September 18, 2016

BANKS | The Truth, Part Two

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In my last column, I wrote at length about the truth. Operating with the definition used there, I would like to expand on what it can actually look like to talk about the truth. Since I am a cynical realist at heart, I am not going to elaborate on the bright side of this endeavor: those resplendent moments of success and growth, which are bound to happen because of how elegantly they perpetuate themselves. Rather, I will focus today on the moments when truth-sharing seems to fail.

Sometimes, the talks I have with others about the truth of the world don’t go the way I had hoped. For example, I often find myself being subjected to relentless critiques of the structure and presentation of information, which allows my peers to circumvent the content. Other times, they will eagerly cordon off my attempts to be heard with stalwart, seemingly impregnable defensive barriers — after all, it’s much easier to talk broadly and abstractly about human nature than it is to address an intimate detail of one’s own life or commit to making a personal change. My peers also like to co-opt the conversation as a subversive means to focus on their own qualms with the world and avoid investing any trust in myself or others. And this is just the short list. The long list has similarly recurrent themes and strikingly familiar examples, almost to the point of being laughably predictable.

When I see people respond to the truth in ways like this, I already know why they’ve chosen these coping mechanisms. So while I may briefly become discouraged and dejected, I will never become broken. As a form of inspiration, I like to remember that I have dozens of stories from history to back me up. Still, in turning to former advocates and allies, I sometimes struggle with the juxtaposition that arises.

For example, I recently re-read Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail — this, along with The Fire Next Time, should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves a proponent of nurturing Justice, by the way — and it occurs to me that the potency and fullness of King’s words is sometimes lacking in contemporary recourse. The people’s energy has dwindled away to a margin of diminishing returns. If X is the extent to which people are talking about an issue or committing an act towards a cause — and if Y is the extent to which people are responding to those words or actions — then the curves on the graph of progress have become less and less pronounced over time, gradually regressing to a flat line. If we’re not careful, we will soon find ourselves teetering on the escarpment that marks the end of this metaphorical plateau, huddled together as the winds of our own apathy and denial threaten to hurtle us into the abyss.

Let’s try, if you’ll humor me, to get a bit more concrete. The other day, I stumbled across an article in the Atlantic that meticulously and thoroughly explained how resegregation is plaguing the nation. To make a long story short, housing districts that served their metaphorical “time” during the golden age of desegregation are now being “rewarded” across the country with colorblind policies ,that dictate homeownership, school zoning, etc. And, as would be expected, this has rapidly led to the steep decline in the economic value of homes, quality of education and availability of resources as government support from formerly integrated, thriving, communities vanishes because white people decide to get the hell out of dodge. What follows is an imposition of will on the afflicted through systemic oppression: Cue the school-to-prison pipeline, the prison industrial complex, gentrification and so on and so forth and so it goes, as Vonnegut might tiredly say.

Granted, I exist in an insular space where the concerns of those who seek justice and equity are more likely to enter my sphere of consciousness than they would in many other places (although I still don’t hear nearly as much as I should or would like to from my peers here). I wonder, though: When we are no longer college kids, full of verve and passion, but instead have become true adults, fully matriculated into the workforce, will we remain fiery? Money, networks, power and prestige have a way of making us turn a blind eye, or at least bury our anger under an avalanche of poise and ambition, allowing it to creep and claw back to the surface only in those occasional, inspired moments. President Obama is a sometimes beloved, oftentimes disrespected, and perennially divisive example of what happens when this burial process vaults you into the role of a transcendent, diplomatic symbol for the group you represent, yet doesn’t prepare you for the pressure to exact lasting, substantive change that is intrinsic in such a role.

Believe me, I would love nothing more than to be content with the state of this world, to never have to write about oppression again — to declare, exultingly, “We made it, all of us.” Then I could spend more column space on art, film, music and nature (to which I will turn for a brief reprieve in subsequent columns, by the way). I would also love to declare “fuck this, it’s too much,” to convince myself that there really is no hope for humanity, as the saying goes, and to seize caring or trying because I feel overwhelmed by the world. However, I recognize that no great problem has ever been solved by one great solution, and that even the tiniest of problems will continue to persist and fester in the face of abject indifference.

Listening to what others have to say does not hurt if you are willing to hear something you do not want to hear and if the speaker conveys a sense of respect and empathy. Speaking does not hurt if you are being truly listened to by the person to whom you are speaking. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer to the problems facing our world. But there is The Truth. And The Truth will sometimes hurt. A lot. So whether in doubt or dialogue, I will happily defer to the experiences and opinions and thoughts of my peers, but I will never try to protect them from The Truth.

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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