9/11 Didn’t Change A Thing

This is the same post I wrote for 9/11 last year. This year I find I have not much more to say, so I’m reposting it.

There’s a 9/11 story that I heard once and never forgot. It’s anecdotal and may even be completely made up. I’m not sure. I can’t even remember the context in which I heard this story (I vaguely recall it being on television, but that might not be right) so I have no way of verifying it. While it may not be a true story, it reveals some truths about our society that people may find uncomfortable to address.

Here’s the story as I remember it:

On the early afternoon of 9/11 a white man happened to be going through Harlem (possibly trying to get home). I can’t recall if he was in a cab or walking on foot, but I suppose the latter makes more sense. Everywhere else in the city people were terrified and shocked, but in Harlem the black people were laughing, or at least unconcerned. The man asked a passing youth why the light attitude on the street. The young man said something like, “Now white people know what it’s like to be us. They are losing their minds.”

I have a couple of reasons for doubting that this story is true. First, it seems too much like the stories of “Arabs” celebrating American deaths in the streets in the Middle East. CNN even had video! Yet it was a huge lie. Second, though I feel the sentiment the young black man supposedly expressed is a legitimate one, I highly doubt everyone in Harlem was having that reaction at that time.

On the morning of 9/11 I was in my apartment in a neighbourhood of Manhattan called Inwood. It is the very last neighbourhood on the island. There was my street, two other streets, then water. I was as far away from the WTC as I could be while still being in Manhattan, yet I was scared out of my mind. I wasn’t thinking about race or politics or oppression, I was just thinking: “What if they’re not going to stop with downtown and skyscrapers? What if I have to get out of here? I don’t even have a car!”

While living in a neighbourhood that has no big companies, major financial institutions, or historical importance can be comforting, when something like that is happening less than 13 miles away, you wonder if you are safe. I felt that I was possibly in real physical danger that day, and there wasn’t much I could do about it except stay at home.

This is why I really doubt the reaction of people in Harlem. Yes, black folks are used to terrorism, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to it. When a city shuts down because crazy people are flying planes at its buildings, that is not some shit to be laughing at.

That fictional young black man was right about one thing. For a little while, white people knew what it felt like to be us. Every black person doesn’t exist in a constant state of terror, but many of us do. Black people are the victims of race-based terrorism every day in the majority of America’s urban cities. Our society has so marginalized black people that many of us live in bad neighbourhoods where you might die from a stray bullet while walking to the grocery or chilling on your couch. Someone pumps loads of drugs into these neighbourhoods, someone underfunds the schools that serve these neighbourhoods, someone trains cops to treat black people like dangerous criminals based on nothing but skin color. Whoever these Someones are, they qualify as terrorists in my book.

Do you remember a couple of years ago when Will Smith was interviewed by a German newspaper and asked if 9/11 changed anything for him personally? Here was his answer:

No. Absolutely not. When you grow up black in America you have a completely different view of the world than white Americans. We blacks live with a constant feeling of unease. And whether you are wounded in an attack by a racist cop or in a terrorist attack, I’m sorry, it makes no difference.

The wingnuts nearly lost their minds over that one. I seem to remember people calling for boycotts of I, Robot (which Smith was promoting at the time) and saying the poor boy should be kicked out of the country.

The ‘innocent befuddlement’ displayed by certain white folks would be amusing if it weren’t so tragically sad.

It is interesting to note that, on a certain level, Smith is comparing American police officers, those charged with protecting society, with Islamic terrorists intent on destroying America and everything it stands for. Smith implies that racism is so rampant among America’s police that it is a threat equal in magnitude to black America as that of international terrorism. Instead of seeing 9/11 as a traumatic watershed event that contributed to uniting black and white America and healing racial tensions, Smith seems to believe that the terrorist attacks have had little impact on what he sees as the poor state of race relations in the USA.

Yes, Mr. Ray D., that’s exactly what he’s saying. And, he’s right. 9/11 hasn’t united white and black America in any meaningful way. But then, we can’t all live in a fantasy world where race relations only ‘seem’ to be in a poor state according to delusional actors out to make a buck in Europe.

This is just another way people have used the events of 9/11 to bolster their own crazy notions of how the world is. Not only is 9/11 proof that Islam is a religion of hate, but 9/11 brought all the white and black people together in harmony!

I’m sorry to say this, but No. Yes, people of all races died on that day, people of all races were scared as those events unfolded, people of all races worked to save lives, to clean the site, to help people find out what happened to their loved ones. But one event, even one such as 9/11, cannot erase the racial problems we have in this country. By saying that 9/11 somehow erased the black-white problem in America, people reveal themselves to be ignorant, blind, and dangerous.

Words often used to describe terrorists.

Yeah, I went there. That’s how angry I am.


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24 Responses

  1. The colorblind rhetoric is foolish, even in 2007. I also can’t stand when people pacify racism in America, it’s bigger than what we think or what some want to believe. You know, we are sending our youth to fight a war to end “terror”, yet the real terrorist are here amongst us killing and abusing people because of skin color.

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/09/10/woman.tortured/

  2. I hadn’t seen this post before. I’m not a fan of Will Smith’s films (and I hated “I, Robot” for destroying the character of Susan Calvin, one of the best females in sci fi fiction), but kudos to him for saying that! It took guts, given the sensitivity of 9/11 and the inevitable repercussions.

    There’s an interview in the documentary “The Corporation” about some brokers’ reactions to the 9/11 disaster. Even though it was tragic, they were all excited about the price of gold rising and how much money there was to be made. Why didn’t they run *this* kind of reaction on CNN?

  3. I find the whole thing questionable. It annoys me that it appeals to some people to argue that 9/11 erased racial problems in the US. To say such a thing is to basically suggest that whites and blacks now only get along because someone worse came around to show us that we’re not that different after all, and that the real enemy is Islam. Erasing black-white tensions would be a hollow victory anyway, if it were achieved at the price of replacing them with Muslim-West tensions. I think that’s incredibly childish, negative, and goes on to reinforce the idea that “otherness” is bad and to be feared. Obviously, terrorism in any form is bad, but many times with 9/11, people don’t differentiate between terrorists and Muslims.

    I do sometimes hear blacks and whites saying negative things about Muslims. But this agreement on a shared prejudice on the part of some /= a healing of racial problems on the part of anyone.

  4. Wow. I’d like to hear Ray D explain to my Sikh friend, who stopped wearing his beard and turban after 9/11 because he received so many death threats, that 9/11 brought racial harmony to the US!

  5. I lived in Harlem on 9/11. My roomate and I were supposed to have dinner that night with friends that lived a few blocks from the WTC. In a bid to somehow meet them anyway, over the course of that day we went from 116th down to the WTC area. I will say that while the “Harlem” story above sounds too cheesily written to be quite true, the reaction to the attacks up on my block of 111th *was* markedly different than the myopic, “this is the most significant, tragic event in human history” response that many white people seemed to have had. Obviously, I’m being totally anecdotal here, but that morning, I talked to a LOT of people and Puerto Ricans and Black people were way more likely to share my American-born Arab depressed-but-not-surprised, chickens-coming-home-
    to-roost mentality. Interestingly, there was also VERY little fear (other than worrying about loved ones dowtown) that there could be another attack any second. It seemed to me that people uptown were far less afraid that they were going to be ‘hit’ than people downtown were. In general, it seemed to me that people in Harlem reacted (in public, at least) in a more measured and decent way about 9/11 (fewer calls for Arab blood, less pretending that this was a band of irrational savages attacking a thoroughly innocent nation for no reason at all).

    I’m positively astonished by Will Smith’s quote, BTW. In his films he’s the epitome of “let’s come together to kill aliens, America!” But I’ll give the human stake through the heart of hip hop his due for having had a backbone in that interview.

    And Ray D said “Smith is comparing American police officers, those charged with protecting society, with Islamic terrorists intent on destroying America and everything it stands for. Smith implies that racism is so rampant among America’s police that it is a threat equal in magnitude to black America as that of international terrorism.”
    Well, statistically, this is of course true: cops have killed and maimed and ruined the lives of way, way more Black people than “Islamic terrorists”!

  6. I lived in lower Manhattan at the time of the WTC attacks and worked in Bellevue. So I got a direct and, frankly pretty scary, view of what happened. I was scared for friends who I couldn’t contact and felt very sorry for the injured people I saw, but what I was most afraid of was Bush’s reaction. To give credit where credit is due, he didn’t do as badly as I feared: He didn’t nuke anyone and didn’t put all Islamic and/or Arabic and/or brown people into concentration camps. At least, he hasn’t yet. Have I mentioned that I don’t trust white people with weapons…

    I don’t get how people can have reactions like RayD’s to what Smith said. My reaction was something on the order of “HOLY CRAP! Racism is so bad that even a wealthy, successful black person like Smith still lives in a constant state of unease? We’d better stop putzing around, take an honest look at race relations in the US and start trying to fix things.” Sorry if that’s a kind of clueless pseudowhite girl reaction (I can imagine people saying “Duh! things are that bad…this is a suprise to no one but you”, but it’s my reaction. Be that as it may, complaining that Smith isn’t being sufficiently respectful to the police in his comments strikes me as a ridiculously defensive response. Someone who doesn’t want to know how bad it really is, maybe?

  7. As an older white woman I believe that the one-time great big attack on the country does not even begin to equal the constant deadly but smaller attacks that people of color endure every day. Twice in my life, once at Pearl Harbor and once at the World Trade Center, people my color were attacked along with whoever else was around. And, actually, Pearl Harbor happened a few months before I was born so I don’t remember being frightened by it. Will Smith is correct.

  8. Of course Will Smith is right.

    Black people face terrorism everyday. Always have ever since 1619.

    Recently a young black woman faced the ultimate terror a black woman can face in the hands of white men and women:

    http://kathmanduk2.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/and-will-she-get-justice/

    Yes, 9/11 did not change ANYTHING about racist white-run America, and this not-too-surprising hate crime proves it again, and again, and again.

  9. I can absolutely believe that this happened to the man driving through Harlem. Is fits exactly into what American hears and sees from the AA community. Why is this hard to beleive when you see AAs delirious with joy on Juneteenth pulling a white person out of a car and beating him..almost to death..on TV. You hear the demeaning comments about our country from the black community in these AA victim blogs along with an abject sense of lack of understanding that they even have any responsibility in this nation other than to sit back and measure everything in thier lives relative to white people, and then complain when it doesn’t work out how they planned. You teach your kids to be suspicious and distrustful of whites from an early age. And then you have the gall to think that didn’t happen…whew….is there a font big enough to spell HYPOCRIT. I don’t speak for white america, and I certainly know that there is racism still the USA, but until you admit that you are part and parcel of perpetuating racism, nothing will change. I absolutley, 100% beleive that it happened. I read it in the blogs; the hatred and bigotry towards anything remotely white. You insult people’s intelligence when you expect them to think otherwise. (but of course you are preaching to the choir here) There is a subset of the black community that is as crappy, vindictive, uneducated, and bigotted as you accuse whites of being, and that is something you’ll never have the guts to blog about…you’ll leave that up to the rest of us. Amazing and gutless

  10. I take back what I said about being glad you were sticking around to listen. Some of your comments led me to think you might be capable of rational discourse; but this is just angry, dismissive, and hateful nonsense.

  11. Michael has now crossed over into troll territory. One more comment like that, dude, and I’ll not only take away your vowels, I will ban your ass. I really should do it now, but I’m going with a warning.

  12. Go, Will Smith! That man seriously has a mind, and he’s not afraid to speak it.

    That Harlem story is just too cliche to be true. I can certainly imagine someone expressing that sentiment at some point, but not laughing and gloating to the extent it suggests on the day in question. I mean, from my recollection, people were just shell shocked and grieving for the first few days. There was no other topic of conversation, even here on the west coast. I cannot imagine anyone actually IN New York being calm enough to laugh or gloat, if that makes any sense.

  13. is there a font big enough to spell HYPOCRIT.

    I don’t usually do spelling snide because my spelling is lousy, but really, dude, there is no font big enough to spell “hypocrit” because it isn’t an English word. Try “hypocrite” if you really must use that rhetorical device. Especially if you’re going to go on about other people being uneducated.

    Apologies for the troll feeding, but some things are just impossible to resist.

  14. Michael,

    The stupid! It burnsss us, my precious.

    Plus, what Dianne said. Good grief. I can’t tell if there’s actually anything intelligent in your comment because I’m laughing at you too hard.

  15. ABW, Dianne…being called a troll in this company is quite honestly, rich. And certainly nobody on this blog has ever mispelled a word when furiously typing on an airplane. So lets not let a mispelled word deflect from my message, even though that truth stings.. I stand by my comments. Until the AA community admits that its issues are not caused soley by whites, and that is has been in the past and conitnues to perpetuate racism, you are simply writing words that have no hope fo changing anything. My point is: When you do that, you become self serving and no help to anyone who actuall desires to change the course. You cackle and howl at my strong dissent, call me a troll in hopes that you can retreat back into the rhetoric. Why no get it all out in the open? Bristle at the message if you must, but at least be intellectually honest about the message.

  16. Here’s the problem with everything you said, Michael: You are not of prime importance here. I’ve tried to explain this to you before. This website is not about You and it’s not about Your Opinions and what you think about black people doesn’t take center stage. You keep trying to lecture us as if you’re an authority on high about…. anything. And it’s painfully clear that you’re not. In any way.

    It’s also clear that you’re not here to have a dialogue even though you’ve said that elsewhere, too. You’re just here to waggle your finger of shame as us horrible black people. The funny thing is, all the time you spend saying that WE have issues just makes it more and more apparent that you’re the one in need of help.

    I tried not to be dismissive, I tried to give you a chance, I tried to take you at face value. I have given you 10 benefits of the doubt. To no avail.

    I’m particularly tickled by the fact that you were on an airplane reading this blog to get all upset about it. That’s pretty rich.

    At any rate, it’s clear that I’m completely done with you. Others are completely done with you. And as this is MY space on the web, I’m putting you out. You may return if you choose to demonstrate that you can have a conversation that doesn’t boil down to Black People = All The Badness That Ever Was.

    Thank you, and good night.

  17. How do you get internet access on an airplane anyway? Aren’t you supposed to turn off all electronics that transmit out of fear that they might interfere with the plane’s navigation? I’ve been told that that concern is more theoretical than actual, but still…Aw, never mind, it’s not that important.

    Back to Will Smith. The thing about Smith is he’s famous, successful, wealthy, and smart. He’s a heartthrob. People love him. He’s also male and, as far as I know, heterosexual and cis-gendered. In short, the only thing he has “against” him is his race. If he still lives in a perpetual state of unease, unsure about whether he might be attacked, then something is scrod even worse than it first appears. Or at least, one of the claims made by white people who want to pretend that racism is no longer a big deal is disproven. I’ve heard people* argue that because of the existence of affirmative action and other such things that a middle class black has an advantage over whites and that the real remaining problems are more economic than racial: that there is a racial component because more blacks are poor than whites, but that the basic underlying problem is no longer race but poverty. Well, no. Even wealthy blacks feel threatened, intimidated, and generally not at ease in “mainstream” society. That suggests that racism is still a major problem in the US, even though most people no longer admit to being overtly racist. What to do about it, now…

    *Specifically, white people who consider themselves liberal or moderate, would be horrified at overt racist remarks, and acknowledge that a lot of black people face problems that most whites don’t. But are also angry because affirmative action might slightly, infitessimally reduce their chances of going to the university or graduate school (etc) that they want.

  18. Hello ABW,

    It has changed some things.

    May I say that 9/11 and “heightened security” has now become a smokescreen to prevent certain people from coming to the U.S. and still allowing others?

    Since 9/11, matters became worse for many people who want to obtain a visas to work legally in the U.S. and who want to become U.S. citizens.

    My wife was born in Guatemala and she took her oath of citizenship and received her naturalization papers four months before the terrorist attacks in 2001.

    Several of my extended family members from Guatemala have found it very difficult to come to the U.S. because of “tightened security”. They could not obtain visas to work here legally.

    One overlooked reality is the difficulty for those of us who have family who live abroad. Further, I tend to think that we are no more at risk for attack than we were before 9/11.

    Just weeks ago I asked two students from South Korea how long they intended to study in the U.S. One of them answered, “I am not certain, it depends on the U.S. Government.”

    It is well known that our country has a long history of closing doors to people who are born and raised here – we are now closing the doors to many people on the outside.

    Interestingly enough, ABW, I know for a fact that it is still easy to obtain a visa into the U.S. if you are from the following countries: Great Britain, Ireland, Austrailia, New Zealand, and most other western European countries.

    I cannot help but believe that our “immigration policies” are enforced in a very selective manner.

    I hope that I can intelligently (and compassionately) contribute to these discussions.

    Adam

  19. SO MUCH AGREEMENT. (I am going back through your archives and cannot stop myself from AGREEING WHOLEHEARTEDLY.)

    Also, I happen to love Will Smith. A lot. And I’m glad he said that, because it’s true. It’s impossible for people who DON’T live in a near-constant state of fear (and intense societal disadvantage!) to even imagine that that exists — we need to start bringing it up.

  20. Until the AA community admits that its issues are not caused solely by whites, and that it has been in the past and continues to perpetuate racism, you are simply writing words that have no hope of changing anything.

    Until the European community stops using blacks(and other minorities) as scapegoats for everything wrong with the U.S./America and treating them as secondclass citizens; and face the reality that it perpetuates racism like it did in the past and is partly responsible for the anger some minorities feel toward ignorant whites,- Micheal-YOU are simply writing words that have no hope of changing anything. It would behoove whites to examine themselves and take some responsibility for racism!

  21. Mchl’s rght. Yr cllctv rctns jst rnfrc hs rgmnt. Th ‘thrtng t bn’ rspns, th prsnl ttcks n Mchl bcs y cn’t hndl hs rgmnt. vn th nm ‘th ngr blck wmn’ s bsrd. t’s clr tht bng ngr nd blck r yr dntt. Tlk bt prpttng rcl strtyps… y r n. s fr t bng ‘yr spc n th wb’, f y dn’t lk pstrs, mk t b nvttn nl, r dn’t llw pstrs. Y cn’t hv t bth wys. Yr cllctv rspnss t Mchl r nthng bt cs f sr grps. nj yr ch chmbr!

  22. “if you don’t like posters, make it by invitation only, or don’t allow posters. You can’t have it both ways.”

    She can have it however she wants, its her damn blog. You, sir, are rude. You come in here, spew out all sorts of bigoted nonsense across multiple posts… Not only do your posts lack common sense, they also lack common courtesy. I can’t wait to see you devoweled.

  23. Ico,

    While it’s true that the ABW “can have it however she wants” on her own damn blog, I think the real question is whether ABW wants to have an “echo chamber” or a blog where there is intelligent discussion that is worth reading. If the latter is her preference, then I believe she needs to function as an editor, not a censor. That is, she needs to let the Michaels of the world have their say and then allow other people to respond and discredit them. However, once there has been an adequate response, such as the one posted by “abw” above, Michael should not be allowed to come back and make his same point over and over. Neither should other people such as CaptainReality be allowed to come in and repeat Michael’s point over and over. When that starts to happen, it’s up to the editor to step in and devowel the offender. Maybe devowellings would be more effective if they included an explanation to justify them, such as “Michael is being devowelled because he is just repeating a point that has already been effectively dismissed several times,” or “CaptainReality” is being devowelled because his post is not on point and just hijacks the discussion.” Regarding CaptainReality, I have read some of his arrogant and rude posts on other topics and think the time for devowelling has come – based on his hijacking of discussions with irrelevant and offensive nonesense. So, I say, “Deeevowel! Deeevowel! Deeevowel!”

  24. CroMagnon, I absolutely agree with you about the undesirability of an echo chamber. I think ABW does, too, and I’ve never seen her devowel anyone without first giving them a chance to have a rational discussion. :) From what I have seen, there’s no shortage of disagreement on this blog.

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