September 14, 2014

BANKS | Your Eyes May Lie to You

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By AMIRI BANKS

Eyes. To spare you supreme boredom, here is the simple explanation of how cool eyes are: powerful tools that adjust to the quality and quantity of energy they take in, and work in conjunction with the brain to process this energy into images. Two little organs that have indirectly caused unspeakable evil, unexplainable hatred and countless misunderstandings in the short history of our species. It never ceases to amaze me what we can conjure up in our heads from what our eyes see.

Disclaimer: This piece is about much more than race. Yet recent incidents throughout the country are a reminder that race is still too ubiquitous to be ignored. So please consider what your eyes would see if their line of sight fell on me.

I’m a black man with a tattoo. I tend to keep my headphones in and often eat alone. My natural facial expression is admittedly stern. These five little facts have probably placed some preconceived notions in your head. But perhaps I should provide more context.

I am black simply because I am, but when determining what kind of person someone is, race should mean nothing. My tattoo is of music notes, because music is an all-consuming passion of mine. For this same reason, I tend to keep my headphones in. Like race, the presence of a tattoo or headphones is trivial and only means as much as you allow it to. I often eat alone because when I get hungry, I am comfortable enough with myself to eat without others. I look serious all the time because I’m usually thinking about something I have to do or somewhere I need to be.

None of these characteristics make me unapproachable. I have only two real criteria when I see someone: be a human being and exude some level of positivity. If you meet these two conditions and approach me, I am quick to reveal a broad smile. Say something positive and I’m almost guaranteed to eagerly strike up a conversation with you.

“But why the stern demeanor then, Amiri?” Well, for one thing, the novelty and comfort of my smile would wear off quickly if it were artificially plastered across my face all the time. But on a more serious note, perception is reality. Embrace the possibility of someone who conserves his smiles. The people you see may not always fit neatly into a category of human beings you’ve dealt with or heard about.There are over seven billion of us. In my opinion, everyone should wake up and wonder which unique individual will brighten their day. Or better yet, whose day will they brighten?

For example, most students get on the bus, swipe their ID card and move on. Next time you get on the TCAT, don’t perceive that bus driver as just “the person whose job is to get me to my stop.” Instead, picture a fellow human being who spends several hours a day or night driving around a bunch of (seemingly) inconsiderate, often loud and occasionally inebriated college kids. Flash her or him a bright smile and greet them as you get on. Wish them a great day as you get off. I promise, it won’t be so bad.

I acknowledge that we are all busy, stressed students. People have shit to do, I get it. Carving out time to hang with friends and talk to family is tedious enough, let alone trying to be concerned with some random person’s day. Though clichéd, there is no denying this: Every single connection, friend and even family member started off as a random stranger.

Even a baby is subject to perception. How? Well, in the case of good parents, mom and dad do everything necessary to keep the baby happy and healthy. Whatever rudimentary thoughts occur in an infant’s mind, she or he witnesses these two giants’ actions for the first time and must think, “these are good giants.”  The key word here is actions. Someone being viewed in a negative manner can be literally fatal, in the case of Michael Brown, and hundreds of similar victims like him. Yet actions can be the antidote to a venomous perception.

Every human being is a player in this game of life. Like all games, the right actions can completely change the course of events. No one wins games by just looking at what they have. Winners see what each piece can do, and evaluate the actions of said piece before drawing an informed conclusion about what that piece means to them. Your eyes alone will not win a game for you, simply because your eyes may lie to you. Eyes tell you that hottie in your class is totally into you, because she or he smiled at you and even asked for your name. Eyes tell you that paper deadline is eons away, because you’ve got a whole week left to write it. Eyes tell you that the weather in Ithaca is reliable and benevolent, because it looks so nice outside. Despite the number of times our eyes have duped us, we keep letting their visual perception cloud our judgment.

If I’ve come off as self-righteous today, I apologize. Perhaps you’ve perceived my words differently than I might have hoped. But come up to me — or anyone for that matter — and let’s see how perception stands up to actions. You would be surprised.

Amiri Banks is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at aab245@cornell.edu. Honest A.B. appears alternate Mondays this semester.