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Where Were You on 9/11?

Where Were You on 9/11?

I would not say that I remember it completely, but I was in an 8:30am staff meeting on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. Not exactly “at” the meeting. I was dialed in to the meeting; I was in North Carolina and the meeting was in Massachusetts. Knowing me, I was probably playing spades. One of my co-workers, also dialed in, was watching CNN. I remember when he told everyone that an airplane had just hit the North Tower of the NY World Trade Center and no one questioned the fact that he was watching CNN in the middle of a staff meeting. We were too dumbfounded. We all tuned in. The staff meeting was basically over, even though we were all still on the call – we were all watching CNN. And we all watched the second airplane hit the South Tower. It was a horribly chilling thing to see, almost out of a movie – completely unreal.

The staff meeting was over. Some people had loved ones who worked at the World Trade Center. Or had friends of loved ones working at the center. We were calling, checking in, e-mailing. Those who had text phones (before the iPhone) were texting. One of my best friends had a brother who worked there but he had left the building to go get breakfast for his daughter who was with him for the day. There were rumors that some people knew and hadn’t gone to work that day. It was a very sick rumor, but it was a very sick day. We were still tuned in as each building collapsed, and we knew that some people didn’t make it out. Amazingly, with 198 elevators, each holding 55 people, 99% of the people below the floors that were hit made it out before the two buildings collapsed. To say that this was a miracle is beyond words. But the people on the floors that were hit died that day. 3,000 people died. Other than wars, there has never been such devastation on US soil.

That weekend, I was going on vacation to Las Vegas. It was already booked, so I was going. But I will never forget that experience. There were armed guards with assault rifles patrolling the terminal. There were pilots and flight attendants who had quit, and it took several hours to assemble a crew that could take us to Las Vegas. We cheered when they arrived. Personally thanked them for their courage. It was amazing how many of us were willing to sit in the exit seats. We all agreed that we would rush anyone who tried to hijack the plane.

I remember when the pilots wanted to be armed. The solution was to lock the cockpit. I remembered when I was younger, going in the cockpit and looking around. Children were not going to have that experience any more. And we were all okay with it.

I also remember having a roommate from Iran. He was attending North Carolina A&T, and I quizzed him before I allowed him to live with me, as though that was going to make a difference. He was a harmless kid. He was not learning to make bombs. But I remember how he told of his experiences going through the airports, being frisked and searched. Our distrust of all people from the Middle East did not wane for more than 20 years. We now have a generation of young people in their teens and twenties who did not experience 9/11. Who must think we are crazy and racist. And we are.

I remember when Bush declared the War on Terror and absolutely no one questioned it. No one questioned which countries were targeted, no one questioned the goals. Obama claimed in his campaign speech that he would have voted against it, while Hillary voted for it, back when we finally started to wonder if it had been the right thing to do. But who would ever know if, in that moment, after that horror, a senator would have questioned approving an offensive position. Going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan made sense. But a year later, going after Saddam Hussein was actually a typical American action of toppling governments with leaders who were once American allies, but had changed their minds. I’m not saying that Hussein wasn’t a vicious dictator; I’m saying that he was an ally, in secret, just as Idi Amin started out as an ally in the 1970’s until he turned to the Soviet Union. Because the US was concerned about Iran, they helped Hussein build up his military in the 1980’s. Most people don’t know. America is funny like that. And so too, we are allies of Saudi Arabia, even though they slaughtered the Saudi dissident Khashoggi who was in the process of applying for US citizenship – it was authorized by the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Salman. Jared Kushner went over and made financial deals with him. I remember how sickened I was. Most recently, Biden shook his hand. But America is funny like that.

I was looking up the countries where citizens need a Visa in order to come to America. Nearly every country with people of color is included. All of the countries in the Caribbean are included. Yet, nearly every country with white people, except Russia, is exempt. Someone once jokingly told me that there could be thousands of undocumented Europeans in the US and no one would pay any attention. I also heard a joke around the turn-of-the-century that the only group of people more hated than black people was middle easterners, and finally, we could go through the airports without being frisked. There are approximately 578 million people in the Middle East. And 40,000 of them are in a-Qaeda. 30,000 of them in ISIS. So, we’re talking 1%. And yet, we fear, castigate, terrorize, despise, and discriminate against people from the Middle East. Did you know that there are over 1 million people in gangs in the US – 33,000 gangs. More people in gangs in the US than people in terrorist organizations in the Middle East. I could also point out that there are 19 million men in the US, and maybe 2% are in gangs. And yet, black men threaten. America is funny like that.

Twenty-two years later, 9/11 still affects our country. It still shapes how we see Middle Eastern people. It still shapes our policies. I would not be surprised if it is a constant reality in New York City, where some people are still living with the toxins of Ground Zero. How easy is it to see past people’s nationalities… and see the content of their character? Twenty-three years later, I think we should try.

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