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 I 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.
Tags: September 11, 9/11, terrorism, terrorists, Will Smith