On September 11, 2001, I was returning to class at Arkansas Northeastern College. I remember distinctly walking down the hall of that community college and being told that I should find a television set to see what was unfolding in New York City. Eighteen years later I still feel the emotions associated with witnessing those dark moments, as do all of us that were present in the world on that infamous day.
With every passing year, I increasingly notice that much of what is posted “in remembrance” of that day are of two kinds, photos of the actual attacks in vivid detail or patriotic images that highlight the heroism of first responders and those who joined in the Armed Forces in response to the attacks. These remembrances seem intentionally shared in order to stir the emotions of those viewing them, emotions meant as a warning that a 9/11 style attack may happen again and emotions that rekindle desires for vengeance on the perpetrators of the attack. This intentional stirring of the emotions also serves as a not so subtle reminder of the perceived evil intentions of Islam. And despite the encouragement of our leaders not to condemn a global religion based on the actions of a few, for most of us the condemnation was an unavoidable destination that is still producing divisive consequences in the world.
As Americans it is interesting what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget. And specifically, how we as white Americans become angry and defensive when we are reminded of our National shame of slavery, segregation, and murder of black people. Atrocities that, with only a few exceptions, were generally endorsed by every denominational stream of Christianity. And while the events of September 11, 2001 where three thousand of our fellow citizens lost their lives at the hands of Islamic terrorist was a National tragedy that should be memorialized, we should also appropriately and with greater frequency lament the thousands of black people who lost their lives, freedoms, and fortunes to the evils of white supremacy. As James H. Cone points out in The Cross and the Lynching Tree “Between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly five thousand black men & women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these ‘Christians’ did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.” And of course, lynching and other racially motivated acts of terror did not end in 1940, they continue along with everyday systemic inequalities and injustices perpetuated through our institutions and culture. But the response the tragedies of 9/11 and sins of white supremacy are remembered in very different ways in our culture.
Imagine if someone suggested that 9/11 was long ago, and that we should let “the past stay in the past” and we should “move on.” The responding outrage would be appropriately vociferous. But every single day the same kind of dismissive remarks are leveled at those who share the historical facts of what happened to people of color at the hands of white people in our country.
Immediate action was taken in the hours following 9/11 to care for the families of victims, and continues to this day. This Nation mobilized in a significantly powerful way to respond in attempts to make us all safer. Actions that also continue to this day. Our Nation made a commitment to ourselves, and to this point, have followed through with that commitment, that there will never be another 9/11. Imagine if the same kinds of commitments were made in response to continuing inequalities and injustices in our Nation. Just imagine.
And on this day choose to also remember….