Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. And I’m still conflicted.
On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. Two planes slammed into both towers of the World Trade Center. Within hours, a third plane had flown into the Pentagon in Washington DC and a fourth crashed into a isolated field in Pennsylvania. I mark it as a linchpin in American culture because life as we knew it would change significantly. The way we traveled. The way we used our smart devices. The questions on a simple job application. Everything changed. Well, almost everything.
This country did what it has classically done in times of tragedy. It circled the wagons and rallied. A new wave of patriotism washed over the country along with the aptly named “Patriot Act” that allowed the government carte blanche into the private lives of citizens in the name of national security. At the time, I felt it appropriate. Nearly 3000 people perished in those attacks. First responders, mothers, brothers, spouses all died that day. The veil of innocence had been lifted and we had to come to grips with the fact that we had enemies who were plotting against us on our own soil. Of course, we mourn the loss of life. Two decades later, I’m sure it gets no easier for the survivors and family members who lost loved ones. And I don’t think we’ll ever have the same level of confidence we had in airports and large stadiums.
But I’m still conflicted.
It’s estimated that the transatlantic slave trade saw more than 12 million people forcibly put on slave ships. So if we start with the almost 2 million of us who didn’t survive the Middle Passage, the hundreds of thousands who died in slavery, and the thousands who were lynched/killed during Jim Crow, it should make you question a few things.
Every year, we’re asked to “never forget 9/11”. Just as we’re asked to “never forget” the Holocaust…The Alamo…or the Titanic. But bring up slavery…The Black codes…Jim Crow…the hoses…the dogs…the lynchings…Rosewood…Tulsa and we’re met with a resounding “get over it”. Even as we watched Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and George Floyd murdered in cold blood, we’re constantly told to “stop bringing up the past”. Even as we watch the very voting rights that people bled for in the 60’s slowly peeled back in Georgia. All I hear and read is, “that was then”, “no one is a slave now”, and the infamous “racism is over”. But can’t one argue that failed foreign policy chickens came home to roost 20 years ago? Can’t one debate that had this country focused more on domestic issues that have plagued the Black community instead of inserting itself into conflicts that made us enemies abroad that lives could have been spared in New York that day?
If we’re going to call a proverbial spade a spade, Black folks have been asked to grin and bear it for far too long. Our suffering has been marginalized. So much so that we’re actually given a day off to celebrate a holiday (July 4th) that signifies independence…when Black folks weren’t even free. So I’m still conflicted.
The anniversary of tragedy is always significant. What have we learned from 9/11? What has changed with policy? How can we make the lives of those affected whole again? How can we prevent it from happening again? But quite frankly, outside of the respect given to the dead and the heroes that emerged that day, I’m more concerned with America remembering its sordid past here at home and make that right first!