12 years ago today, Nay and I were quite possibly the last people in Freeport High School to know about the terrorist attack. We floated from an assembly to physics, to a cancelled gym class–missing each announcement made about the attacks. It wasn’t until we heard a loud radio, and silence, and crying from friends whose parents worked in Manhattan that we understood something Terrible had happened. I remember dropping to my knees in the closet and praying.
Actually, the thought of it still brings me to tears. I didn’t know where my Dad was. Cell phones were down. I tried not to panic, even as I rushed home to be comforted by my mom.
We were all relatively okay–which meant that my Dad got home safely, and my friends’ parents eventually made it back to Long Island. This wasn’t true for many New Yorkers, those in the Washington D.C. area, and others around the country, who lost family members, lovers, and friends in the attack.
Our entire world shifted after that. Airport security changed. There was an unfair persecution of Muslims and Sikhs, which violated their American right to religious freedom and expression. The war on Iraq began and went on. A new, or perhaps dormant nationalism showed up in little American flags stuck in lawns, taped in cabs, candlelight vigils, and the revelation that the United States may not be as safe as we think it is.
Have you ever fought with someone you really, really loved? I have. And I know for a fact that in the middle of that fight, I’m not thinking about one instance–I’m remembering all of them. We might only be arguing about dirty dishes in the sink, but I’m thinking about every other injustice I faced in the relationship. I remember the good and the bad, pretty and ugly.
And I think I need to start doing the same when it comes to how I view America’s history and politics.
A collective American memory–if such a thing exists–demands that, on 9/11, we never forget about the attacks that happened on American soil. And we shouldn’t.
But that also means that we shouldn’t forget about the other terrible things that happen within the United States, as well as the pain our country has inflicted upon others.
How might a collective American consciousness shift if we constantly remembered American slavery? Would we be more cautious in proclaiming a post racial world during a time in which people are still considered suspicious because of their race?
How might a collective American consciousness shift if we constantly remembered Japanese American internment camps?
How might a collective American consciousness shift if we constantly thought about Guantanamo Bay?
Popular culture sanitizes American history so that we are always the heroes.
On 9/11, there were so many brave men and women who struggled to help each other survive. And God knows, I am so thankful for the armed forces who constantly serve our country, oftentimes giving up their lives, limbs, and time with their families. As we remember 9/11, and all the wonderful heroes who serve our country so bravely, let us also remember other, uglier truths about America, and work towards creating a better nation.
After all, elephants never forget anything.
May God bless America,