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A Tale of the Three Cows and One Malicious Lion

A lesson on why it’s important, now more than ever, for communities of color to stay united

By Mohamed Shidane, RVC Community Impact Fellow

Hi, my name is Mohamed Shidane. I’m a person of color, a Muslim, and a refugee. I am also a Community Impact Fellow at Rainier Valley Corps and through that, I work for the Somali Health Board.  I am a community organizer, advocate, and an unapologetic leader for change. I love all people, except those who think that we are helpless.

My favorite part of any day is the moment I get to talk with other young leaders of color, to share our knowledge and experiences with one another, but also to chat away our frustrations with the oppressive systems we are working within. The struggles that we unwittingly see and experience daily reminds me of this tale the three cows that my mother use to tell me in my childhood.

The Tale of Three Cows and One Vicious Lion

Once upon a time, there were three cows: a black, red, and a white cow. They all lived on a piece of land with an evil lion.

For many days, they shared their home with the lion, not knowing that he was quietly thinking about their demise as individuals and, eventually, as a group.

Even though the cows did not pose an imminent threat to the lion’s reign, together, they were one unattainable dinner because their solidarity had them always watching out for one another.

However, the lion thought to himself, “If the cows were divided or pinned against one another, they would each become three different dinners for him.” So as the peaceful days passed by, the lion perfected this malicious strategy to create a rift between the cows’ tight-knit bond.

So, when the time was right, he told the red and the black cows that their friend, the white cow, puts all of them in danger of other predators because of the brightness of his color during the moonless nights. Therefore, for the good of all, the white cow ought to leave the group before an imminent attack from other predators catches them off guard in their sleep.

The red and the black cow listened to the lion’s words and didn’t detect the malice in them. They believed the lion was their ally and they foolishly agreed to abandon their long-time friend, the white cow.

The lion also suggested that, instead of chasing the now-lonely white cow off for other predators to devour, it would be better if he ate it so that he can get stronger to fend for the remainder of them.

And so the red and black cows regarded his suggestion and allowed the lion to eat their friend.

Days pass before the lion craved more beef again.

Because the two remaining cows were almost as formidable a pack as when there was the three of them, the Lion had to come up with another story to split them up.

He told the black cow that his friend, the red cow, had a very distinctive smell that could also attract danger to them, then the red cow had also to be eaten for their safety.

The black cow believed the lion. He let the red cow meet the same fate as their late white cow friend.

Weeks later, the lion predictably wanted to enjoy some cow meat again — and guess who was the only one left? The black cow of course.

This time, since the black cow was all alone, he tried to reason with his hungry “friend” not to eat him. He told the lion that he gave away his friends not long ago — that had to be worth something.

To which the lion said, “Exactly! If your friends were still here, I would still be a vegetarian.”

The lesson from my mother’s tale is that lions will always crave cow meat — lions don’t change who they are. But the hope is that, through togetherness and unity, vulnerable cows can stand a chance against a malicious lion.

The lesson is also rooted in one of our East African sayings: United, even ants can carry a whole alligator.

All of us — whether we are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Black, Brown, or any other way we identify — have to be united in working together to stand any chance against systemic injustice and oppression. And because those who profit from the sweat and blood of those who are more systematically disadvantaged are often very small in number compared to the majority they oppress, their biggest strength is usually in our disunity. This is why it is so important for us to stay close together and work as one. Though we all may be different in color, size, and shape, we are also on the same land.