November 29, 2015

BANKS | The Ripping of the Canvas

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When I sat down to write this column, I couldn’t help but feel the shadow of past emotions lurking quietly behind me. In writing, emotion seems to be the only thing more intoxicating than the potential for a beautiful description. Two weeks ago, I had quite a lot of emotion because the glare of ignorance seared my eyes from all sides. I wanted desperately to dampen this fire somehow, and so I let the tempestuous wrath of my own frustration, sadness and rage go wild. As a result, the words kind of just forced themselves onto the page, propelled largely by their own momentum.

Today, the emotion is still there, but now it simmers. Now that the Trillium takeover is over and the demands have been sent, I guess I’m in a sort of limbo while I await the next wave of events. Though that’s not to say I don’t have plenty to write about in the meantime. Like fear, for example.

I don’t usually get too caught up in social media and online comment sections, because I value my sanity. But lately, I’ve found myself more and more drawn to these domains, if only because the ignorance is hitting so close to home. The fear that compels people to post anonymously on Yik Yak or to keep a safe and comfortable cybernetic distance between themselves and a Facebook friend is no longer an abstract entity. No, now it has become the manifestation of a more deeply rooted fear of conflict and discomfort.

This fear torments me in much the same way that paranoia did in the early days of freshman year, when my awakening as a person of color was in full effect and I felt as if my psyche was under constant siege. After all, these kids were walking right past me on campus, bearing this fear while they refused to look me in the eyes. And I felt powerless to change that.

In my moments of idealism, I’ve often compared creating change to creating a painting. In this really bad metaphor, the act of slathering an entire canvas in one single, perfectly distributed layer of paint is not only tedious but damn near impossible. Rather, change comes only by taking the brush, dipping it into the paint and letting a few drops splatter. Those drops will diffuse slowly outwards until they connect with other drops, and the canvas will slowly, naturally change color. Or, at least, that is my hope when I’m feeling optimistic and patient. But this only works if the people viewing the canvas are going to be receptive to a new color.

When I see the uncertainty and fear in the words of strangers across the country, I know the canvas is not ready yet, as demonstrated by the reception this column has received.  I see my friends silently wondering: Has Amiri relinquished his “love of all people” mantra and become dangerous, or is he still someone I can trust to talk to about superficial nothingness while we avoid my distaste for the current events unfolding on college campuses?

The answer is yes. I am both the same and anew. I am still loving, but more importantly, I am now dangerous.  Dangerous, because I’ve spent the past couple years growing and molding. I’m at a point now where I feel well equipped to dismantle the architecture surrounding the hearts of not only my enemies but also my friends. The tools I use allow me to reconcile dissonant viewpoints. They have made me more aware of the lens through which I view an issue so that I can criticize myself as much as I do others. But these tools are useless if people refuse to voice their opinions in my presence or engage with me in person. I wish people would stop pretending like nothing is happening, or like they don’t have opinions.

Fear has the ability to tear asunder the canvas of society and is so good at doing this because of its toxicity, the way it trickles down like water. Fear becomes oppression — racism, sexism and the like — which is the bane of every painter. I mean seriously, the word “homophobia” has fear intrinsically built into its very definition! To those on this campus who are succumbing to the profoundness of fear’s powerful poisons, I say only this: The people who have disrupted your lives and angered you so much with their one, peaceful hour at Trillium clearly have reason to be upset if you feel so personally offended by such modest actions.

And while I would love to do nothing more than write up the countless responses they have for your cowardice, I will instead request yet again that you stop floundering about in the muck of your fear and start seeking answers (Cornell Skin Deep Stories on Facebook is one great place to start). I anticipate that you will not listen, either because you think I’m not referring to you or because you know for a fact that I am. Either way: Please, for once, prove me wrong.

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

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