover of humankind, true renaissance woman—I write.
A friend said, “Your mother lives in your words. I see her, and miss her. Be thou the weather she stirred up: the power of the storm, and the rain that heals the land.”
In Part I of this essay, I used the words “deaf, dumb, and blind” as descriptors of some white people when it comes to acknowledging and dismantling ongoing white supremacy and apartheid. I apologize for this. I stand by my point, but my language was insensitive and potentially hurtful to some whose challenges are not my own. I apologize to my kindred who are other-abled in hearing, speech, and vision.
Such phrases are examples of thoughtless bias in our use of language. Other examples are the telling of “a little white lie” is something that’s not so bad; whereas being “black hearted” is a very bad thing; being “the black sheep of the family” has negative connotations; and “the pot calling the kettle black” might offend some. Language matters.
A black female friend who is an avid reader, and who is the owner of a bookstore, recently recommended this book: Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy by April Baker-Bell.
I restate my point: When it comes to acknowledging and dismantling ongoing white supremacy and apartheid, many white people forfeit their intellect, perception, and their aptitude for communication; they forfeit their ability to clearly think, see, hear, and speak.
Some white people can best hear other white people talk about anti-black racism and white supremacy. Phil Vischer, a white man, in a 17-minute, data-driven video, explains systemic racism and the economic exploitation of black people by white people—which is white supremacy—though he never mentions white supremacy, and he should. An older white male educator with whom I shared this video said that Phil’s calm voice and demeanor might make it easier for older white people to hear his message.
Please pause here, and Google: Holy Post-Race in America-YouTube, June 2020, Phil Vischer. Listen to him for 17 minutes.
This video is important because it begins to do some truth-telling. A caveat: Phil soft-pedals by calling white teachers’ racism bias. Bias becomes racism when there is power behind it—the power to obstruct students’ educational lives. He back-pedals in calling apartheid social ostracism. Discrimination based on race is racism and should be called racism; racism is a form of apartheid. Phil doesn’t use the word apartheid. I do. He says that our laws are no longer explicitly racist. Whether explicit or implicit, when white people in power make laws and policies that in practice protect white privilege, and that restrict the lives of black, indigenous, and other people of color—this is white supremacist. It is racist. It is apartheidist—educational, social, political, economic and other forms of discrimination against non-white groups.
To his credit, Phil Vischer does unpack many aspects of systemic anti-black racism in this data-rich video. But we must also talk about the ideology and the practice of white supremacy. Since Phil does not address this, it isn’t odd that he has no answers for what whites should do about targeted anti-black racism, or for what they should do about its entrenched negative impact in the matter of black lives, or about its economic fallout on black people. He has not named the issue. He has not called a spade a spade. He has not called white supremacy white supremacy. So, he simply asks white people to “care.”
It will take caring and more than caring to right the wrongs of white supremacy, the enslavement of blacks, white privilege, anti-black racism, Jim Crow, Black Codes, and American apartheid—from housing to healthcare, from education to employment, from racial profiling to racially motivated beatings, from murders of blacks by white police officers and other white vigilantes to mass incarceration of blacks by our white-run criminal justice system, from back-in-the-day to modern-day lynchings. It will require divestment from apartheid—from apartheid in the economy to apartheid in the environment; from American social apartheid to American religious apartheid; from apartheid in our laws, policies, and politics—to apartheid in our programs, practices, and privileges.
Phil Vischer should call for identifying, naming, and divesting from the ideology of white supremacy; for the dismantling of white supremacist policy, practice, and privilege. Phil should call for corrective legislation. He should call for writing remedial laws—to close the loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment which states that slavery is abolished except for those convicted of a crime. This incentivizes law enforcement to criminalize blacks, arrest, charge, and incarcerate black men at inordinate rates. Phil should call for the true application of the 14th Amendment—equal protection under law. Phil and other people of good conscience should call for equal justice. He and they should call for reparations.
Please read: DeNeen L. Brown’s “Remembering ‘Red Summer,’ when white mobs massacred Blacks from Tulsa to DC,” in National Geographic. Brown mentions a book that I’d like to read: 1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back by David F. Krugler.
Please find on YouTube and/or Google: Tim Wise—a Jewish white male anti-racism educator and activist who challenges white privilege and white supremacy.
I’d like to have the luxury of thinking, reading, and writing about issues other than those I am compelled to think, read, and write about at this pivotal time. I’d like to have spaciousness to remember the experience of humanity, warmth, and welcoming I received in France when I was 25. The French had great respect for blacks. African American warriors had aided them during World Wars I and II. Further, they loved black American entertainer Josephine Baker, who also served as a spy for the French Resistance during the Second World War. White Americans had neither love or respect for black Americans who supplied the forced free labor that helped the country to create and to maintain itself as a leading global economy. White America’s wealth was built on the backs of the black Americans whom white Americans, for 250 years, enslaved.
By age 25, I’d forgotten that when I was 19, I was stranded for a month in Haiti, a former French colony, where the dictatorial rule of Papa Doc Duvalier had ended, and the rule of his son, Baby Doc, had begun. At 19 I did not realize that the poverty, illiteracy, and desperation I saw there was part the work of a madman, part the wreckage that more than a century and a half of white colonization had created and then left in its wake, and it was part the toll imposed by Catholicism and the long reach of its white supremacist and racist Doctrine of Discovery.
At age 25, I didn’t know that Europe’s colonization of Africa and America was in fact rabid white supremacy. I didn’t envision that in my 30s I’d visit Germany; or that at age 42 I’d travel to Congo, formerly colonized by Belgium, to volunteer after the Rwandan Civil War—Rwanda having been first colonized by Germany and then by Belgium. When I was 42, I didn’t know that later, in my 50s, I’d visit Belgium where I saw Manneken Pis; or that in 2020, when I am in my 60s, that King Philippe of Belgium would write a letter of “regret” to the people of Congo for Belgium’s brutal colonial past there—for Belgium’s white supremacist and racist rule that pissed all over Congo.
In his letter, Philippe did not apologize for the many acts of violence and cruelty of which I’ve read—the many mutilations, and the over 10 million murders caused by Philippe’s ancestor, Leopold II. Nor did Philippe offer any form of reparations for the forced labor—enslavement—of the Congolese people under Belgium’s rule, or for Belgium’s rape of their land, their ivory, and their rubber plantations. Philippe offered the Congolese no payment from money made, from interest gained, or from inheritance to him bequeathed.
Like many European nations, the United States has yet to reckon with its own colonial past. The United States of America has yet to reckon with its white supremacist history, with its legacy of slavery, with its ongoing structural injustice, and with systemic anti-black racism in plain sight within its colonized shores. America has yet to make meaningful reparations to its black American citizens.
When I was 25, I did not become an American expatriate in France as many other black American artists and servicemen had done. Instead, I sobbed as I left Paris to return to my work as an actress on Broadway in New York City, in the U.S., in my homeland that was and is still, in ways, under colonization. In the 1970s, I did not fully recognize or have language for the many structural, institutionalized, systemic, internalized, and socialized, aspects of white supremacy, colonization, and racism that would, in 2020, still remain riveted in place. But I did know the burden of their weight, and I sobbed as I left the freedom of France to return to the country of my birth where there is a hunger in the land for love.
Please read: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by historian Edward E. Baptist.
Just before I turned 30, I left New York City. Since then, my many moves have sometimes felt akin to restlessness, or have perhaps looked like adventure lust. In reality my moving has been a search for safety in my homeland, it’s been part of my seeking a place that would offer me full inclusion, it has been an aspect of my desire to find welcoming in my own country. American people, like American leadership, are at times intelligent, yet we are often without wisdom, without integrity, without humanity. I want my country to be kind, to be just, to be fair.
Each time I’ve moved I’ve worried that the realtor might practice some new form of housing discrimination, or that the down payment would be raised in an effort to keep me out. I’ve stressed over how much a white-run bank might hike my interest rate. For two and a half years beginning in 2004, I lived in Oregon which, at that time, was said to have the largest Klan membership outside of the south. The son of my next-door neighbors flew a confederate flag from the antennae of his pickup; a pickup with two rifles crossed and affixed in its back window. He would not speak, though his pit bull snarled. In 2007, I moved to Washington State where, again, I was the only non-white person in my neighborhood. When I moved in, a white female neighbor asked, “Are you the dog walker?” I’m uncertain what I feel when I recall that during the last economic downturn, my American white male realtor said the same words to me in Edmonds in 2013 that a white Englishman shouted at me in London’s Hyde Park in 1978: “You should go back to Africa.”
For four years I lived and worked in North Idaho. In 2014, while in the presence of her supervisor, a white female nurse sidled up to me, the Master Social Worker, got in my face and out of nowhere, blurted, “Fuck you.” For the better part of 2017, I lived across the street from a white man who wouldn’t meet my gaze, and who wouldn’t speak—though his five-year-old daughter yelled out what her daddy called people with dark skin, and she warned me that her six-year-old bother didn’t like black people.
I remember when white people wouldn’t rent to my mother. Since then, I have moved 51 times in America. Each time—including when I moved to Boise in 2018—I’ve been anxious about whether or not someone would rent to me. As a backup plan, I put non-refundable deposits on two apartments. During our move from North Idaho to Boise, my sister, who drove behind me, managed to avoid being run off the highway by two white men in a truck. I was on edge as we passed the shameless wave of confederate flags between Riggins and McCall.
Family lore had it that in the late 1800s or early 1900s in Louisiana, there was a blue-eyed Catholic Irishman, who had an Irish Catholic wife and ten Irish Catholic children.
When his wife died, he married the family’s maid, a tall dark handsome woman of African ancestry who was an excellent housekeeper, an extraordinary Creole cook, and who spoke French patois. These were my maternal great grandparents. Together, they had ten more Irish-African children. But, given the place and time, the two sets of children never spoke. (As I am now able to unearth a bit more of this history, it appears that my blue-eyed Irish great grandfather may have been the very fair-skinned mulatto son of a slave owner and a former slave. I find that the names of five children that my great grandfather had with his first wife, and nine that he had with my great grandmother.)
One of the second set of children was my maternal grandfather, who settled in Ohio and was a mason by trade. One of his sisters, my great aunt, was a nun, and after initially being housed in a segregated convent—for the colored brides of Christ—she later became a Mother Superior in the Catholic church. Another of their sisters eloped to Massachusetts and married a Muslim man. A third, and very beautiful sister, married, gave birth to three daughters in three years, developed a mental illness, was institutionalized, and given shock treatments. She spoke of having been raped in the institution, and she carried on conversations with people whom no one else could hear or see. One of the brothers landed in New Jersey. He was a mathematician, earned multiple degrees, and was a recluse. (This might have been a half-brother from my great grandfather’s first set of children.) Another handsome, hardworking, and hard drinking brother lived in Texas. I know nothing of the others. Yet, in this one section of the family there was the progeny of a slave owner and a former slave, Irish, African, Christian, Muslim, alcohol abuse, mental illness, a mathematician, and a mason.
My grandfather, an Army veteran of WWII, was captured in Germany while fighting to free Europe, and ultimately to liberate the Jews. During his time as a prisoner of war, he was fed only potato peels sliced thin enough to see daylight through. When WWII ended in 1945, he returned to the U.S. shell shocked, had lost all his teeth, had earned a purple heart and, here at home, he had no civil rights. He joined the brotherhood of Freemasons, an international organization established for fellowship and mutual aid. George Washington and many other U.S. presidents were Masons. My grandfather became a 33rd Degree Mason—a high honor—and a potentate in the Prince Hall Masons—the black Masons. Masons are to live by truth, honor and charity. Although the Masonic brotherhood is founded on the principles of liberty, equality, and peace, in some jurisdictions the fraternity of Masons, until the 1960s, remained segregated.
We were not born in Africa. We are not refugees. We are not immigrants. We have the distinction of being descendants of those whom some Africans sold; descendants of those whom some Europeans and some white Americans stole, and bought, and raped, and worked, and sold, and resold. My sister and I, our mother, my maternal grandmother, and my maternal great grandmother were born in America. Like many black people, we don’t know very far back in our history because many white slavers didn’t keep good records of their property. Neither did the state or the federal government. We are Americans of African descent; we are the descendants of an enslaved and a transformative people; a transformative people in a land where there is a great hunger for love.
Please see: Twelve Years a Slave based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, and directed by Steve McQueen.
Please watch: Harriet directed by Kasi Lemmons.
In 1962, Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
In Texas, my home state, in 2015, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, was arrested during a pretextual traffic stop by a Hispanic police officer, Brian Encinia, and later found hanged in her jail cell. In Texas, in 2019, Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman, was fatally shot in her home by a white police officer, Aaron Dean, after he’d been called to do a welfare check. In Kentucky, on March 13, 2020, while she slept in her bed, Breonna Taylor, an unarmed 26-year-old black woman, was shot eight times. She was murdered by plainclothes no-knock police officers who blindly fired 20 shots into her apartment with no regard for human life. The officers were three white men: Jon Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove. Joshua Jaynes is the white police detective who wrote the questionable affidavit seeking and obtaining the no-knock search warrant that led to the police killing of Breonna Taylor. Four months later, no one has been charged. I don’t rest well.
A Boise associate, a white male history professor, is studying how former abolitionists retreated from the ongoing African American struggle for freedom. He speaks of the necessity of present-day whites being allies to blacks. But he wonders how reliable whites will be in the years to come. Further, he mentioned that the case of Breonna Taylor hasn’t gotten resolution. I told him that Beyoncé—also from Texas—wrote an open letter to the Kentucky Attorney General on Breonna’s behalf and that, like Beyoncé, we should each be encouraged to write to the Kentucky Attorney General demanding justice for Breonna. I asked the professor to write a letter. He looked doubtful. But, at least he will teach—and I trust him to teach truth.
For the first time, Oprah has put someone else on the cover of O, The Oprah Magazine. Breonna Taylor is on the September cover of O. It reads, “If you turn a blind eye to racism, you become an accomplice to it.”
Last year, also in Boise, I asked a white male friend who is a lawyer—with 40 years of experience—for his assistance in writing a letter, a letter to congress members, governors, and such on behalf of disproportionately imprisoned black men. For six months he resisted. For six months I persisted. Not only has he practiced American law, he teaches American law in the U.S., and he has taught it abroad. But—for six months he resisted helping me to write a letter in support of black men for whom his beloved American law is often misapplied. He has acknowledged that if his daughter were a member of a targeted group, he would not hesitate to write a letter to congress, to the attorney general and the to governor of the appropriate state. (Ultimately, he helped me to write 30 letters, and found value in doing and felt good about having done so.)
Soulless commanders-in-chief, justices, lawmakers and policy implementors who are without moral compass or courage have been among the most nefarious in maintaining white supremacy and American apartheid over time. Some have been scorching enemies of justice.
Deplorable case examples: Dred Scott vs Sandford, The Civil Rights Cases, Plessy vs Ferguson, Buck vs Bell, Korematsu vs United States, Citizens United vs FEC.
Exemplary case examples: Brown vs Board of Education, Reynolds vs Sims, NY Times vs Sullivan, Marbury vs Madison, Loving vs Virginia, United States vs Nixon, Obergefell vs Hodges.
Prior to 9/11 I had traveled to five continents. Some years ago, I went on vacation with a Japanese male friend to South America to see the aquamarine waters of Cartagena, to hear rainbow-wrapped women hawk their fresh fruits, and to stare in awe at inked skies ablaze with stars. At the airport, on our return flight, the TSA agent let all of the white people through, but he stopped me, questioned why I’d visited Colombia, and asked about drugs. Although the agent stopped only me, I dismissed it as the luck of the draw. But, after 9/11, I curbed my international travel, because once TSA agents started to frisk white people, they might want to do cavity searches of black people. On a different international flight, a TSA agent told my black family member to remove her underwear. It was fortunate for the TSA agent, a Hispanic female, that the request was rescinded.
We live in the same country, yet most whites have vastly different experiences from many people of color. Blacks are jailed, Mexicans are walled, Muslims are banned, transgender people are barred—if they’re black transgender people, they’re often killed— and indigenous woman go missing.
Last summer, I took an 8,000-mile road trip with my dogs through eight states. Out of habit, when I travel, I’m always looking for a safe, welcoming, and affordable place to move. Most times, Boise has seemed welcoming and safe. Most times. But the minimum wage here is $7.25 an hour, and the median home price is $300,000. Black families have 10 percent of the wealth of white families. New Boise Mayor Lauren McClean ran, in part, on building affordable housing. May she honor her word.
Three times between May and September of 2019, I visited Utah, known for being a Mormon bastion with a tradition of religious apartheid—religion used to justify oppression. The Latter Day Saints have historically promoted plural wives and black slaves. From 1849 until 1978, black men were not allowed to enter the Mormon priesthood, and black men and women were not allowed to enter the church’s temples. The indigenous were relegated to Lamanite status, and those with black skin were said to be under the Curse of Cain. For the last 42 years—perhaps due to a revelation, and perhaps due to the Civil Rights Movement—longstanding bigotry and bias based on bloodlines and blackness have been lifted. Those once-cursed lost tribes are now found and embraced. No longer need blacks pray for whiteness. Now they must pray to heal from over a century of racial and religious trauma. Religion must continue to square the circle of ending white supremacy and apartheid. There is a hunger in the land for love.
Please read: Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah; Tara Westover’s Educated; James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time; and Jeff Sharlet’s The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (also on Netflix).
Those who hear and answer the call of conscience must put our heads, our hearts, and our hands together to exorcise centuries of racist corruption, collusion, complicity, cooperation, compliance, complacency, and copping out. We must have the soul force to divest from injustice. We must have the soul force to forge an equitable and just future.
And we must vote.
Due to unequal justice, black people are twice as likely to die from coronavirus as white people. Some reasons why are: a greater likelihood of unavoidable exposure due to socio-economic status—jobs as essential workers, use of mass transportation, close living quarters; many Africans Americans live in dense urban areas where there are few options for affordable fresh healthy foods, and many choices of cheap processed, unhealthy foods. It’s also due to cumulative intergenerational distress caused by slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and Black Laws; it’s due to the ongoing social terror of police brutality, mass incarceration, and the constancy of targeted anti-black racism; it’s due to the repeated physical, emotional, and psychological trauma of justice inequality, compounded by wealth inequality, compounded by historical despair, compounded by internalized rage. Vote.
For five months during these global pandemic days, the white man in the White House refused to wear a mask. Vote.
The predominately rich white male supremacist administration bought up 90 percent of the world’s supply of Remdesivir—the only known treatment for COVID-19. The biopharmaceutical company that produced the drug sold 90 percent of the world supply to this administration, leaving only 10 percent for the entire rest of the world to share for the next three months. During a pandemic, many global lives can be lost in three months. Vote.
In late July the United States of America has nearly 80,000 new coronavirus cases being reported each day, over 150,000 COVID-19 deaths, and over 4 million COVID-19 infections. Vote.
Today in Idaho there are over 20,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. In Ada and Canyon Counties, COVID-19 infections surge at over 500 a day. There’ve been 180 deaths. Vote.
Peaceful patriotic protesters for Black Lives Matter and against racial injustice in Washington, DC; Portland, Oregon; and other American cities have been met by fascist federal forces. Vote.
In governing myself, I’m doing my part to stop the COVID-19 spread. As best I can, I take responsibility for my health. I respect your health by wearing a mask when I’m in public. Sometimes I wear two. Except for necessities, I remain in self-imposed lock down. I avoid crowds. I am conscious of maintaining a distance of six or more feet. I ask people not to touch my dogs. I wash my hands often. When possible, I shop early, and I wear gloves. There are extra masks, and extra gloves in my car. Due to high temperatures, I’ve removed flammable alcohol-based hand sanitizer from the car, and now carry hand sanitizer in pocket-sized bottles. Other than shopping and walking the dogs, my outdoor time is spent in the garden. Socializing is, for now, a chat across the back fence, by phone, on FaceTime, by email, or by Zoom. I’ve arranged to take all online classes this fall. I took COVID-19 tests—the nasal swab test to detect active virus, and the antibody blood test to determine if I’d previously been infected. Both were negative. I await a vaccine that is determined effective and safe. From home, I will vote.
During the pandemic, there’s been a reported rise in drug overdoses, and in gun purchases. Among those whom I know, there’s also been an increase in mental health concerns.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, there was an eruption of black on black violence. Community leaders say the pandemic has been overly hard on black Americans, exacerbating long-existing inequalities that have yet to be addressed. Leaders say that individuals in some communities are breaking down under intensified and protracted strain. Not all have been trained that a breakdown is an opportunity for a breakthrough. Sometimes one internalizes external brutality, then lashes out at those most like oneself.
In July I am relieved to learn of no new murders of black people by white people or by the police in America. I did discover that less than a year ago in Aurora, Colorado, three white police officers stopped an unarmed 23-year-old black man, Elijah McCain, for “being suspicious” as he walked down the street. In late August of 2019, Elijah McClain died after being placed in a police chokehold by one of three police officers—Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema—who stopped him. A black man walking is too often seen as a crime in the making. This is an aspect of social terror. In recent days, several police officers were fired for smiling in photos taken of themselves as one reenacted the chokehold used by a white police officer on Elijah McClain before he died. But no police officer has been fired for Elijah’s death. If this happened to you, to your brother, to your uncle, to your father, to your husband, to your son—what then? White tribalism, apathy, inaction, passivity, and silence are violence. Every day presents each of us with opportunities for redemption.
A few days after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, another black man’s neck was under the weight of a white officer’s knee in Paris, France. In mid-July, less than two months since the murder of George Floyd, two male police officers in London, England pinned a handcuffed black man to the ground while the white male officer knelt with his knee on the black man’s neck. This is white supremacy. This is apartheid. This is social terror. The black man repeatedly shouted, “Get off my neck.” In London, like in Paris, like in Minneapolis, the events were captured on video—which is good. And thank you, God, for patriotic protesters.
Recently, a white male Methodist pastor in Boise asked to conference with me. We spoke for 90 minutes by phone. He admitted to me that, for him, talking about race is scariest with other white people. Part of the work of equal justice is dealing with ourselves, and part of it is dealing with each other. Dealing with inveterate white people is part of the work. It’s part of white people’s work. You must deal with yourselves. And you must deal with each other. Please. Don’t leave it all to me. I am not the problem here. If you’re gonna be a warrior for equal justice—then Brother, you gotta buck up—man up. Sister, put your ovaries into it—lady-ball up.
Please read: “Citizen: An American Lyric” by poet Claudia Rankin.
The first slave ship docked on stolen land in 1619. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863. The fight for Civil Rights began in 1954. In 2020, the military has banned the Confederate flag. Next: Tackle phobias and isms in the military. Promote black male and female officers all the way through the ranks.
On July 17, 2020, John Robert Lewis died. He is one of my heroes, in league with those such as Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. John Robert Lewis, a son of black southern sharecroppers, was arrested 40 times before and five times while he was a sitting congressman. Why did he, a man who modeled what it is to be a human being, have to repeatedly put his life on the line so that many other human beings could simply sit at a lunch counter, ride a city bus, and have the right to vote? John Robert Lewis, the last of the progressive old guard, has laid down his shield of love, his sword of peace. Tears fall. He was a great soul—a man of love, wisdom, faith, principle, a man of integrity, hope, humanity, courage, and so much more. I who have lived without father, uncle, brother, or son carry the spirit of John Robert Lewis forward within me.
We must see Dawn Porter’s documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble.
Morocco, my 150-pound male brindle Bullmastiff had two hard months. After a grapefruit-sized abscess in June, he had gastrointestinal distress in early July. While lying in the garden on Wednesday the 22nd, he had a seizure. He collapsed in the foothills after having another. A friend and I rushed him to the animal ER. The next day Morocco was diagnosed with having grand mal seizures. He had five seizures within 24 hours. He started meds, appeared worse with each dose, drank and drank, did not eat, could barely stand. I love this dog. The following Sunday, our regular veterinary clinic was closed, and the alternate veterinarian was scheduled too tightly to see him. I made an appointment for the following morning. Meanwhile, the appetite stimulant did not work. He could hardly walk. Staggering, he leaned against me. I love this dog. That night, I placed the cat in another room. Morocco did not sleep. He was in distress, panting hard, nonstop. Throughout the night I watched over him, touched him, offered water, tried to comfort him. I love this dog. I hugged him, looked at the ivies, the cacti, the ficus, the orchids, his sleeping sister. I dozed. At 3:30 a.m. I awoke. Morocco was dead.
The body will be cremated. I am grateful for Morocco’s life, and for the near eight years of life that we shared. He was my companion—a protective presence—large, dark, alpha, regal, friendly, mischievous, courageous, sweet, and more. I carry Morocco's love with me, add to it, and give it forward. My head is shaved in mourning.
In the days that follow I feel slowed, as if I’m wading through quicksand. Everything hurts. I feel worn, weathered, overwhelmed. It’s hard for me to write, and harder still for me to read what I have written. If I knew of racially and culturally appropriate therapy, and if I could afford it, I would go. In lieu of that, there is whatever beauty I can find—sunshine, the garden, music, emerald lipstick, my sister, Morocco’s sister, the kitty, friends, roses, daylillies. Beauty will not save us, but beauty counts, beauty helps. I am my mother’s eldest daughter. I will keep going. Still, tears fall.
I’ve stashed dollar bills in my glove compartment to give to people in need. During the pandemic, I see people with signs more frequently. Last week, in the Walmart parking lot, I circled back to share money with a white woman whose cardboard sign expressed need. Later, near Whole Foods Market, a family who appeared to be Muslim sat on side of the road. The mother held several young children; the father held a sign. I stopped and made an offering. The husband nodded thank you; the wife blew thank you kisses. Several times now, at the edge of the Boise Co-Op parking lot, I’ve seen women and their children holding signs. The woman who rested on the ground beneath a tree looked to be from the Middle East. Her sign read: “Single mother with five children.” After receiving donations, her older son entered the Co-Op and bought food. Today, a woman with three children and a sign that said, “Need money for food and rent,” told me she is from Romania. As I handed her money I said, “Te iubesc.” Stunned, she reached for it, then stammered as she said, “I love you, too.”
We are confronted with a crisis of conscience—with a crisis of personal conscience, and with a crisis of collective conscience. We are confronted with a climate crisis taking a back seat to the global health crisis of coronavirus COVID-19. As infections surge locally and afar, more than 150 medical experts, scientists, nurses, teachers and others urge political leaders to enforce a nationwide shutdown in order to start over, in order to contain the spread. We are confronted with an economic crisis resulting from the pandemic and from its poor management by elected leadership. There is soaring unemployment and shrinking GDP. We are confronted with a crisis of systemic racial injustice laid bone bare by the pandemic, and with the crisis of police and would-be police brutality toward and murder of African American people. We are confronted with social unrest, with ongoing protests for Black Lives Matter and against racial injustice. These have been met by armed federal forces. Mothers have placed themselves between their peacefully protesting children and the armed national police. We are confronted with a political crisis of fascism versus democracy.
Conscience calls. It is a time of moral reckoning. The axis of consciousness has shifted and continues shifting. Individually and collectively, we stand at the altar of self-examination. Who do I—as a human being, and as a citizen—choose to be? Who do we, as a people, and as a nation, choose to become?
In support of people of good conscience who stand together, walk together, shout out for equity and justice together in the middle of our nation’s roads—I write. In support of peaceful and patriotic protesters who speak out, who take a knee, who raise a fist, who march forward, who take ethical ground—I write. For those who see what is missing in our society—the presence of which would make a viable difference—and who in your own areas of influence take effective action to fill the void—I write. You are removing the shackled remains of slavery from your own backyard; you are doing humanitarian work in your own hometown; you are promoting human rights in your own homeland. You are promoting the transformation of people and of policy, of programs and of practice. Your charity, begun at home, spreads abroad. Keep going. In solidarity with you—multiracial, international, intergenerational protesters, and in solidarity with Black Lives Matter—I write.
It will take each of us to completely decolonize ourselves. It will take all of us to completely decolonize America.
There is a hunger in the land for love. With all the love that I am, I—Risë Kevalshar—write.
Risë Kevalshar Collins
Monday, Aug. 3, 2020