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.
Although I’ve never had the slightest interest in being white, I’ve sometimes wondered what it might be like to exist amongst white people under the same cover of racial subterfuge. Then again, I suppose I don’t really need to wonder. The implications of whiteness remain a secret only to the white people who would bristle or sneer at such a notion — and, perhaps more importantly, have long since ceased to be a secret for any person of color who has traversed the cavernous, perilous chambers of an overwhelmingly white world. Yet, beyond this, I realize that — in a way — I already have an intimate, almost intuitive understanding of being white. After all, I am a man.
Little brother: I have a condition called Lymphedema, which causes my right leg to swell and forces me to wear a compression sock at all times. I’m constantly getting inquisitive looks. This would be enough uniqueness, but then I also take the stickers off of fruit and place them on my hand. Did you know that? I like to wear earmuffs on a hot summer day, looking like an idiot because people don’t know that they’re also bluetooth headphones. And when Ithaca inevitably shifts to rain and cool, you’ll find me under a bright pink umbrella.
I have a nearly 130 page (and ever-growing) Google Doc called “Notes” resting on my laptop. The notes began as a way for an 18-year-old version of myself to reconcile his understanding of race up until 2013 with the realities of his experiences on this campus. Admittedly, they served as a sort of “personal revenge” against any and all comers — or, in some cases, as an impersonal gratitude. For better or worse, anyone with whom I’ve interacted in a way that felt meaningful to my growth as a human being will find themselves etched forever into this document in some form or another. However, as time has gone on, the Doc has morphed into more than just a collection of notes, becoming more of an unpolished, exceedingly rough draft.
When acclaimed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki was asked what ultimately drove him to create his film The Wind Rises, he pointed to a quote by Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the gorgeous Zero fighter planes that were infamous during WWII for their unparalleled killing capabilities. Wracked with guilt from the pain his creations had unleashed on the world, the engineer apparently once made one of the most simple yet poignant statements to ever go unheard by the world at large:
“All I wanted to do was make something beautiful.”
Whether or not Horikoshi fully grasped his complicit nature in the devastation to come remains a point of contention. But we know one thing for sure: The moment he was selected for such an honorable task, a swirl of manipulation and distorted expectations descended upon the young man until, whether by his own design or not, he had become an instrument of war, and his planes the harbingers of terror. This illuminates a sad and universal truth: Along with all of the euphoria, affirmation and self-assuredness that accompanies leadership and prestige, crippling vulnerability and self-doubt are often not far behind. Leaders can be some of the most flawed individuals in this collection of flawed creatures we call human beings, often succumbing to the allure of trivial petulance as easily as anyone else.
Flaurst: The desire to seize that blessed moment of first laughter and experience the gift anew in the form of a second, equally genuine laughing experience. You won’t find this word on Google anywhere, at least not in the way I’ve used it. Coupled with “glithering” from my last column, I suppose I’ve been in an inventive mood lately. Quite frankly, that’s the only mood I’ve been in, as far as writing is concerned. I’m not bereft of emotions, mind you.
While walking around North Campus the other day, I ran into a vaguely familiar freshman face. Upon recognizing me, he brightened up, flashed a smile and exclaimed “Hey, you’re Alt Breaks Guy!”
I couldn’t help but smile. Ya damn right I am. He was referring to a training I and several others had done with his group on “diversity” (see previous column for why I hate that word.) Later on that same day, I would fail a physics test that I could have easily aced, all because I spend so much time investing energy in interacting with and learning about people, just like I did during that training. Even so, that moment with the freshman made it all worth the trouble.
A brief anecdote:
It is freshman year. I’m sitting on the TCAT bus when on walks a friend of mine. She is a black woman. Wait… no. She is a beautiful, intelligent, remarkable and resilient black woman.
Crashing the charts last summer, the most recent rendition of our nation’s favorite song arrived in the form of a landmark SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage. That song dominated every medium, as dissenters found themselves drowned out by millions of approving, celebratory voices. In fact, one could argue that Americans hadn’t sung so loudly and proudly since the election of Barack Obama, a moment which was also accompanied by the requisite fanfare and aplomb. Of course, the truth is that being a person of color in 2016 is not a radically different experience from being a person of color in 2007, and identifying as LGBTQ in 2016 still leaves you considerably more susceptible to verbal harassment and economic inequality. Along the same vein, I have reason to believe that the women of 2017, were Hillary to be elected this year, will not be free from the grip of sexism.
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.