September 9, 2016

BANKS | Reason #972 for Writing

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If someone were to misread one of my pieces, they might mistakenly assume that I am an angry or unhappy person. Yet anyone who knows me must know, I hope, that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

While I certainly have every right to be or feel angry (and let’s not get that twisted), I am actually just an unflinchingly honest person — or, at least, I try to be. I harbor no bitterness in my heart, only an irrepressible impulse towards love and truth — love and truth, I reiterate, because the former is incomplete without the latter.

Please, let me explain.

I can still vividly remember the beginning of freshman year, a time when I held on to the idea of love being enough on its own. I recall how, after Tapestry, I felt compelled to grab a mic, stand up and proclaim my love for all people. Reflecting on that moment, which was met by my classmates with thunderous applause, I now recognize that I sorely needed truth to supplement my overzealous remarks. Having recently attended Tapestry again as a senior, I know from both personal experience and intimate anecdotes that every struggle represented on that stage in Schwartz has had real-life consequences for thousands of people on this campus. And the ways in which my peers have often responded to such a frightening truth speaks volumes about the nature of human beings.

As far as I can see, the means of entrance into the human condition is wide and free; there should be absolutely no parameters or filters, no sifting through the masses. So we should all feel great sadness when a group feels inclined to remind of us of its constituents’ humanity, because this quality is dictated by no one — your humanity is written into your genetic code from birth, unequivocally and universally. The only egress out of this purportedly noble existence is by denying the humanity of another, an act that happens with far more frequency and intensity than anyone would like to admit. Losing your humanity, then, has everything to do with fear, which is the sturdy foundation on which many people erect all manner of elaborate, labyrinthine cognitive barriers, usually as a means to separate themselves from the truth.

Fear has never been an excuse for one to deny a people’s truth, which is in fact a denial of their humanity and a forfeiture of the denier’s own. For example, the truth about race is that we live in a nation born of, founded in and supported by racism (if you don’t believe me, just read The Half Has Never Been Told by Cornell professor Ed Baptist). Our money bears the faces of racists, our national anthem was written by a racist and is based off a poem with racist overtures, and our institutions are adorned with the names of racists. There is no enigma in the matter: Anyone who wants to see the fear of truth — or, just as important, the truth of fear — can do so with relative ease. We must readily confront this ubiquitous reality — without trepidation, on every day, at every turn, from every vantage point, in every location and with every single human being who calls this magnificent, breathtaking, unprecedented and profoundly racist ass nation home.

Personally, I did not realize the extent to which racism, along with all its myths about my blackness and odes to others’ whiteness, had been inculcated in me from such a tender age until it was far too late. In truth and love, you cannot conceive of the pain that came with this discovery as I read, listened, and learned about my society’s deceit. To absorb the truly devastating weight of an eternity — and all its horrendous, demoralizing secrets about the nature of my existence —left me dazed and scrambling as a freshman for some smooth-hewn enclave where I could seek refuge from the truth.

Unfortunately, there is no refuge or sanctum. People who call themselves my friends like to shove the truth down my face in the form of unfunny jokes and tactless comments. Strangers do the same in the form of poorly concealed expressions conveying aversion and discomfort. The world smatters the truth about my news feed in the form of words, images, stories, misery and heartbreak. I am in a state of constant fleeing, while simultaneously being tasked, unfairly, with justifying what I’m fleeing from. So when I see students responding to events, initiatives, coursework, or discourse around my and others’ truths in a way that is not thoughtful, respectful, empathetic, or measured, I become deeply disturbed.

In the case of the truth about race, I have met and loved a few white people whom I would consider to be champions of the truth. That being said, I have met many more white people who remain exasperatingly terrified of the truth. And while I love them too, this love will always be tinged with a fatigued sense of sadness. Because I can certainly mosey about with those people, smiling and laughing and having a wonderful time. But at the end of the day, I will still go home knowing that we were all adhering to an unspoken agreement to avoid bringing up the truth at all costs.

I fear the day when all the soothing language and faux harmony has eroded away, leaving behind the stench of piling corpses and the social debris of human lives that have been smashed to pieces. I fear the day when my peers and I will all have to look in the mirror and wonder what we weren’t doing or saying or thinking that we should and could have been all along; why we deliberately invited the shadow of oppression into our conscience or passively allowed it to hover ineluctably over the world; why we waited, silently, as its immense bleakness began to slowly dim and corrode those joyful beams of delusion that had been glaring unashamed through our perpetually closed eyes.

I must write, then, because even though this laborious and tedious task of truth-sharing should not be my responsibility alone, I would rather take it up now than have people whom I love come to me later with claims that no one had ever offered them answers to the questions I’ve been begging them to ask. I must write, you see, because I do not want these same people, upon being faced with the truth at last, and in the most irreconcilable of forms, to be unsettled or startled by what they see.

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

3 thoughts on “BANKS | Reason #972 for Writing

  1. You speak a lot about people who do or do not know the “truth” about race in America. I wonder how much of it you know. You say, “the truth about race is that we live in a nation born of, founded in and supported by racism.” Can you name a country whose population consists of more than one race that is not permeated with racism? How are things these days in South Sudan? Has Rwanda recovered from its genocide? Do the tribes of Afghanistan get along well with each other? How are the Arabs doing in France? Do the Fijians get along well with the Indians who make up more than a third of their population. How are the newest Muslim immigrants getting along in the various European countries into which they have recently flooded? How do the Muslims treat the non-Muslims in their countries?

    How about slavery. How much slavery was there in Africa before and during the time of the US slave trade? How much is there now? Slavery is an ancient institution. Who paid a higher price than white Americans in the struggle to end slavery?

    I know that you know all this already, but you choose to ignore it when you single out this country as being so awful, when the racism of which you complain is and always has been part of the human condition, and it’s nowhere near as bad here as it is in most places in the world today or throughout history.

  2. Thank you for your eloquent and thoughtful words. You seem like a sincere and kind person. The olive branch you have extended to us is admirable and maybe more than we deserve, but you have inspired empathy in me and hopefully in others, as well. Best.

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