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With All the Love that I Am — and More


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.

With All the Love that I Am — and More

Originally published in June 2020

I am Risë Kevalshar Collins, an American woman of African ancestry born in Texas, where my sister, my mother and, to my knowledge, my maternal grandmother were also born. During the last days of May and first days of June 2020, in the midst of a pandemic and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s wrongful death, I feel as if my steps are shackled, my movements weighted. I’ve been stumbling. It’s hard to sleep. My head throbs. I’m afraid to check my blood pressure. I take frequent breaks while writing this. Everything hurts.

For a time, I lived in Houston’s 3rd Ward neighborhood where George Floyd grew up. Before I bussed across town and helped to integrate M. B. Lamar High School in elite River Oaks, I also attended Jack Yates Senior High from which George Floyd graduated.

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was murdered by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, as Floyd lay face down on the street, hands cuffed behind him, nonresistant, while two other officers, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, pinned down his back and his legs. Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe”—echoing the 2014 death of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man in New York, who repeated, “I can’t breathe” eleven times while locked in a chokehold by a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo.

On May 25, 2020, in the presence of and with the assistance of three of his police peers, including Tou Thao who said, of Floyd to bystanders, “He’s talking, he’s fine,” Derek Chauvin persisted for over eight minutes, kneeling into Floyd’s neck, past the point when Floyd lost consciousness, in broad daylight, before God and country, in front of bystanders, in full view of onlookers taking cell phone videos; in Minneapolis, Minnesota; in America on May 25, 2020—a commonplace modern-day lynching, another in the long litany of American Black people who have been lynched by American white people with impunity, for 400 years. No crime against humanity, no apology, no recompense—just white supremacy.

Think: What would have happened if a Black man knelt on the neck of a white man for nearly nine minutes, and the white man died?

Although Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, that proclamation was not enforced in the slave state of Texas until June 19, 1865. Depending upon one’s relationship to colonialism, one might appreciate this: I live in a nation stolen from the Indigenous, built for 250 years by the enslaved, by and for the profit of the dominant group—white people—who have passed the profits down to their progeny for generations, all of whom have benefited, whether consciously or unconsciously, from structural supremacy.

Depending on one’s relationship to colonialism—on whether or not one has been served by colonialism either viciously or blithely—one might recognize that we live in a nation structured on the supremacy of one group, this supremacy maintained and bolstered by systemic racism, and the institutionalized oppression of non-white groups—especially Blacks. One might also see that this is done through predatory capitalism and a predatory legal system. It has been further undergirded by predatory religious doctrine dating all the way back to the Doctrine of Discovery. An article, Five Hundred Years of Injustice by Native American scholar, Steven Newcomb, sheds light on this.

After U.S. slave laws, there were Black Laws governing the conduct of Blacks, restricting the freedom of Blacks, and compelling Blacks to work for low wages. In his youth, my father saw white men bind the wrists of a Black man, hitch him to the back of a truck and drag him through town. My mother earned $25 a week for training white women to do her job, while the white women trainees earned $50 a week.

Following Black Laws, there were Jim Crow Laws—enforced racial segregation. My family and I paid the same fare as whites, but we rode the back of the bus. We drank from colored water fountains, we lived in segregated neighborhoods, we attended separate and unequal schools.

In our country, racism, born of white supremacy—the conscious or unconscious belief in the superiority and rightful privilege of whites, as well as in their destined domination of others—especially Blacks—is systemic. What people miss is that racism is an effect of the cause—structural white supremacy—an ideology and practice, the purpose of which has always been to make white people rich. No one touches that. The resulting oppression, historical despair, and social terror are a day-to-day aspect of my Black American landscape.

I was alive when white men murdered 14-year-old Emmett Till in America. As a child, I watched television after four Black girls were killed when the KKK—white supremacists—bombed an American church. I watched when Bull Connor ordered white policemen to sic police dogs and turn high-pressured water hoses on nonviolent Black American protestors, some of whom were children.

As a teenager, I was aware that a Black student leader, Lee Otis Johnson, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for passing one marijuana cigarette to an undercover officer. Later, as I waited for the city bus to drive me across town to Lamar High School in River Oaks—where Blacks were allowed to work as servants, but were not allowed to live, even if they could have afforded to—a white Houston Police officer slowed his patrol car and repeatedly shouted at me, “Are you a boy or a girl?” while other people at the bus stop looked on, and while his police partner looked away. At Lamar, I boycotted an American History exam because the American History textbook excluded contributions of people of color. That day, I was also suspended for fighting after a classmate said, “It’s too bad you’re Black, girl.” Once, I was called into the principal’s office, thanked for winning 14 consecutive first place trophies in state and regional speech tournaments, and told by him, “You are a credit to your race.” Because of his relationship to colonialism, he considered this a high compliment. He didn’t get it that each of us is a credit to the human race.

When I arrived at Carnegie-Mellon University, young white men slowed to throw eggs at me from car windows while I waited for the traffic signal to change. When I later entered a local church, the Christian congregation collectively turned to stare.

Years following, after the nation watched California police beat Rodney King to hell and back, I looked into the pleading eyes of a Black boy—hogtied, chest on the ground, wrists and ankles bound together behind him—while a white police officer stood above him, billy club in hand. I circled the block several times in my car until the officer noticed me, and glared. This happened in my 3rd Ward neighborhood. I could not sleep.

On the day that a relative announced his bid for political office, we returned home to find seven rifle shots had been fired into our living room window, leaving bullet holes in the walls, bullet holes in the ceiling, bullet holes in my peach leather chair. I remember seeing the KKK, in full regalia, marching and recruiting in Houston streets. While driving, I’ve seen a sign that read: “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You.” Such signs alerted Blacks that they must under no circumstances be caught in that white county, city, town, suburb, or neighborhood—whether in the American north or south—past sunset.

Sometimes, when I am under duress, like now, such images return to me. I have never slept well.

In January of 2016, we heard this statement from a presidential hopeful: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

In June of 2017, while driving from northern to southern Idaho, I stopped to walk my two leashed dogs at a public rest stop and, without cause, was detained by a white police officer

In August of 2017, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, notorious for racially profiling Latinos, and convicted of criminal contempt of court, received presidential pardon.

In 2018, we heard current leadership decry non-white immigrants from “shithole countries.”

In 2019, NFL players, during the national anthem, were not allowed to kneel in protest of police brutality.

In 2020, a white police officer knelt for just short of nine minutes, with his knee in the neck of a Black man, causing the Black man’s death, for the entire world to see. 

Also this year, the February “hoax” that morphed into a March pandemic inordinately kills Black people and disproportionately impacts other people of color; the Navajo Nation, per capita, is now the epicenter of COVID-19 infection rates in the U.S.; in March, as she lay in her bed in Kentucky, a Black female EMT, Breonna Taylor, was shot eight times by three plainclothes police officers; a video taken in Georgia in February—which was leaked in May—showed the murder of a Black male jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, carried out by a white father and son.

I’ve never slept well. The only time I’ve felt safe in America was the time I spent in a convent—though my great aunt had previously been housed in a segregated convent. I’ve moved 51 times seeking a sense of safety. I’ve lived in historically anti-slave states, which were also historically anti-Black states—such as Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Due to work, I’ve moved to American cities where white friends feared for my safety, and where family members were afraid to visit. I decided against a move from North Idaho—known for hate groups—to South Carolina when nine Black people in a church were killed by a white supremacist. Nor did I move from North Idaho to North Carolina, after a white man killed Muslim students over a parking space. I will never again walk dogs at a rest stop near White Bird, Idaho. Last year, I heeded a warning and did not go to Whitefish, Montana. I didn’t have a good reception in Whitehall, Montana. I’ve learned that up to 13,000 cans of beer per day were sold to tribal members of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by liquor merchants in the tiny border city of Whiteclay, Nebraska.

Michelle Alexander has written The New Jim Crow concerning mass incarceration of Black people. Today in America, a low-wage work force is maintained through for-profit prisons and prison plantations, incentivizing abuse of a loophole in the 13th Amendment to disproportionately arrest and convict Black men on trumped-up charges.

Ava DuVerney has chronicled the case of the Central Park Five in the Netflix Series, When They See Us, in which five young Black men were falsely convicted of charges including rape of a white woman. At that time, a white male billionaire and future reality-show host bought a full-page ad urging the death penalty for these innocent young men.

Community activism assisted in the freeing of a Black man, Clarence Brandley, who spent nine years on Texas death row after being wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a white woman.

In May of this year, on the heels of the murder of George Floyd, a white woman in Central Park called police and reported, falsely, that an African American man was threatening her. The call was made after Christian Cooper, a bird watcher, asked her to leash her dog, a park rule.

The good news: As a Boise State University student, I am grateful for this space to share some of the ways inequality affects my lived experience. And, although my experience is likely not that of many at Boise State, I acknowledge Boise State for allowing a safe space for my Black American voice to be heard, and to make part of my Black American experience known.

The good news: Even in the midst of a pandemic, there are diverse American protests, global outcries, individuals holding their own feet to the fire, mourning and protesting together, uniting online, and joining forces in the streets in protest against centuries of inequality—the racial, legal, political, social, educational, healthcare, housing, job, economic, and criminal justice inequality imposed—in particular—on Black Americans.

The good news: The young Jewish Mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, spoke out against the killing of George Floyd, though not yet loudly enough.

The good news: Some white police officers are kneeling with, praying with, and walking with protestors. Kneeling, walking, and praying are good, yet that is not enough to stanch centuries of bleeding.

The good news: One of the first people I looked to for connection and solace after George Floyd’s murder was Boise State administrator and professor, Richard Klautsch. For me, Richard is a touchstone for what it is to be a human being.

The good news: We can launch people into space, even amid a pandemic. We are also capable of shifting the axis of consciousness, embracing a zeitgeist of equality, transforming our culture, making appropriate policy changes, ending police brutality, and eliminating voter suppression.

I stand for dismantling ALL oppression. It will take love and more.

It takes love and it takes more than love.

I write this with all the love that I am, and more.

Note: This article was updated September 21, 2020 to incorporate minor author edits for improving clarity. 


Leaning Into the Fire of White Supremacy with Love—and More

Originally published in September 2020

My name is Risë Kevalshar Collins. I am Black, born in the American South, raised between Texas, California, and Ohio. I am the eldest of two daughters reared by an extraordinary single mother. I grew up with no father, uncle, or brother. I have no husband, brother-in-law, nephew, or son. As far as I know, my father wasn’t murdered by police officers before or if they took him to jail. He wasn’t one among the disproportionately targeted and inordinately imprisoned American Black men. He did not die by electric chair as was once Texas practice. My father was simply absent. He was absent. White supremacy and racism of the dominant group contributed to his absence, to his belief that his life had low value mirroring the low value that white men placed on the lives of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the many other lives that have not been valued, and that have been wrongfully taken. To some measure, my father internalized societal devaluation. This diminished his value of me.

Our founding fathers were white men, many of whom owned enslaved Africans. References to slavery were omitted from the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution permitted slavery and counted each enslaved person as three-fifths human. This is white supremacy. It hurts.

White supremacy is the belief—conscious or unconscious—that white people are inherently superior to other races, especially to Blacks; that they are rightfully the dominant group, should have control—social, political, historical, present, future, institutional, financial dominion—over people of other races. This doctrine and process was manifest in South African Apartheid, in White Australia policies, in Nazi Germany, in American chattel slavery, in American Jim Crow, and this ideology and practice is obvious in American mass incarceration of Blacks, in the repeated murder of American Blacks with impunity, and in the American bias targeted specifically against Blacks.

Built-in bias toward white people, and against Black people, against Indigenous people, and against other people of color, is part and parcel to the structure upon which our American democracy is based. It is inherent in our institutions, in our systems of operations, in our country’s DNA. It has been internalized, is so tightly woven into the culture, is so normalized as to be nearly invisible to those whom it does not hurt.

We must educate ourselves. I suggest the book: Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad; the 2019 movie: Clemency directed by Chinonye Chukwu; the Netflix documentary: 13th (Amendment) directed by Ava DuVernay.

I live in the diversity desert of Idaho, famous for potatoes, hate groups, and recent anti-diversity initiatives. But that’s not all. I am a student in the creative writing department at Boise State University where, in two years, I have seen one other Black student, and where I have seen no Black professors. But I have hope that will change at Boise State under the leadership of Dr. Marlene Tromp, president; and under that of Richard Klautsch, chair of the Theatre Arts, Film, and Creative Writing Department. I have hope that more doors will be opened, that the field will be leveled, that the ceiling will be raised, that more mentors will make themselves available, and that more places at the table will be made. And, given the collaborative spirits of adjunct instructor and poet Lindsey Appell, lecturer and poet Kerri Webster, and peers such as Trisha Kangas and Lyd Havens, I have hope for the unfolding of an ever more inclusive future at Boise State.

But today as I write, my heart hammers. I am distracted, am having word-finding difficulties, am transposing letters, numbers, dates.

Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, was murdered in Atlanta on June 12, 2020. Rayshard was twice shot in the back by Garrett Rolfe, a white police officer. They were in the presence of Devin Brosnan, another white police officer. Rayshard had fallen asleep in his car in the drive-thru at Wendy’s on June 12, 2020, a week before June 19—known as Juneteenth, Freedom Day for American Black people, a day advocated to become a national holiday.

On June 12, 2020, Rayshard Brooks struggled when two white police officers tried to arrest him. He had reason to be fearful of white police, as I do. He’d likely seen the video of the execution-style murder of a Black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer just two and a half weeks before. If you’re a Black man in America, you fear ending up nearly beaten to death as Rodney King was in California in 1991; or you fear ending up dead in interactions with police as Eric Garner did because of a police chokehold in New York in 2014; as 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead in Missouri in 2014; as 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead in Ohio in 2014; as a 28-year-old Black woman, Atatiana Jefferson, was shot dead through her bedroom window during a simple welfare check in Texas in 2019; and as were many, many more—the list goes on and on. You can end up dead—whether you struggle, or whether you don’t. Two and a half weeks ago, George Floyd didn’t struggle. It might be difficult for white people to understand our fear. We don’t see police officers give white men Rodney King-style beatings, or shoot 12-year-old white boys, or shoot white women through their bedroom windows as they do Black women. This is white supremacy. White supremacy is the root, racism is the tree, injustice is the fruit.

Also in recent days, two Black men in California were hanged. If these deaths were suicides, I can understand at least part of the angst of these men. If these deaths were foul play, perhaps you can understand my angst.

Today, it’s hard for me to remember names. My ability to spell has left me. I’ve forgotten an appointment—maybe two. Today, I can’t manage another conversation. Email and texting are too much. Zoom? No way. Today, I feel as though I’m walking through quicksand. I am numb.

White supremacy did not end in the Confederate South, or with the hooded KKK. It propagates within modern terrorist groups; it lives in the collective unconsciousness of the benign and neglectful mainstream, in its widespread ways and means; in its actions, reactions, and inactions; in its patterns and processes. White supremacy has been internalized, even in the well-meaning; it has been normalized by the unwitting. It has been inked into our laws, etched into our American DNA. White supremacy is the base upon which our American democracy is built. Free land. Free labor. Ruthless accumulation. Unbridled greed. Structural white supremacy is the root; institutionalized racism, the tree; systemic inequality, the fruit. The white power hierarchy is maintained by ostensibly straight, Christian, educated, extremely wealthy white men and their progeny—progeny of the founding fathers.

In my youth, every Negro home in Texas hosted a white calendar distributed by white people, on which a white Jesus wearing a white loincloth hung with white arms spread on a brown cross. Jesus, a white man, the son of God—presumably another white man—at some point called out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In the national consciousness, Jesus was envisioned as a white man, not as a Black man like George Floyd, who presaged his own murder, bled red, cried out for his Black mama as he lay prone on the grey ground, his Black wrists behind him bound, crucified, his Black neck under a white man’s knee. I, one of his mothers, aunts, sisters, heard and still hear his plea. It hurts.

White supremacy. Free land. Free labor. Genocide. Enslavement. Manifest destiny: divinely ordained and relentless accumulation, from the ice blue Atlantic to the deep white Pacific blood red sea. This is our history, whitewashed, ignored, unreckoned, and unresolved.

It will take more than people’s expressions of shock, helplessness, sadness, and shame; more than comfortable covers of naïveté; more than apolitical religious stances; more than promises of a place beyond this place, where we will no longer suffer, where there will no longer be injustice or tears. Alternatively, we face it now; we fix it here.

For weeks winds have raged around the police murder, in May, of an unarmed 46-year-old Black man, George Floyd, in Minnesota; around the police murder, in March, of a 26- year-old Black woman, Breonna Taylor, while she lay asleep in her bed in Kentucky; around the murder of an unarmed Black jogger, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, in February, by a white father and son in Georgia; around the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks after he fell asleep at Wendy’s. My own son, Shabda, who died shortly after birth, would now be 25, had he lived. These young ones—Breonna, George, Ahmaud, Rayshard—are my daughter and sons, so are they all, the named and the unnamed.

Today, I type through tears. It takes me longer than usual to form a sentence. Too tired to rest in the bunker that is my bedroom, I pause to walk and feed the dogs, to water the potted plants. Homeostasis is not my privilege. Everything hurts.

In Boise, Black women are rare. Often white people want to discuss racism, want me to educate them about racism. Last week, a white woman friend in Boise’s progressive North End—the blue enclave in the purple city in the blood red state—referencing George Floyd, said, “Now we know. We can’t deny it. We’ve seen it on tape.”

In America, the culture and experience of white supremacy and racism encourage white amnesia. White Americans easily forget that they have seen, and read about, and heard of the deaths of Blacks at the hands of whites in whispers, in shouts, in conversations, in letters, on billboards, in newspapers, in songs, in movies, in books, on radio, on television, on video tapes, and elsewhere many times for many years. But maybe this time, the collective pain of the coronavirus has helped some to shift, to turn, to open their hearts to feeling, their ears to hearing, their eyes to seeing, their spirits to empathizing with their larger human family. Perhaps empathy is a gift in the wound of these particular wrongful deaths; perhaps increased humanity is the gift in the wound of this particularly painful time of massive global death from COVID-19.

Recently, I sent a link to a blog written by a Black Boise woman, Dr. Charlene Taylor, to a white male friend. Dr. Taylor, while sitting in Hyde Park, was the butt of a racial slur hurled at her like a rock. Nearby white people also heard the slur, but they said nothing, and they did nothing. No one stood up or spoke up. There was no outrage, no support, no solidarity, no allyship. Just white silence. After reading the blog, he asked me, “Had I been there, in your estimation, what should I have done?” I asked him to do the work of thinking about his own answer to his own question. But for the record, we must always confront and always interrupt all oppression.

When I use Google, I get no results for “internalized white supremacy,” “systemic white supremacy,” or “structural white supremacy.” Perhaps there should be. I did, however, find results worth reading on “institutionalized white supremacy.”

Meanwhile, I asked another white male friend what he plans to do—what action he plans to take—to address gross inequality, the inequality of which white people, especially those over age 40, seem to have been newly made aware. This friend is the same friend who told me, “The way out for a Black woman in Trump’s America, is to marry a rich white man.” But now, in the face of my question, he is speechless.

When I again ask him what he will do to help end inequality, he draws a blank. When I press, he angrily says, “I don’t have to report to you.” But two days later when I ask again, he’s come up with a promising project.

He says that one of my qualities is persistence. I say: it would help if white people would get behind themselves and push forward in support of justice for all people.

For those who feel defensive, I suggest this book: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. For those who disremember, I recommend the Netflix documentary, LA 92 directed by T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay. For those to whom it matters, I guide you to the book, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

The 14th Amendment of equal protection under the law is not applied equally to everyone. Just as the LGBTQ community had gotten protection at work from discrimination due to sex, the current administration, in the midst of a pandemic, reversed healthcare protections for transgender people. This is wrong. I stand for dismantling ALL oppression. It will require all of us to lean into the fire of dismantling white supremacy.

I encounter a disturbing degree of befuddlement, delusion, and passivity regarding issues of race in the diversity desert of Idaho, in Boise’s progressive North End—the blue enclave in the purple city in the blood red state famous for potatoes and hate groups and recent anti-diversity initiatives. I must read: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.

For now, I lean into the fire of confronting white supremacy—the assumed superiority and privilege of white people embedded in the national consciousness, and in the culture. Once, I heard a wise white man say, “Racism is in the breast milk and the semen.” I say, true. Racism, and its lineage, is in the breast milk and the semen, in the blood and the soil, in the water and the well, in the letter and the law. White supremacy is the root, racism is the tree, injustice is the fruit.

Several people who know of my distress over this series of murders have offered me the service of listening so that I might discharge my distress. I love them for that. Listening is good, but it’s not good enough. After thinking and talking and listening, we must take action.

An acupuncturist who recognizes trauma, and who knows of my periods of lack of sleep, kindly offered me acupuncture for PTSD. Acupuncture is good, but it will take more than acupuncture to address what Joy DeGruy, Ph.D., has identified as underlying Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, multigenerational trauma experienced by enslaved African Americans and their descendants. I agree with her that it requires profound social change in individuals, as well as structural change in institutions, to address systemic inequality and injustice toward African Americans.

It requires the work of dismantling the fact and the legacy of white supremacy.

It is important to educate ourselves, and to educate others in our sphere of influence: The Great Courses offers a series of college-level audio and video courses, including courses in American history. Yale University offers an open online course titled “African American History: From Emancipation to the Present.” MIT offers open courses in Black Studies. Cornell offers “Teaching and Learning in a Diverse Classroom,” and “American Capitalism: A History.” Harvard offers a free “Justice” course.

We also learn from art and beauty. I highly recommend Daughters of the Dust written and directed by Julie Dash in 1991, which was the first feature film by an African American woman to be distributed theatrically in the United States. It is masterful. It is historically, culturally, and aesthetically significant.

While learning, it is also important to act—physically, politically, financially.

I lean into love’s fire to confront and to dismantle oppression.

I write in solidarity with protestors, nationally and internationally, who march for justice for Rayshard, for George, for Breonna, for Ahmaud, and for all.

I write in solidarity with those who call for justice for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

I write in solidarity with all who stand for and strive for transformation.

– Risë Kevalshar Collins, Juneteenth 2020, Boise


Challenging American Apartheid, Championing American Decolonization—With Love, and More (Part I)

Originally published September 2020

My first name is Risë, given by my mother in honor of her favorite opera singer, Risë Stevens. At age three, an older male relative nicknamed me “Sapphire.” I thought it was for my September birthstone. No. It was after a negatively stereotypical battle axe character— the wife of Kingfish, a scheming man who’d do anything for a buck on the Amos ‘n’ Andy television show. Originally, Amos ‘n’ Andy was a radio program created and acted by two white men who were familiar with minstrel traditions. Later, it was one of the first Black sitcoms on white-run television. My mother disallowed the nickname. Several years thereafter, I began a forty-year boycott of television due to its denigration of Black people.

White supremacy is the belief in the superiority of the white race, and that it should therefore dominate other races—especially the Black race. It is the ideology of supremacy and the practices resulting therefrom. White people were and are the colonial power of America. American apartheid—discrimination by white people against others allegedly due to race—was and is born of white supremacy. It’s said that such discrimination is about race. But it is really about dominance—particularly economic dominance—heartless power, soulless greed. It is time to decolonize America.

At four years old, I preened in the mirror as I recited my first poem:

Ohhh, looka there
isn’t that little colored girl pretty and fair…

The darker the skin tone, the more nefarious the racism, internalized racism, and colorism. Given this, it was a feat of my brilliant mother that I considered my young dark and incandescent self fair—as in beautiful. White beauty was the societal beauty standard. Already, I was setting my own.

Repeatedly, white people say to me, “You and I have different perspectives. I haven’t had your experience.” Right. In an apartheid system, different groups of people do have a different experience and a different perspective. This is because of racism—the structural discrimination, institutional discrimination, systemic discrimination that has been built in, driven in, baked in, and that is held in place by power, policy, and practice. That is the issue. And, due to American white supremacy and the resulting apartheid, discrimination has, so far, bled into and through my Black American life. Racism is so normalized in American culture that it is seemingly unnoticeable to many white people. Now is the time for systemic American apartheid to be brought to light of day, flushed out, cleared out, rooted out. It will take work.

As a 5-year-old in Texas, I was fascinated by the countertop of the tall meat case in the neighborhood Black-owned grocery store. Upon it stood several clear three-gallon glass jars. One was stuffed with fat-filled pink pickled pig feet; in the second, pink pickled pig ears fanned wide; in the third twirled clustered pink pickled pig tails—all for sale to eat.

The razor tang of salt, brine, and grease remains in my memory.

In the refrigerated lower section of the meat case lay thick rolls of bologna, summer sausage, blocks of electric orange American cheese, piles of ox tails, cow tongues, and folds of bloody liver. More intriguing were the large quivering squares of gelatin and fat-filled hog head cheese, pork neck bones, hog maws, and odiferous grey chitlins. “Slave food,” Mama said.

Historically, the person who owned the slaves owned the pigs. The owner ate the pork chops, the pork roast, and the ham; the enslaved ate the appendages—head, ears, neck, stomach, intestines, tails, and feet. When Black folks got a pork butt, we were said to be “eatin’ high off the hog.” I shimmied my jejune hips and sang along with Bessie Smith, “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.”

How might 250 years of a slave diet rendered tradition—we were enslaved for a century longer than we’ve been free—contribute to underlying health concerns that cause Black people to be more susceptible to contracting and dying from COVID-19? And, what part might 150 years of Apartheid-induced poverty post enslavement play?

In the 1950s, I lived in Houston’s Fifth Ward, a segregated Black community. Next door to my house was the abiding neighborhood Black-owned Dean’s Grocery Store. Across the street was the Kelly Courts housing project—a city block of bright orange unrelieved brick cubes of prison cell-like apartments, with tiny square windows built by white-run government for Negroes after the war. Years later, a new Asian store opened kitty-corner to Mr. Dean’s store and competed for the business of the Black people in the project. At that time, to my knowledge, Asians didn’t live in our neighborhood and, wherever they did live, it was doubtful that Blacks owned businesses there. They were rude to us. They didn’t hire us or socialize with us, except to undersell low quality food to poor Black people. Their store threatened to put Mr. Dean’s store out of business. However, after a time, they must’ve become friendlier because there were a few dark skinned Amerasian children playing in the project, apparently being parented by single mothers. It is particularly painful when one oppressed group colludes in the further oppression of another oppressed group. Predatory capitalism is economic apartheid. Stop.

Just beyond our front yard fence, in the wide muddy ditch that ran the length of our house, red-whiskered crawfish swam. There were no sidewalks. Under an unforgiving sun on those mean Fifth Ward streets, tar boiled up and stuck to my shoe bottoms in long Black strands like hot bubblegum.

Last week I read that racist government policies have contributed to the Fifth Ward neighborhood now being one of Houston’s cancer clusters. It has a 48% cancer rate. White politicians relegated segregated Black neighborhoods to areas where incinerators, landfills, waste sites, and industry were placed. How might longstanding housing injustice and environmental apartheid contribute to African Americans having underlying health conditions that leave us more susceptible to contracting and dying from COVID-19?

To date, my life has been lived within a system built on white supremacy and bolstered by American apartheid. If you are an American, so has yours. How palatable your experience has or hasn’t been is dependent, in large measure, upon whether or not you were born with white or near-white skin. White supremacy and apartheid are foundational to our nation. It looks like an issue of race when, in fact, it is an issue of political and economic hegemony. It is time for this to be faced and acknowledged. It is time for it to end.

Because we’ve had 401 years of unequal relationships, we’ve also had 401 years of unequal experiences though we’ve lived in the same land. There were 250 years of slavery; there was the post-Civil War promise of 40 acres and a mule that were to be given to former slaves that was revoked; there were Jim Crow laws and then Black Codes—endless white supremacist practices regulating the places where Blacks could and could not gather or be seen at night, which jobs we were and were not allowed to do, how much or little we were paid, our economic advancement and security or lack thereof, where we could and could not live, the air we breathed, the food we ate, the water we drank. Today, in Flint, Michigan, a predominately Black area, even after several years, clean water is barely a human right. I doubt it would have taken three years or more to remove lead from the drinking water in Santa Barbara, Aspen, or Sun Valley. Moreover, there have been decades of mass incarceration and no-wage to low-wage prison labor. Time’s up. No more prisons. Create jobs. Build homes.

If one is white, whether or not one’s family owned slaves, one benefits from white privilege resulting from historic and enduring racism. Though I am not enslaved, historic and enduring racism have been and continue to be to my detriment. Today, after 401 years of economic injustice, the wealth of Black families is one tenth of the wealth of white families, though Blacks did two and a half centuries of the country’s heavy lifting. Reparations—a means to balance income inequality and wealth inequity—are a national debt, a governmental duty. To be just, we must militate for reparations, to include—in part—providing no-cost to low-cost education, and unbiased healthcare to African Americans.

Please read: Beloved, by Toni Morrison, and The Book of Negroes, by Canada’s Lawrence Hill. This same book was published in the U.S. as Someone Knows My Name.

Please read: “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic.


In the last week of June 2020, I hope for a time without further murder of Black people by white people, and without further murder of Black people by the police. I long for time to sit in sunshine in my patio garden overstuffed with potted plants, tree roses, raised vegetable beds, and lilies. I am holding space to decompress; time to watch red gladiolus bloom in memory of my mother; time to see hummingbirds drink deeply from hanging fuchsia baskets; time with the dogs, cat, birds, squirrels, deer. Time to just be, and to remember.

I recall my mother, an innately elegant woman, saying, “I may have been penniless, but I have never been poor.” I remember it being said of a woman who was much like my mother: “She’s got silk tastes and a sow’s purse.” Neither of them had, but deserved to have had, opportunity equal to that—not only of white women—but of white men.

Before I started school, my mother made a request of me. She said, “Risë, promise Mommy you will never be a maid.” She was planting seeds of aspiration within me that were higher than those preordained for me by an apartheid society.

Growing up, some may not have questioned, but I did question why Black people often had so little, why white people often had so much, how they got it, and why they didn’t share. Later, I began connecting the intergenerational dots. Those who owned the people and the pigs ate the pork chops and the ham. Those who owned the people and the pigs also owned the houses and the land. Those who owned the people, the pigs, the houses, and the land, also ran the institutions and made the laws. Those who owned the people, the pigs, the houses, the land, who ran the institutions and made the laws, then passed their people, their pigs, and their profits down to their heirs; and they promoted policies, practices and laws that they created in their own favor, and in favor of those who looked like them, so that they could forever secure what they had gained.

Those who were owned, owned nothing; they ate what their owners threw away; they passed down their love, their pain, and their purpose.

Whether or not all white Americans recognize it, or want it to be so, systemic structures of white supremacy and apartheid, implicit and explicit, remain in place. First we become aware. Then we divest.

Read this: Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Professor Ibram X. Kendi.


White people in Bonners Ferry, in Boise, and elsewhere say to me, “It’s so sad, but it happened in the past, how long should we feel bad?”

In 1619, The White Lion was the first slave ship to land in America. In the 1700s, armed whites organized themselves as slave patrols to monitor and discipline Black slaves, and to capture enslaved runaways. These slave patrols were forebears of the modern police force. In 2020, police brutality toward Black people remains a source of social terror.

Too often, in interacting with Blacks, police officers still operate as slave catchers for a justice system that sends ‘just us’ into a prison system that still operates as a plantation system where Black men still provide no-wage to low-wage labor.

In St. Maries and in Boise, I hear white riffs on this white refrain: “I don’t feel any shame, carry any guilt, bear any blame for what my forefathers did.”

Per the NAACP, between 1882 and 1968 nearly 4,743 people were lynched in the U.S. Of those, 3,446 were Black, and most lynchings took place in the south. Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas, respectively, had the highest numbers of lynchings. Although Franklin D. Roosevelt denounced lynching in the mid-1930s, he did not commit to support an anti-lynching bill. In 1939, Billie Holiday sang “Strange Fruit.” In 1964, Nina Simone sang “Mississippi Goddam.” In 2018, the U.S. Senate first passed an anti-lynching bill. In 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. Still, to my knowledge, no anti-lynching legislation has yet been signed into federal law. In 2020, a Washington DC football team, under corporate pressure, is at long last poised to change its culturally offensive name. In 2020, Mississippi is, after so long a time, set to remove the Confederate emblem from its flag. Traditions die hard. But, unlike in 2019—in 2020, NFL players will take a knee on the field before the flag during the national anthem in protest of injustice.

Concerning police brutality in America, a Boise neighbor asks, “Do things like that still happen?”

In the first six months of 2020, modern-day lynchings of American Black people remain commonplace. An unarmed Black man was shot-gunned down by a white father and son as he jogged and as another white man filmed the act; an unarmed Black man was twice shot in his back by a white policeman as the Black man, fearful of being arrested for drinking and then falling asleep in his car, ran; an unarmed Black woman was shot dead in her bed by white no-knock police as she slept; a Black man died, unarmed and bound, lying face down in the street with his neck under the weight of a white man’s knee.

In Boise white people repeatedly say: “Your viewpoint and experience are different from mine.”

In an apartheid system whites and Blacks do have a different experience. Our viewpoint and experience differ depending on which side of colonialism and racial discrimination we land. Those who look like the colonizer have a softer landing. Whites were not enslaved for 250 years. No. Whites reserved that special suite in hell for Blacks. White men are not incarcerated at five times the rate of Black men who, after being disproportionately imprisoned, and after being given greater time for lesser crimes, are not, without compromise, restored their right to vote. Blacks don’t seek to gain or to maintain political power over whites by suppressing the white right to vote. Whites haven’t had to fight for all of their civil rights. Per the Economic Policy Institute, in 2019, Black unemployment was at least twice as high as white unemployment in fourteen states. Black unemployment is significantly higher than that of whites. White men earn more money than white women, and white women earn more money than Black women. Whites are safe to sleep in their beds, to leave the doors to their homes unlocked and open, to walk on their streets, to jog around their neighborhoods, to drive in their cars, to park at public rest stops, to camp alone in the woods, to pray in their churches, to have an encounter with a police officer and live to see another day. Blacks—not so much.


When conversing with a Dutch friend with whom I share mutual affection—possibly about Dutch-descended Afrikaners’ long rape and rule of the Black South African people, their resources, and their land with impunity, and likely about pervasive American racism which European immigrants absorb, and from which they benefit—she said, “You hate me because I’m white!”

“No,” I said, “I hate you because you’re stupid.”

Often, when addressing white racism, white people forfeit common sense. Like my friend, many otherwise intelligent white people suddenly go dense, deaf, dumb, blind, amnesiac, and numb when it comes to acknowledging and dismantling ongoing white supremacy and apartheid.

There’s work to do. Part of the work is being willing to look for our blind spots with humility and with integrity. It starts with looking at the self—where supremacist ideology is internalized, where racism has been socialized. Part of the work is to educate oneself and to inform others. Part of the work is to hold one’s own feet to fire.

Please watch: Selma directed by Ava DuVernay.

Please read: Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom; and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander; and Are Prisons Obsolete? by Professor Angela Davis; and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.


Like my maternal great grandmother, maternal grandmother, mother, and sister, I, too, have lived under the duress of navigating multiple layers of bedrock racism. Living life within a system of white control, systemic injustice, and social terrorism targeted at African Americans takes a toll. The enduring stress of job, food, housing, and healthcare insecurity that are driven by racism, as well as the ongoing experience of social terror, can affect a person’s health. They have affected mine.

I am near the age my mother was when, in 1998—her illness having been exacerbated by a lifetime lived in the bit and under the bridle of political, economic, and social bias and constraint —she died after refusing an operation that might have saved her life. Due to America’s palpable history of medical apartheid, our family code was and is: Barring a life-threatening illness, we don’t have surgery.

In America, in the mid-1800s, Alabama surgeon Dr. James Marian Sims, known as “the Father of Modern Gynecology,” developed his trailblazing surgical techniques and his pioneering tools by conducting research experiments on enslaved Black women, and he conducted them without using anesthesia. It was believed that Black people did not feel as much pain as white people. This was white supremacy and medical apartheid. Lionizing James Marian Sims condones medical apartheid.

The Public Health Service, now associated with the Center for Disease Control, conducted The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from 1932 until 1972—a forty-year Study of Untreated Syphilis in African American Men. For forty years, many people colluded with and contributed to this study of untreated syphilis in impoverished Black men, notwithstanding its effect on the Black men’s Black wives, and on their Black children. This was white supremacy and medical apartheid. Participating in white supremacy and medical apartheid is white supremacy and medical apartheid.

In 1951, while Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman, was being treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins, doctors took extra cervical samples from her without her knowledge and without her consent. She died at Johns Hopkins at the age of thirty-one. Her cells, named HeLa cells, revolutionized the medical field. Billions of dollars in profit have been made from the research of these cells, and none of it has been shared with her family. Collusion with white supremacy and medical apartheid is white supremacy and medical apartheid.

Proponents of Eugenics–the application of principles of genetics and heredity to improve the human race—pushed for and won legislative policy in its support. The Eugenics Movement—based, in part, on a belief in white racial superiority—was funded by corporate foundations and underwritten by federal programs. For several decades, ending in about 1973, the Eugenics Movement targeted African American women on which to perform coerced and forced sterilizations and hysterectomies. This was also done on Hispanic and Native American women. This was a means of controlling “undesirable populations,” which not only included people of color; it further included people with mental illness, people with disabilities, uneducated people, and poor people. (Conversely, in the 1950s in Idaho, some white women needed the consent of their husbands in order to have their tubes tied.) This was white supremacy and medical apartheid.

Historical trauma caused by slavery, passed down through generations, and triggered by ongoing injustice is distressing. Because of medical distrust, I have postponed and/or avoided certain medical treatments for many years. Recently, I changed my Primary Care Physician, in part, because though I’m old enough to have been her mother; though I asked her multiple times not to do so; though I explained to her the negative cultural implications —my young white female physician couldn’t manage—in a professional setting—to stop calling me “girl.” Bias at worst, stupidity—a lack of common sense—and insensitivity, at best. There’s work to do. Part of dismantling white supremacy: Safe, quality, unbiased healthcare for African Americans.

Please read this: Just Medicine—a Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care by Dayna Bowen Matthew; and Black and Blue: The Origins and Consequences of Medical Racism by Professor John Hoberman.


Historically, Blacks were not allowed to learn to read or write. Education threatened the institution of slavery; education challenges white supremacy; education helps to dismantle apartheid. My mother began teaching me to read and write early. My commitment to education is lifelong. Virginia Woolf said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own…” I say: “A modern woman needs a degree; most women of color need two; a Black woman needs three.”

I was alive during Brown vs. the Board of Education, when the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. I bussed across Houston and was one of a few who integrated a wealthy white high school. We learned almost nothing about the contributions of people of color in my history class. Many Americans don’t know our American history because American white people wrote, whitewashed, and published our textbooks. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has produced a documentary, Black Patriots: Heroes of the Revolution, which highlights some of the Black patriots who helped to establish America, yet who were minimized, marginalized, written out of our history. I can’t wait to see it. We must seek to learn our true American history, so that we can reckon with it, and correct for our future.

For the past two years at Boise State University, where I am a student in the Creative Writing Program, I’ve taken one class, during one semester, with one other Black person. In my first two years, I knew of no Black or indigenous adjunct, lecturer, professor, or administrator in the Department of Theatre, Film, and Creative Writing. I am aware that the extraordinary Dr. Mamie Oliver was a professor in the Department of Social Work at Boise State, that she was the first African American professor at Boise State, and that she taught there from 1972 to 1988. But, during the past two years, I’ve briefly met only one Black instructor on the university campus—he was in the music department. In two years’ time, I’ve met only one Black administrator at Boise State. She, a veteran, was the Director of Equity and Inclusion. A month later, she was gone.

American structural oppression is standard; it’s mainstream. Last year, in one of my classes, I was introduced to a film that is foundational to the American film industry—“Birth of a Nation”—originally titled, “The Clansman.” It was the first movie screened in the White House. Seen there by Woodrow Wilson in 1915 he reportedly declared, “It’s like writing history with lightning.” This film is taught in American cinema courses, influenced American society, inspired the revival of the KKK, is rabid with racism, debases Black people, and glorifies white supremacy. I, the only Black person in the class, chose to watch the film in its entirety. Afterwards, I was ill for two days. Although technically significant, and although chosen by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry, the film is damaging. Gone with the Wind, another American film classic, is rife with classic white supremacy and with classic American racism.

I’m not sure that I want to read arguable racism in the works of novelists such as Mississippian William Faulkner, or that I need to read anti-Semitism in the works of poets such as Idahoan Ezra Pound. But if such works must be taught, the benefit should far outweigh the offense, and it would be wise to consider who makes that determination, and how such works are taught. The Pieces I Am, a 2019 documentary on the life and work of Black American Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison, offers a view into American literary apartheid, as well as a view into Morrison’s workaround. I’ve seen this documentary six times so far.

White supremacy and apartheid have been the American standard. Broadway theatre started in 1750. The first play written by an American Black woman that debuted on Broadway—in its over two hundred-year history—was A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. Nearly twenty years thereafter, from 1976 until 1978, I acted in the second play written by a Black American woman to be performed on Broadway—the original Broadway production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange.

For educators and administrators there is much work to do to decolonize our educational system. I place faith in my Millennial and Generation Z adjunct instructors, and in my graduate student teaching assistant instructors. I am particularly inspired by peers—the astute and generous Caitlin McGowan and Jacob Robarts—both of whom write, and both of whom will teach. I believe that they will continue to educate themselves about white supremacy and about racism, and that they will each do their part, in their spheres of influence, to decolonize the classroom. After we verbalize anti-racism sentiment, and after we write anti-racism statements, we must take anti-racism action, and maintain it in existence over time. Because of Caitlin and Jacob, and others like them, I take heart.

Please read this: Racism and Education—Coincidence or Conspiracy? by Professor David Gillborn.

I, Risë Kevalshar Collins, am committed to love, to equity, and to justice. For those who stand for equal justice, there is work to do.

Challenging American Apartheid, Championing American Decolonization—With Love, and More (Part II)

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 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 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 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 while 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 just this one section of the family there was the progeny of a once slave owner and a former slave; there were Irish and African, Christian and Muslim, alcohol abuse and mental illness, high-level mathematics and masonry.

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, our maternal grandmother, and our 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 twenty shots into her apartment without 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 forty 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 to the governor of the appropriate state. (Ultimately, he helped me to write thirty letters, found value in doing it, 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, he 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 that the TSA agent, a Hispanic female, rescinded her request.

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 women 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 $300k. Black families have ten 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 forty-two 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 specific 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 African Americans live in dense urban areas where there are few options for affordable fresh healthy foods, but 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 caused by 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 ninety percent of the world’s supply of Remdesivir— at the time, the only known treatment for COVID-19. The biopharmaceutical company that produced the drug sold ninety percent of the world supply to this administration, leaving only ten 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 McClain, 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 after 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 ninety 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: The military must tackle its phobias and isms. Promote black male and black 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 forty 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 once 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 July 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 twenty-four 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 next 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, fierce, 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 where to find 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, daylilies. 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 the 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 a roasted chicken. Today, a woman with three children and a sign that said, “Need money for food and rent,” told me that she is from Romania. As I handed her money, I said, “Te iubesc.” Stunned, she reached for the money, 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 are called to 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 forequity 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 you 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, 03 August 2020
Boise, Idaho