October 2, 2016

BANKS | The Elusive Quicksilver of Adaptation

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I’ve been telling people for a while now that I fear I may be outgrowing my column, and that fear was almost confirmed in the early stages of writing this one.

As I rummaged through the dozens of pages in my “Sun Columns” document, I found that many of the ideas/thoughts there failed to strike me with any kind of zest or zeal for transmitting them to print. It’s as if the would-be incisive ingredients of my metaphorical ink had been reduced to a sparse collection of watered down pencil shavings and stale, rehashed themes.

I realized that — in spite of all the demons I’ve exorcised using the style on which I have relied for over two years — the time had come for me to slough off some of my inhibitions and mold the medium into what I needed it to be… or else I would soon become unfulfilled.

And so, Editor willing, I will commence with doing just that.

As I’ve said before, I am always fascinated by the unasked questions that white people, especially my friends, often seem to have for me. Before I unlocked my own freedom, to see my reflection in their eyes was to see my reflection in the eyes of the world. But the solace I’ve gained from replacing that image with my own is, unfortunately, tarnished by the trauma of knowing that many of these same friends remain entrapped within their own destructive understanding of themselves, or lack thereof.

The neurotic denial of one’s identity is a terrifying prospect, but it becomes even more terrifying when compounded with modern society’s glorification of this denial. In other words, the nicer and more reasonable a group carrying privilege becomes over time — whether that be white people, men, heterosexual people, the able-bodied or what have you —  the easier it becomes for them to claim an invisibility they do not deserve. And, even more disturbing, they must know, somewhere in their heart of hearts, that they are in fact significant difference-makers in the world. After all, I was writing to the Class of 2020 about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in July, and I am now writing to you bearing the names Keith Lamont Scott and Terrence Crutcher from September. This endless cycle of dead black people cannot possibly have escaped the notice of my white friends, although most of them have yet to mention it to me, which just seems inconceivable. Such a delusion lends itself to striking vulnerability and allows one to risk spiraling into intense personal depravity.

In love and truth, the oppressed of any group are far more prepared for the impending disaster that would result from such self-evisceration, while the privileged of any group may find that all moral, ethical, intellectual and spiritual stability has been suddenly and violently ripped out of their fragile ethos. They’re late to the party, even though they sent out all of the invitations and set up all the decorations, and the concussive impact of this epiphany on the world has been forewarned a mind-numbing amount of times by people far more intelligent and talented than myself.

All people live in a constant world of truth aversion, and this aversion is ratcheted up by several orders of magnitude whenever those from opposite sides of a spectrum interact with one another. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been subjected to bewildering and gratuitous displays of kindness from both strangers and friends — and no, I do not mean the genuine, organic kind of kindness exhibited by those who are truly aware of themselves and willing to engage with the conflicts enveloping our society. Rather, I am referring to the kind of nauseating niceness, cloaked in superficiality and naiveté, of unnecessarily bright smiles and comically wide eyes.

This form of kindness is a stratagem, tactfully employed in the hope that it might somehow allow us to circumvent the tremendous, indelible role that those with power — white people, in this context — have played in society. This contrived niceness is, in a sense, a way to foist all of their dreams of reconciliation, peace, perceived progress and forgiveness upon my tired soul.

But I refuse. I am the lingering shadow of eternally ignored nightmares, nightmares which have been self-imposed and reified through unspeakable acts of willful evil or, in the case of my ever-silent friends, passive negligence. These nightmares — born out of truth and reality — have been distorted with time and lies, so as to absolve the privileged parties and their posterity of responsibility.

I for one find it frightening how an entire culture can gorge itself on lies and then, once the stomach ache inevitably takes hold, dare to whisper that dreaded question silently into the night: “Why?”

This question of “why” is the question we sometimes ask ourselves. But we can find no satisfactory answer within ourselves, and we do not want the true answer, which we can only find elsewhere. So we instead choose to grin and nod in the hopes that those who are suffering will forget that the questions remain unasked.

In this realm of nightmares and dreams, of unasked questions and unsought answers, benevolent intent becomes largely irrelevant in the absence of some awareness that this interaction — that of the smiling privileged person, to whom the oppressed person should demonstrate immeasurable gratitude and love for their genteel approach — does not operate in a vacuum. And, because of this, intent cannot hide behind consequences, or attempt to obscure the weight of those consequences.

Of course, this column is just a piece of art, so nothing I say here can be of much use unless you recognize that these are the words of a living, breathing human being. And although my humanity has been stolen from me time and time again, I love each and every one of you reading these words and trust you to not replicate that heinous act by taking my words to mean more than what I’ve said.

You see, art provides us with assurance and solidarity, enfolding us within the warmth of shared experience or exposing us to the universality of being alive. But art cannot and should not serve as a surrogate for real people, because the truth is that you don’t really know shit about anyone. You cannot and will not truly know me, or any artist, or any human being, unless you reciprocate with a piece of yourself. This fact is not only non-negotiable, it is the unifying fulcrum on which all social dynamics should rely.

Point. Blank. Period.

Does this mean you have not grown if you have not yet given? Of course not. The growth that comes from seeking to know the artists, seeking to find yourself within their work, is wedded with the nature of existence. And indeed we are all artists. We are born as artists and we cannot help but to die as artists too, though the extent to which we sketch out that identity varies widely.

Okay, I’m just rambling now. That’s enough for today. Hope I didn’t scare you away.

Amiri Banks is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Honest A.B. appears alternate Mondays this semester.