Eleven years after 9/11, I remain deeply disturbed about its symbolism in our society. The day the towers fell was the day that Americans began to overtly beat war drums with widespread popularity. What it should have been was a day that Americans stood up wholesale and demanded that our government make radical foreign policy changes that actually reflected our proclaimed reality and sparked a revolution of values.
There are many that I have talked to that felt angry in the aftermath of 9/11, but were not surprised that chickens came home to roost. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the people that were not surprised all happen to be considered an ethnic minority. Like them, I thought of the Arab businesses that were around New York City and the immediate danger to their safety. I knew then that irrespective of the fact that not all Arabs are Muslim, and that Sikhs would be confused as Muslim, all of them were going to be in direct line of displaced anger. I could empathize with what was likely to happen to all those in the category of enemy. As a woman of color in America with a third generation family line out of slavery and Native American roots, my peoples were the "Arabs and Muslims" of the time for centuries.
In the wake of 9/11, the knowledge of an inherited Americanism based in fear, arrogance, narcisism and misguided anger made me sad. Days after experiencing the trauma of being close to ground zero when the planes hit, I was stunned into silent cries. I cried over what I had witnessed and the possibility of becoming ill from having inhaled toxins. I cried over what was apparent to me as the desperation of the hijackers to be heard via their suicide missions that killed thousands. In hindsight, I perhaps cried the most because of the savagery that I knew would ensue at the hands of my countrymen on a grander scale than what hit us because our pride was wounded.
After the events of 9/11 I was torn; to war meant to defend honor and avenge innocent deaths. Yet, to war also meant that we agreed that the tragedy was one that bared no resemblance to the systematic ill expression of our values in the world and a problem that lay within the resistance of others that dare not accept our way of doing things. The beloved America I perceived then is the beloved America I see now; a people strongly convicted via ambitious aims and fiercely loyal to unyielding compromise to our way of life. The downside to ambition and unyielding compromise is the inability to learn from self-reflection and craft a more perfect global union that is not centered in Western pomp.
Year after year, the anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11 is touted throughout traditional and social media as if we are bewildered and infuriated that anyone would dare to defy our way of life. Rarely is our attention challenged to step outside of our grief, pain and indignation to understand how the world over has been left to deal with the American "help" that often comes with a heavy price of structured violence. A country focused on death, destruction, trauma, and self-glory is a country that rolls out a carpet of bloodshed for the gods of war to dance upon. We must understand that celebrating death prevents healing and prolongs a warring thirst for revenge without ever deconstructing the root causes of our experiences.
If bloodshed is the foundation for war, what then, is the foundation for peace? On April 4, 1967, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke prophetically about America's insatiable tendency to self-indulge and the creation of violence in the world based out of our own arrogance. Though rooted in the context of the era of Vietnam, Dr. King's speech is on par with the psycho-somatic expressions of our war mongering today. Dr. King asserted that we needed a true revolution of values that would be based in love, solidarity and peace.
I agree with Dr. King. We need to be connected to each other and our brothers and sisters around the world. We must begin to understand that our peaceful experiences thrive because of solidarity and humane treatment, not in the conscious absence of equity, justice and peace. America needs to dig deep within itself, engage opportunities for true reconciliation of our destructive mark in the world and allow humility to enter our diplomatic spaces here and abroad. On a basic level, we must come into unequivocal alignment with equal human rights and peace principles at home as well as stand with the same abroad. The truth of the matter is that whereas our grave shame of provoking and aiding violence around the world is evident throughout our history, so are similar atrocities committed against our own people.
America, we need to practice the values we preach. We need to recognize things like land sovereignty and roll back oppressive laws that box minority populations into a trajectory of calculated poverty. We need to reject distracting politics, re-define paramilitary relations with the people and consciously dismantle the celebration, sale and use of weaponry to get our way. We must begin to teach our children in our homes diplomacy skills that value non-violent enforcement of humanity and that humility and cooperation are marks of honor. We must teach each other that having empathy, kindness, knowledge of the world beyond our periphery, respect for the environment and emotional wholeness is a conscious practice for progress.
Perhaps we can start practicing what we preach by turning the commemoration of 9/11 into a day of introspection and a yearly milestone for concrete works around the country that return us to love. Day by day, we can re-define what it means to be American for us and other nations around the world. I am of no illusion that this will not take a long time, but it cannot be the reason why we do not proceed. There is no excuse; the effects of systemic change can be evident as early as within one generation. Thirty years from now, what kind of memory will 9/11 be for young Americans? If 9/11 is still a justification for continued atrocities, we will find ourselves living in an America no one wants. America is on a path of suffering under its own bottleneck of structured violence that cultivates broken spirits, is mired in oppression and rapes the community of deliberate peace that should be crafted within social equity. The good news is, we can turn it around and that the world has been waiting for us to step up and do it. We have wasted enough time. Enough is enough!