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American Apartheid Part II

Rise

Risë Kevalshar Collins graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University with a drama degree and has a history as an actor, including on Broadway. She did her graduate studies at the University of Houston, earned a master’s degree in social work, has been licensed and has worked in Texas, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and has served in mental health, oncology, hospice, the prison system and in extended care. She is a student in the creative writing department of Boise State University where her focus is creative non-fiction and poetry.


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” as 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 seventeen-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 seventeen 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 apartheidisteducational, 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 directly 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. It will require acknowledgment of and divestment from white supremacy.

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, to 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 the spaciousness in which to remember the experience of humanity, warmth, and welcoming I received in France when I was twenty-five. Though France, too, was a colonial power, the French had great respect for American Blacks. African American warriors had aided them during World Wars I and II. Further, the French 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 nor 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 Black Americans whom white Americans, for 250 years, enslaved.

By age twenty-five, I’d forgotten that when I was nineteen, 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 nineteen, 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 part the toll imposed by Catholicism and the long reach of its white supremacist and racist Doctrine of Discovery.

At age twenty-five, 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 thirties I’d visit Germany; or that at age forty-two 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 forty-two, I didn’t know that later, in my fifties, I’d visit Belgium where I saw Manneken Pis; or that in 2020, when I am in my sixties, 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 while 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 twenty-five, 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 thirty, 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 of what I feel when I recall that during the last economic downturn, my American white male realtor said essentially the same words to me in Washington’s 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 brother didn’t like Black people.

I remember when white people wouldn’t rent to my mother. Since then, I have moved fifty-one 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 nonrefundable 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 1800’s 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 one-time slave owner and a former slave. I can find the names of only five children that my great grandfather had with his first wife, and nine that he had with my great grandmother. It’s fuzzy.)

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