November 15, 2015

BANKS | Crooked Records

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Tragedy struck on Friday, and so the world weeps. But for whom?

The world certainly weeps for the 129 and counting who have fallen in Paris, as it should. Once again, hundreds of lives have been lost to terror, and so the world has responded to this global tragedy, because terror is terror is terror, and a human being is a human being, period. Yes, when extremists strike, the whole world listens and responds with fear, fury and anguish. Always.

In fact, I can recall vividly those gripping moments last April, when the deaths of 147 Kenyan college students were mourned with the same fervor…oh wait, they weren’t. In much the same way that the July deaths of over 140 Muslims, who were slaughtered by Boko Haram in Nigeria, were not globally mourned like this. In much the same way that I don’t have the option of changing my Facebook profile picture to show solidarity with the 43 civilians — almost exclusively Muslim — who were murdered in Lebanon, just one day before Paris. And I’m still waiting for more national news coverage of the Baghdad bombings, which took place on the same day as Paris and killed at least 21 people.

This is the world we live in. A world where thousands of Syrian refugees can flee the kind of evil we are currently in the midst of condemning, only to be informed that they are unwelcome. Even as I write this, a refugee camp is burning in France, quite possibly set on fire in retaliation for Paris. But something tells me this is not the narrative you’ll hear, if you hear anything at all. Instead, I have a hunch that this fire will be quickly dismissed as an untimely and easily forgettable coincidence.

I don’t want to believe that we can be so apathetic towards the plights of those with whom we cannot easily relate, or that race, religion and ethnicity can in any way inform the perception of the hive mind that is our media. Of course, I also don’t want to believe that a racist terrorist named Dylan Roof murdered nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina, or that “White Girls Only” happened at Yale, or that students of color have received anonymous death threats at Missouri. Unfortunately, these incidents are more likely to be quickly downplayed now that Paris has happened, as if bloodshed is the metric by which we should measure the severity of an incident. Why? Why must one experience with oppression or violence somehow negate the validity of another?

I am constantly inundated with tired views, such as the “Look how lucky and safe you are in America” trope. Such sentiments sound eerily similar to some less coded versions that I’ve seen on Cornell’s Yik Yak. There, I will be reminded that “at least I’m not a slave.” I will be informed that “microaggression” is a contrived term, designed to help me avoid dealing with my own insecurities like a mature adult. People have somehow managed to label discontent as ungratefulness, oversensitivity and a lack of concern for those suffering elsewhere. This, much like everything these days, boils down to nuance getting lost in translation.

Take, for example, the outcry against the students who have protested their administration in the past few weeks. The media would have you believe that the president of Missouri resigned because he was forced out by unruly students. In reality, he succumbed to the overwhelming power of a lucrative revenue stream (football), which his continued role as president had frozen. The media would also have you believe that a few seconds from a viral video of a student yelling at a professor are indicative of a radicalism running rampant on Yale’s campus — a video, mind you, that conveniently confirms any subconscious biases or preconceived notions people might have about social justice activists or women of color. These easily overlooked details allow the uninformed to completely miss the complexity and depth of a situation.They allow conflict and disengagement from dialogue to proliferate unchecked.

For another example of this, also Yale-related, we can turn our gaze to Erika Christakis’ email responding to a campus-wide call for tact when planning Halloween costumes. In her message, Christakis questions the university’s apparent censorship. This at first seems relatively innocuous, but whether or not she should lose her job for doing so is and never was at the core of the events unfolding on Yale’s campus. Students of color were upset that an individual whose position is to take an unbiased approach towards fostering community has seemingly ignored the far-reaching societal and historical context behind wearing certain costumes. They were upset because, regardless of her intent, Christakis failed to consider the implications her message would have for students who felt forced to combat oppression in a system that shies away from the very word. They were upset because she had equated complacency and cowardice with respect and reason.

I have one last example for you. This one occurred right here on Cornell’s campus, when a student who is infamous for some particularly ill-advised and incredibly insensitive “satire” took it upon himself to schedule a protest dedicated to addressing racial tension on campus. Naturally, Black Students United, among other minority organizations felt compelled to voice their concern that such a protest was being organized without any input from those who are most affected by campus racism. Granted, the response did not fully convey exactly what was intended, nor did BSU clarify that the student in question has often made light of serious matters. But BSU’s request has been quickly misconstrued as an irrational rejection of assistance from all white people. The incident has even been picked up by a few low-profile conservative news websites, which is ridiculous.

I don’t have the space here to go into every single element of the above issues. So I’ll just say this: As a person of color, I find myself under a constant deluge of psychological assaults on both my humanity and my existence. And, as a flawed human being — just like you — I am also prone to getting emotional and flustered, reacting quickly and lashing out in futility against society. I am prone to mental fatigue, and my words are prone to misinterpretation. I won’t always be able to explain everything in full online, or via social media. And the world isn’t going to do me any favors in fairly telling my side of the story either. That being said, if you still remain unconvinced, shoot me an email, and I mean that. Let’s meet up somewhere and have a nice, long dialogue — in person. I’ll listen to you if you’ll listen to me.

Amiri Banks is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at abanks@cornellsun.com. appears alternate Mondays this semester.

3 thoughts on “BANKS | Crooked Records

  1. If I understood you, your thesis is that discontent in response to perceived microaggressions is too often and unfairly being belittled, and the nuances of the matter are being ignored. But you don’t explain how the nuance is lost in the case of the Yale email. She simply wrote

    “As a former preschool teacher… it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably “appropriative” about a blonde ­haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it.

    I suppose we could agree that there is a difference between fantasizing about an individual character vs. appropriating a culture, wholesale, the latter of which could be seen as (tacky)(offensive)(jejeune)(hurtful), take your pick. But, then, I wonder what is the statute of limitations on dreaming of dressing as Tiana the Frog Princess if you aren’t a black girl from New Orleans? Is it okay if you are eight, but not 18? I don’t know the answer to these questions; they seem unanswerable. Or at the least, they put us on slippery terrain that I, for one, prefer not to cross.

    Which is my point.

    I don’t, actually, trust myself to foist my Halloweenish standards and motives on others. I can’t defend them anymore than you could defend yours.”

    How is that lacking nuance? I don’t think she “ignored the far-reaching societal and historical context behind wearing certain costumes”. If you read her email, it is clear she understands what is at stake.

  2. Hi Jose,

    I have much to say, but I would rather avoid a potracted debate here, in favor of a dialogue elsewhere. As stated in the column,feel free to reach out to me and we can meet up to talk in person. My email is amiriabanks@gmail.com

    Regards,
    Amiri Banks

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