November 13, 2016

BANKS | I Suppose I Have No Choice Now

Print More

On Thursday night, I had a conversation with a black graduate student in which he described how he has spent the semester reeling from an endless onslaught of racist bullshit from faculty and colleagues, along with a dreadful display of apathy on the part of his department. In response to my friend’s plight, his committee masked a self-preservationist agenda with gallingly tepid concern, conveying in the most unrepentant of terms that the program’s reputation superseded a black student’s right to be treated with dignity or humanity.

In recounting the events to me, my friend described the rest of the country — or, at least, the rest of the country’s black people — as having finally caught up to his level of silently subdued rage and chronic uneasiness with those who claim to share his values or support his causes. And though he uttered this sentiment in an understated, almost humorous way, it struck me as simultaneously tragic, profound and disquieting.

Indeed, I have spent the past few days teetering on the precipice between a stubborn commitment to love and a desire to recoil from everyone and everything. On Wednesday morning, I walked past a group of staff — whom I always go out of my way to acknowledge. When one of them asked me how I was doing, I could manage only a desultory smile and curt nod before hustling away. To engage in any sort of civil dialogue with anyone, even in the form of a meaningless greeting, seemed to me an unbearable act after witnessing such a flagrant display of our nation’s love affair with institutionalized oppression and legally sanctioned bigotry.

Still, though, I must admit: I remain more wary of my friends than strangers.

Sure, there are some people living in our nation with whom I vehemently disagree on a host of issues, but no amount of personal disgust, fear or anxiety will ever preclude me from engaging with them — especially since many of these tragically triumphant Americans remain deafeningly oblivious and woefully misguided. Yet while people have charged them with driving a pointless skewer into the gaping maw of a wound that already threatens to bleed this nation dry, I sometimes find myself largely unable to tell the difference between the accusers and the accused.

There are few people to whom I can turn and even fewer whom I can trust, although I write these words with a temperament more resigned than resentful. For there is no solace or recourse to be found amongst my peers right now, since so many of them have clearly harbored an earth-shattering amount of ignorance and cowardice themselves, either through their tacit condoning, listless inaction or subconscious support.

Yes, I now understand better than I ever have before, and with a crisp, chilling clarity, exactly how a nation founded on the presumption of universal liberty, respect and justice could demonstrate such hypocrisy from the moment its progenitors set foot on a land they did not own and ravaged its people. I can see now how it was that human beings could legally own other human beings for nearly half a millennium without the world so much as blinking an eye. I now understand how, once freed, the victims of this horror and their descendants could be hunted, mutilated, murdered, discarded, neglected, abducted and dehumanized — tossed into an unending nightmare that so often takes the form of spattered blood, physical entrapment, psychosocial decimation and sobbing, convulsing communities — all without a destiny-altering uproar from the people who have had the power to prevent this all along.

So please, do not tell me this is the beginning of the end, because we have been living in the end forever, even if we continue to find ever more innovative ways to repackage our nation’s oppressive systems so that they seem more humane, more reasonable and more acceptable. Consider, for example, that stocks in private prisons skyrocketed almost as soon as the outcome became clear. This has been attributed to the market’s anticipation of increased arrests, which would inevitably arise from a combination of post-election riots and, of course, any subsequent policy shifts in criminal justice — all at the expense of the most marginalized lives. In other words, the wealthy and powerful in our nation have chosen to profit from the perceived and warranted outrage of the disenfranchised and vulnerable by hoping that, well, they would stay disenfranchised and vulnerable.

As I wrote before, but feel compelled to reiterate now: the truth about race is that we live in a nation born of, founded in and supported by racism. 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. We have failed, again and again, to nullify the spastic heartbeat and corrupted soul of this country, and now we have gotten what we deserved. This is who we are, and we have affirmed in a resounding voice that we are frightfully unashamed of our own putrid reflection.

Naturally, as a person of color, my first and primary disappointments go towards the vast majority of white people. They have failed me, themselves, their nation, their families and the world by not heeding the words and pleas of those who begged them to take this election seriously, warning them repeatedly that Trump’s campaign was indicative of a society wrought with division, hatred, mistrust, violence and, of course, oppression. The swiftness and almost enviable ease with which many of these same white people have recovered — shrugging and insisting that our daily lives (read: their daily lives) will be largely unaffected — does not even astound me as much as it should. Whether or not they have consigned themselves to this delusion in the core of their hearts remains to be seen, but the myopic nature of their comments shows a willingness to deny the power of symbols. We are now faced with a president who has denigrated, disparaged, discriminated against or otherwise endangered the lives of nearly every identity group imaginable. Yet, fascinatingly, the same people who declared that a black president marked the end of racism in America have not responded to Trump’s election with an equally audible proclamation of what his reign must represent. It seems to me that the light of truth has granted many sight, but rendered them mute in exchange.

Rest assured, though: No one, silent or otherwise, will be completely safe from the fracas bound to ensue. Once the dust settles, then, people will see that the dilemma in which we now find ourselves has long since ceased being political in nature. Rather, this is about human beings, and their right to be freely, fully, happily themselves without fear of persecution in the form of policies, laws, violence, or intimidation. People of color, individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, women, immigrants, Muslims, the socioeconomically vulnerable and the disabled (among others) have already begun to find themselves ­­­at the mercy of an increasingly emboldened populace in the form of increased hate crimes, reports of verbal abuse and harassment, intimidation, physical violence, vandalism, etc. There are dozens of examples to choose from (just Google post election hate crimes), but the one that stands out to me is a GroupMe, entitled “Mud Men,” to which every single black freshman at Penn was added, and in which the participants were informed via menacing, epithet-laden messages of planned daily lynchings.

I cannot tell anyone how to think or react to all of this, and I do not fault anyone for embracing their pain, frustration, sadness, despair, anger and/or debilitation either. They absolutely have every right to feel this way, and I’m sure there will be times in the near future where I share the same sentiments. I have become a man with nothing to lose, which of course intimates that I am liberated from all of my previous restraints and reservations. So even as I remain wary of most strangers and disappointed in most friends, I feel enraptured by a gust of resurgent resilience as I seek to span the countless rifts fracturing our nation and world.

On that note, even the people who voted for Trump out of conscientious hatred — as opposed to desperation, fear, or ignorance — are human beings. And though it may pain some to read these words, I know that we must find a way to communicate with them and hear their perspective too. However, this sort of seismic, widescale mobilization will require unprecedented urgency, incomparable compassion, and tremendous temerity. We must now reflect on this moment and respond in a way that seeks to arrest the hearts and minds of the lost or idle — whether through our words, our demeanor, our acts or our spirit — so that we can carve out a path to redemption.

My words lack the potency and force required for such a movement, so I need to be better: More focused, more ambitious and more present. I need to speak with more daring and act with more gumption. Even now, I am beginning to question why I ever censored myself, withheld my thoughts or sought to protect the feelings of those who seemed predisposed to agree with me on some fundamental level. I must face all of my friends who continue to twiddle their thumbs in compliant complacency with a renewed sense of fearlessness and honesty. I refuse to remain deadpan and lifeless, numbed by the sobering reality.

No, I will continue to be black, to feel, to breathe, to eat, to sleep, to be black, to smile, to laugh, to run, to sing, to be black, to pray, to talk, to write, to fight, to be black, to lose, to fail, to learn, to succeed, to be black, to live, to listen, to explore, to experience, to be black. I will continue to exist, fully human, fully black, fully myself. I am still me, I am still here, I am still alive and my life matters — not just for me, but for all the people who labored and sacrificed in order  for me to enjoy the platform I now wield.

Once more: My life matters.

And I’m going to make the most of the time I have left. I hope you’ll do the same.

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.

17 thoughts on “BANKS | I Suppose I Have No Choice Now

  1. You wrote: “I can see now how it was that human beings could legally own other human beings for nearly half a millennium without the world so much as blinking an eye. I now understand how, once freed, the victims of this horror and their descendants could be hunted, mutilated, murdered, discarded, neglected, abducted and dehumanized — tossed into an unending nightmare that so often takes the form of spattered blood, physical entrapment, psychosocial decimation and sobbing, convulsing communities — all without a destiny-altering uproar from the people who have had the power to prevent this all along.”

    I agree totally. It was horrible that the African tribes enslaved each other, and that Arab slavers raided not just sub-Saharan Africa for slaves, but also the southern coast of Europe, and not just for half a millennium, but for much, much longer than that. And you are right that even today, in the Congo, in Nigeria, in Sudan, in Rwanda, the descendants of many such slaves have been hunted, mutilated, etc. And no one in Africa does much about it.

    Maybe they think that slavery and murder and kidnapping and rape and even genocide are simply the way things are in their part of the world. Sure seems like it.

    • Thank you for showing us a prime example of the ignorance Amiri describes in his article. You seem to think we are ignorant, that white supremacy doesn’t exist because African tribes enslaved each other and white Europeans were once enslaved themselves. You probably voted for Trump too. You can point to certain events in history all you want, and they may be factual, but the fact is white supremacy is a force that has dominated the globe for millenia and continues to do so, if this past election is not proof enough I don’t know what is. White-dominated nations in the global north have for centuries absolutely drained the resources and livelihoods of those in the global south at the expense of nations largely dominated by people color and now nearly wiped out indigenous communities. Now within these white-dominated countries, that power dynamic remains intact and people of color are so systematically oppressed by a force that has sustained it for centuries and has now led to Trump in the white house and fittingly a white nationalist as his right hand man, all due in part to a “whitelash” that this supremacy may be slipping due to a changing nation. The funniest part is in no way was it in danger, but when people of color receive an inch white fragility reacts by electing Donald Trump. This is what white supremacy is called, and your inability to see this global injustice, this blatant and startling inequality is your white privilege.

      • Thanks for your comment.

        I don’t think you are ignorant. I think you purposefully ignore the long history of slavery, genocide, and the tribalism of man that leads to those unhappy evils, so that you can focus on the wrongs committed by this country, and so that you can pretend that slavery and Jim Crow are still alive and well. They are not.

        So what if white-dominated countries exploited countries populated by colored peoples. If it didn’t happen to you personally you should let it go. I don’t go around being angry at the people who enslaved my ancestors because they didn’t do it to me.

        What you call my “white privilege” assumes, first of all, that I am white, which I don’t believe you know about one way or the other. And it assumes such presumed whiteness would give me an edge in being successful. Well, maybe once upon a time that was true, but not so much these days. Go into the small towns of Appalachia and tell me that these people are privileged compared to inner-city blacks. Who has the better chance, given equal ability levels, to get into Cornell?

        Your parroting of Van Jones’ absurd notion of a whitelash is easily proven false by the vote results. Clinton received 5 million fewer votes than Obama, and Trump received a smaller percentage of the white vote than Mitt Romney. Therein lies the story of this election. That and the fact that the Democrats have been losing elections across the country for the last 6 years, losing the senate and the house long ago, and about 1,000 seats in state legislatures, as well as most governorships.

        The only exception to this continuing rejection of Democrats and the progressive agenda is the fact that so many of these privileged racist whites were willing to vote for Obama and no one else, not for Bernie, not for Hillary, and not their local candidates.

        Is it white domination that makes the DC schools so terrible when they spend more money per student than practically any other school district? Is it white domination that causes the shootings in Chicago? You don’t see such a high level of shootings in poor white or Asian neighborhoods.

        How is black domination doing for Zimbabwe’s black population compared to when it was white-dominated Rhodesia?

  2. You seem to think we are ignorant,

    you are. it why you hide in that in that ivory tower university shielded away from the rest of the world like a sheltered child.
    how wrong you are.

    • Hi “marx,”

      I’m not hiding from anyone, and my world outside of Cornell is far from sheltered or naive. I love civil discourse, though, so are you currently on campus? If so, feel free to shoot me an email at amiriabanks@gmail.com, and we can set up a meeting. If not, I’m sure we can work something out.

      Warmest Regards and Much Love,
      Amiri Banks

  3. Hi Amiri. Did you vote? Statistics say that if Hilary had the same turn out that Obama had among African Americans she would have won. Also, more African Americans voted for Trump than for Kerry. Not many peoples lives have improved over the last eight years including African Americans so lets give Trump a chance.

    • Hi Julia,

      I did not vote, because my absentee ballot for Georgia arrived far too late. At any rate, if you would like to talk more about the role of black voters, Trump and what his election represents — or other issues related to what you’ve touched on in your comment, for that matter–my email is amiriabanks@gmail.com. If you’re on campus, maybe we could set up a meeting in person? I would strongly prefer this to any kind of online communication. Otherwise, I don’t have much to say here on the matter, as impersonal pseudo-anonymous messages delivered through the medium of a keyboard tend to be distorted, often resulting in unproductive dialogue.

      Warmest Regards and Much Love,
      Amiri Banks

  4. “I think you purposefully ignore the long history of slavery, genocide, and the tribalism of man that leads to those unhappy evils, so that you can focus on the wrongs committed by this country, and so that you can pretend that slavery and Jim Crow are still alive and well. They are not.”

    Your logic is two wrongs make a right. We cannot forget the fact that white people have globally exploited and discriminated against people of color ever since they came into contact with people of color. The fact that conflict has happened among civilizations composed of people of color, or that white people too were slaves, does not absolve the blaring injustice of the long worldwide history of white people oppressing people of color that still continues. No, slavery has been outlawed in the United States and so has Jim Crow, but the forces that instated both institutions for such a long time without anyone so much as batting an eye is the notion that whites are superior and are entitled to treat people of color as people who are unequal to them because of their non-white status. You are dangerously suggesting that institutional and systemic racism doesn’t exist, and ignorance like this is why we are in this situation in the first place.

    “So what if white-dominated countries exploited countries populated by colored peoples. If it didn’t happen to you personally you should let it go. I don’t go around being angry at the people who enslaved my ancestors because they didn’t do it to me.”

    So what. So. What. Are you fucking kidding me? You are going to dismiss white-dominated countries exploiting countries populated by people of color as not even deserving of any sort of remorse or concern? Wow. This is worse than ignorance, it is knowing clearly what widespread injustices have and continue to occur and refusing to even consider it remotely relevant. This is morbid. You also speak of it in the past, when it is happening in real-time and will continue to happen as long as people like you refuse to open your eyes, or do open your eyes and resign yourself to viewing the suffering from your comfortable and unharmed perspective informed by selfish white privilege. So is the standard of taking action whether it happens to me or not? So someone can not grieve for whole communities that are destroyed and, just so you understand, continue to be destroyed because I was or am not a part of them? Do you know what empathy is? Do you know what social or collective responsibility is? You are espousing the Trump philosophy, that one must solely look out for themselves and forget the sins of the past that condemn their own actions. Make America Great Again. To when? When indigenous communities stewarded this land or when white people openly discriminated against people of color and all opportunity was only afforded to them? That’s what I thought. Your entire mindset is structured towards the benefit of white people and white people only. White privilege is the base to your utter ignorance and sheer neglect towards crimes against humanity happening before your eyes.

    “What you call my “white privilege” assumes, first of all, that I am white, which I don’t believe you know about one way or the other. And it assumes such presumed whiteness would give me an edge in being successful. Well, maybe once upon a time that was true, but not so much these days. Go into the small towns of Appalachia and tell me that these people are privileged compared to inner-city blacks. Who has the better chance, given equal ability levels, to get into Cornell?”

    Honestly I cannot imagine you other than someone who is an ignorant white person to be completely honest. I have also never heard of a person of color saying something along the lines of “white privilege does not exist” because if you don’t have a privilege, then you know very well that it exists. You can’t see that it does because you are blinded by the benefits it affords you. Go do some research and see that professors will consistently reject to mentor people with ethnic-sounding names, names that comprise a wide variety of people of color, but consistently offer to be there for people with white-sounding names. Go read about how people with black-sounding names are rejected at a much higher rate than white-sounding names. Then come back and tell me that white privilege does not afford you opportunity beyond what is afforded to people of color.

    LMAO. The ignorance of affirmative action. It has been proven that white people most benefit from affirmative action. When universities around this country are enrolling an average 0f 70-80% white students, and often only enroll black students at numbers below 10%, come and tell me that black students are preferred over white students from these universities. Also, let’s take a minute to recognize that affirmative action attempts to legitimize a system that was not created for people of color in the first place. It is a buffer against the overarching problems of systemic racism that continue to plague this country, but addressing this oppression is not of concern to your white privilege. It is crying when that privilege seems slightly overshadowed by affirmative action, a policy in which you feel slighted, and any inch given to a person of color will elicit cries of injustice from you while you just said we shouldn’t give a shit about whole countries dominating other counties globally. Fascinating. The funniest part is you hang on to affirmative action like it’s the scourge of white people, when it barely does anything to solve the structural issues, again, it is merely a buffer against injustices that as a society we refuse to confront, now more than ever. There is no way we can just “equalize abilities” between these two groups of people because it is never this easy. There are upstream factors affecting this ability and black people and other pocs are consistently disadvantaged in them. This can manifest socioeconomically, but just on the basis of race, because racial health inequalities exist between black people and white people in the same income brackets. What is this besides the harmful effects of an environment constantly made hostile by your racism? The white people are more advantaged, because of, you guessed it. Their white privilege.

    Do not ignore the wild amounts of misogyny, racism, homophobia, islamophobia, that have gotten Trump into the White House. Do not ignore the fact that the divisive and hateful rhetoric he repeatedly used without fail appealed to supporters that are motivated by their savior Donald Trump to blame people who are different from them for their own suffering and consequently realize that America Was Great when white people were in complete control of this country and people of color. Do not ignore the fact that a white nationalist is now Chief Strategist in the White House. Do not tell me the appointment of Bannon had nothing to do with his utility in stoking racist fears of Trump’s white base. This is more than the recent US Presidential election. This was just another manifestation of white privilege coming out to fuck people of color for acknowledging that we are equals and strive to provide ourselves and our kids with every opportunity that white people are also afforded. This was a “whitelash” and you are a part of it, and we have been experiencing a “whitelash” as I said, for millenia.

    I don’t want to hear a word about black voters costing this election, because it is clear which group of people did. Do not tell me and other pocs, or other marginalized groups whose basic human rights are now in jeopardy to “give Trump a chance.” I might as well move into neo-Nazi communities and “give them a chance” in accepting me.

    “Is it white domination that makes the DC schools so terrible when they spend more money per student than practically any other school district? Is it white domination that causes the shootings in Chicago? You don’t see such a high level of shootings in poor white or Asian neighborhoods.
    How is black domination doing for Zimbabwe’s black population compared to when it was white-dominated Rhodesia?”

    Maybe they have to spend so much on DC schools because those students, largely people of color, are so financially distressed that oftentimes these services are what guarantees that they will have at least one meal. Also, don’t suggest that the fact that white people are there means racism is not operating. I went to a school almost wholly populated by people of color, and all the white parents made a concerted effort to move their kids to another school. What message does this send? That students who go there are dangerous, not conducive to a good learning environment and not capable of learning themselves. Even in communities of color, these racially charged messages are internalized and contribute to a cycle of disinvestment that is ultimately driven by the need white people have to segregate themselves from people of color, whether in their schools and in their neighborhoods. A constant reminder that in this world whites have deemed themselves superior, the system was created for them completely. What motivation do students of color have to then undermine this system? Most of the time for low-income students, it is not about doing the extra work to undermine this system and somehow achieve success in a society that actively strives to knock them down, but to survive within that same system that perpetuates violence directed towards themselves and their communities. Maybe we can try to apply this logic to DC schools and Chicago shootings. Maybe we can take a step out of our own white-privileged perspective to consider the situational factors people are in, instead of wholly attributing their distress to some racial defect that does not affect whites. This is why you cannot use that argument.

    Our fears are not the same.

    • You wrote: “We cannot forget the fact that white people have globally exploited and discriminated against people of color ever since they came into contact with people of color.”

      That’s true, but as I said before, exploitation and discrimination has always been the way of the world. The Egyptians, the Romans, the Africans, the Chinese, all had slaves, and all treated minorities horribly. There are precious few exceptions. Colored races exploited and discriminated whenever they were in power. My point is that your focus on the US as somehow worse than all the rest is misguided. It’s not that two wrongs make a right. It’s that there have always and everywhere been wrongs. Colored people have a history just as full of murder and enslavement as white people do. It’s just that white people were really good at it in the most recent centuries. It was the Arabs who were best at it before that, and the Asians (Mongols) before them. But someone was always conquering and killing others.

      What happened in the past is unfortunate, but I have a feeling you will hang on to this excuse your whole life. No failures of the black community are their own fault, because of white racism. Not the 70% of black children born out of wedlock. Not the high drop-out rates. Not the low SAT scores. Not the extremely small percentage of black children who read or do math anywhere close to grade level. Not the inability or reluctance of young black people to speak standard English. Not the murders committed at 7 times the rate that whites commit them. And it’s not just today’s white racism that causes all this social pathology in the black community. It’s the long history of white domination of colored peoples that does it. Well, hold on a minute while I dry my tears.

      My wish is to find ways to reverse these trends and to eliminate the black-white achievement gap. I don’t think it can be eliminated so long as blacks hold like grim death onto the excuse that there has been historical unfairness.

      Clearly what they are trying today isn’t working. Affirmative action has a pernicious influence on blacks for a number of reasons I don’t have time to go into here. Government-monopoly public schools in black neighborhoods are a disgrace and perhaps the most deleterious institution in American society. The welfare and tax systems are not designed to promote strong families and marriage before childbirth, the single best way to avoid poverty. The minimum wage makes it difficult for black teenagers to find their first jobs that they need as an entrée into the workforce, and making it $15 per hour will make that 10 times worse.

      You called me ignorant five times in your last comment. Well, I wonder if you know of the experience of other ethnic groups in this country. Vietnamese boat people and South American peasants most recently, and earlier waves of Irish, Italians, and Jews a century ago came with nothing and lived in horrendous conditions, and made lives for themselves. My grandfather, an immigrant, sold pencils on the street to feed his family.

      But my grandfather’s struggles are not an excuse for my own failures. They belong to me. Just as yours belong to you, and not to the crimes nor to the suffering of people long dead.

      You can go ahead and blame the problems of colored people on white privilege. It’s funny how that privilege seems to diminish the more you graduate from school, get a job, get married, and then have children in that order. And the less you get involved with crime, drugs, gangs, and having children out of wedlock.

      In fact, that privilege goes away entirely when you graduate from Cornell, assuming you studied something worth knowing.

      • Hi “Man with the Axe,”

        First off, apologies. I like to address people by their names whenever possible. As the author of this piece, I just thought you should know that I have a strict rule against engaging with people through anonymous forums or online comment sections. If you are currently on Cornell’s campus, feel free to shoot me an email at amiriabanks@gmail.com, so we can meet up in person. I feel that our conversation would be more productive if we saw each other as human beings. If you are not currently on Cornell’s campus, then let’s try to find a time and place to meet up at some point in the future. I’d love to get to know you more, and look forward to hearing from you!

        Much Love and Warmest Regards,
        Amiri Banks

    • Professors don’t meet with people of color? I haven’t seen those studies but if that is true don’t you ask why? 99% of professors are liberal. Because of their pay that would make them liberal elites. The same people that our president and the Clinton’s have been catering to for eight years. People voted for Trump for jobs and lower taxes. Does that make them racist because they want a job?

    • Why do you so easily dismiss the white privilege of Progressive Democrats? Have you even studied history or just accept what Progressives tell you?

      Progressive Democrats were the KKK.
      Progressive Democrats instituted Jim Crow laws.
      Progressive Democrat President Wilson segregated the federal government.
      Progressive Democrat President FDR placed KKK Hugo Black on SCOTUS.
      Progressive Democrat President Wilson started the New Deal to buy off poor minorities.
      Progressive Democrats opposed Civil Rights legislation.
      Progressive Democrats denied MLK his 2A & other Constitutional Rights just as they continue today.
      Progressive Democrats denied Cassius Clay his Constitutional Rights.

      Progressivism, the form of Marxism that arose in the USA in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Democrats, especially Southern Democrats, combined it with their Plantation ideology. They continue to build their Progressive Plantations, destroying once great cities.

      BTW: before you lash out in response, perhaps actually look at history and notice how the propaganda of today is nowhere close to factual history. Progressivism is only interested in building Progressive Plantations (Marxist Utopias) with the Elitist Masters promising and promising yet never delivering for their Proletariat Serfs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *