Black People and 9/11

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.


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9 Responses

  1. 9/11 did have an effect on race relations in the US: Now there’s (at least) 120 anti-Muslim hate crimes a year in the US. ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/629/629/5305868.stm )

    Sigh.

    Anyway, if 9/11 HAD had some kind of unifying black/white effect, I think Katrina would have undone it.

  2. As I’m remembering it, i think there was about a day and a half of (some) people putting aside their differences and small sort of heart-warm-ish breakthroughs; at least as i recall both anecdotes and personal experience/memory (spent the day with an older woman i met on the street, once i got back to Queens, just babbling and walking and going to a diner; never saw each other again). helping each other home across the bridge and so forth.

    and then, well, it played out how it did.

    and yeah, the gormlessness is, well, yeah. “sput sput sput he CAN’T be saying! but! who? huh? WHAT?”

    but yeah, i think that that was, you know, a different kind or level of terror, at least for that first day or so when no one knew what the hell was going on. maybe the weeks and months afterward were more, well, familiar feeling to some folks. i just remember getting back into Queens (i’d been at around 8th St. in Manhattan sometime between when the planes hit and the collapse, which all apparently happened while i was riding the subway downtown; -somehow- i caught a cab and i think was thelast car allowed across the bridge before everything seriously went to hell), getting out where i could, walking into a newsstand and seeing the news about now WASHINGTON as well and kind of going into this crouch, thinking, oh, fuck, this is it, this is WWIII, this is the end.

    but it also occurs to me: it’s in my owncultural baggage or something to have a feeling of permanent unease lurking somewhere at the back of consciousness; i think i always assumed everyone felt this way, maybe? this sort of, it can all be yanked away at any time feeling.

    different from it ACTUALLY HAPPENING, of course, and a different level from actual fear of bullets and so forth.

    just…unease, yeah. we’ve always had that, I’d say. at least in my family.

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

    Amen.

    The priviledge of a violence free existance is far from universal, and 9/11 was a rude awakening to that for many folks. But as the single largest exporter of violence in the form of arms, military funding, and direct involvement…

    Surprise shouldn’t have been on the menu.

  4. thank you for this.

    whenever i say to white people that white america only wants solidarity when america gets bombed on one day but when it comes to sharing resources and benefits fairly after the day of terror, they go
    what? no we ain’t changing anything.

    white america (collectively and individually) knows it
    just don’t care to actionably change a damn thing.

    and i’m not going to change a thing either, I will keep stating how I truly feel until they have to acknowledge it or just walk away (which has happened so many times when I let white people know how I truly feel).

    Too bad.

  5. shut the heck up im sick of hereing white thia and white that you black people fuel rasicm and are just to angry to see it. Racism is treating one race dif. based on skin color well allow me to inform you that you fucking jack asses are a bunch of racist. If you want racism to stop it takes both racist and yes thank there has been a an ease to racial tensions due to a survey from Mitchell Research and Communications Inc. that the tensions have eased. GOd damnn it im fucking broke as shit work for everything i have and am still yelled at for having this evil racist agenda because im white. I just want to succed like anyone else. If the white fucking government actually kept the black man down we would provide free schools, public transportation and free food at this schools. You race hustlers just feul racism towards your own race for your oqn benefit. YOur guys are the fucken problem

  6. First of all, Bob, you don’t get to tell me to shut the fuck up on my own blog. If you don’t like what I have to say and are tired of hearing such talk, then don’t come here. Plain and simple. It’s a free country, I have free speech, and I can spell and capitalize. Yay me!

    Racism is not just ‘treating one race differently’. If you want to know what Racism is, you should check out our debate on Racism. But it’s certainly not the simplistic definition you’ve given.

    This survey you mentioned, please provide a link.

    I’m sorry to hear that you are broke and working too hard. But that doesn’t absolve you from racism. Hardworking people, downtrodden people, gutter-living homeless people can still be racist. Hardship does not equal virtue.

    Your assertion that ‘if the gov’t wanted to keep black people down it would provide things free to the white man’ is based on nothing but ignorance. Keeping minorities down doesn’t require such extremes.

    What is a race hustler?

    What benefit do I get from fueling racism?

    I am not the problem, sir. Ignorant, stubborn people are the problem. Judging from the screed you posted, you appear to be both.

    BTW – you’re a total coward for not leaving a real email address.

  7. Guess what, Angry Black Woman, I did not care all that much-really! Oh sure, I wish that thousands of civilians did not get killed, but I did not lose much sleep. I definitely did not care about the building.I guess I feel this way because the U.S.A makes people’s lives miserable everywhere else and bomb them, then get mad when somebody has the audacity to strike back. I was not in love with the fallout from the act, but respect the fact that folks were willing to die to defend their partly-just cause. Excusing-no despite- misogyny and some human rights abuses, they have legitimate gripes that the rest of the Third World can attest to. Not that they don’t need to tackle these things, they most certainly do. I empathize with the sentiment of resistance, even if I don’t like the actions, I guess. I do not think the stand point of the so-called brother was all that off base in segments of the black community, though not the whole community. I get the impression that 9/11 was not celebrated, but it was not earth shattering either. It did not help that the many victims- of- color,immigrant or native, which were many, did not get anywhere the media attention they deserved, which comes across to me that their lives did not amount to much-as opposed to affluent, white, stockbrokers. All though alot of the people fighting the occupation are people of color.Also,minorities are always fighting in just for noble causes and rights that are often compromised and unfulfilled in their own country.If they are not being discriminated against or shafted in the military, they always have to come home to the risk of homelessness,exist racism and other ism’s,and indifferent citizens. If a magic wand existed to bring the dead back to life I would be the first to try to find it, still I am tired of the U.S. pounding on the world and expect them to take it without a whimper.

  8. Bob, people of color are sick of suffering from racism,so go to HADES.Also, there are millions of others that have economic hardships and suffer racism or some other ism on top of it, so spare the “poor me” because I am a white man act. Check the “race hustlers” like Bill O’ Reilly and his ilk in your own community before trying to call black people out on theirs. Anyway, those so-called race hustlers, speak the truth unlike the David Dukes and Pat Robertson’s in your neck of the woods so whatever. If you don’t like what you see,hear, or read, don’t look,listen or read the sites that offend you.

  9. I wanted to make this news update.

    Today on November 7, 2007,there is an article on Yahoo News entitled: ” Veterans make up 1 in 4 homeless in U.S.

    O(h)M(y) goodness!!!!This although they are only 11 Percent of the Population.So freakin’ much for supporting the troops! Considering that about half or a substantial amount of our tax dollars go to the military, this should not be. So much for patriotism! Where are the re-thuglican warhawks on this? Just……curious?!?!?!? You know we-black folk-make up a substantial part of it. I can imagine the number of other minorities-particularly Latino-is nothing to sneeze at!

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