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I feel like I’ve written or told this story a hundred times before. I’m not even sure if it made out into some tangible form, or if I replayed the events in my head from time to time over the last decade. Every passing September makes my heart ache. I was thankfully not directly affected by the tragedy that day, but it affected me nonetheless.
I remember that September 11, 2001 had started off as a bright day. Bright enough to coax me out of bed, and out of the house, on my way to high school. It was only the second week; classes had not yet lost their novelty. The first two classes passed unremarkably. Even if you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to remember what those classes were. My third class, though, I will never forget.
It was science research, a class devoted to introducing students to lab techniques and research skills. It was a little past 9:40 AM, and several of us were gathered around the desk to the far corner of the room, talking about whatever high school sophomores talk about. One of the girls came running in a little after class started, and exclaimed that planes had hit the World Trade Center. She was someone who had a tendency to be a little silly, if not outlandish, and so I didn’t believe her at first. Who would want to? It was when the wood shop teacher walked in from next door, solemn and silent, that we realized that something indeed was wrong.
We were shepherded into his classroom, where a TV had been wheeled in, blaring the news. There we stood or sat, transfixed, watching smoke billow out from the angry, blazing gashes that had torn through each World Trade Center tower. I remember some students crying, some were talking out loud. Others were anxiously calling their parents who worked at or near the World Trade Center. I don’t remember what I felt exactly, probably because at that moment, I felt empty. I had no idea how to react, because what had happened was so beyond the scope of what was possible, that my mind and body were blindsided. I watched, as though in a trance, as the smoke continued to pour out, and the voices of the news anchors danced nervously around, unsure quite how to react themselves. Gone was the notion that the United States was, somehow, impervious to outside forces. Wars were supposed to be few and far between, fought oceans away, not in my own backyard. Any impression of peace and stability was quickly and mercilessly eviscerated.
I remember that a good friend of mine was sitting next to me, palpably frightened, though perhaps only comforted by the fact that she had discovered that her mother was not in harm’s way. We were sitting together when, at 9:59 AM, the South Tower began to collapse. Forever etched into my memory is the sound of the small scream that escaped my friend’s lips at the moment the roar of the flames and the crunching sound of failing structural beams became one, as everything screamed towards street level. For me, that was the sound that marked the boundary between what once was, and what is now. Innocence, and innocence lost. The start of a terrible new chapter, but everyone was too frightened to willingly turn the page.
I remember that when I left the school that day and looked west, the sky was now covered with a faint, gray haze. “Smoke from the Twin Towers, most likely,” said a friend of mine.
Later that night, I remember sitting on my bed, thinking about the the day’s events, and of what happens now. I was thinking about the thousands upon thousands of bodies scattered throughout the site: some dead, some barely clinging on, and the rest working to save them. Death was not something I was familiar with, let alone on such a scale and in such close proximity. That was the first time that I openly wept that day.
I was scared, not only for future attacks from beyond our borders, but attacks from within. Hate crimes had started almost as soon as word had gotten out that the terrorists were mostly Arab Muslims. Anyone who looked potentially Arab and/or Muslim was a target, including my family, my friends, and me. I heard stories about not only Muslims, but Sikhs and Hindus being taunted, beaten up, and in some cases, gunned down. All paid the pound of flesh that they did not owe. While the incidence of those crimes died down almost as quickly as they had appeared, the simmering anger against Muslims was still present.
Ten years later…
Ten years later, Osama is dead, along with thousands of people with terrorist leanings. So is Saddam, and hundreds of thousands of Afghani and Iraqi civilians. So are thousands of US soldiers.
Ten years later, Muslims (and to some extent many South Asians) are still vilified. Every opportunity to throw stones seems to be taken by people who don’t understand that the sins of the few should not fall on the shoulders of the whole group, and that just because the color of our skin is the same as another group, doesn’t mean we are the same. If you don’t believe me, look at any news story that involves a Muslim, and read the comments from the readers. It is shameful.
Ten years later, The first responders, who put aside family and other responsibilities to toil at the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center, have had to pay a huge price for their sacrifice. Many have developed significant respiratory issues, others have developed cancers that normally occur far more rarely. For this, they have received little, aside from empty words of support and promises, as they face further death and disability. Slowly, steps are being taken in the right direction to provide compensation, but they deserve far more than that.
Ten years later, we receive word of another “credible” threat though “unconfirmed.” I truly hope that nothing happens. Yet, this is just another stop on the paranoia roller coaster many of us in the United States have been riding since 9/11. At this point, I feel like the way in which news outlets cover stories about terror threats, acts of violence, and other similar events has moved so far beyond “the boy who cried wolf” that every threat, credible or otherwise, has become background noise to me. It shouldn’t, but it has. This is what fear-mongering does. It saturates and obliterates any ability to discern what is worth worrying about, and what can be put aside.
Ten years later, I worry that I have descended into a kind of cynicism. I want to believe that, as a country, we have grown closer post-9/11, and that we can look past everything and come together for the sake of peace and stability. Then I see the politicians railing against equality, diversity, and drive while championing xenophobia, a widening income gap, and ignorance. They fancy themselves patriots. The patriots who fought for our country over 200 years ago (yes OUR country) were fighting for freedom and equality for all. How quickly the definition of patriotism has changed! This only fuels my cynicism. If you want to meet a patriot, talk to some of the first responders who didn’t ask those they saved if they were immigrants, followed a different faith from theirs, or worked in a different income bracket before deciding whether or not to save them.
Ten years later, and I’m still admittedly worried.
Ten years later, and I still mourn the loss of life.
Ten years later, what was Ground Zero–a smoldering pile of ashes, rubble, pain, and death–has slowly blossomed into something beautiful and full of hope. Even though I am in Manhattan very often, the last time I had visited Ground Zero was in 2008. It takes my breath away now, to see what has literally risen from the ashes. From 9/11 to now, we have been beating the terrorists everyday by living, building, and thriving. Yet we cannot truly win until we hearken to a more basic, but universal set of principles. That is to say, all are equal, and all should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Freedom, knowledge, and well-being are not objects that can or should be rationed, but rather, are undeniable facets of human nature that should be tapped, and never stifled for any reason.
A friend sent me this article just today: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1999416,00.html
Needless to say, I was appalled.
Yes, I see what he was getting at. The face of American towns is changing, new ethnic groups are claiming them as their homes and setting up shop (many literally). Yet I’m not sure the author could have masked his petulant whining any more poorly, not to mention the casual use of racist language. Even more surprising is that it was published in Time magazine, a publication of reasonable repute (at least last I checked).
I’m more than aware of Edison, but perhaps more so of Jackson Heights. Jackson Heights is another “little India” in Queens, where I spent the first year of my life, and would continue to visit. You know it’s little India because of the paan stains on the sidewalk and the kulfi stands lining them. Can’t get much more Indian than that, I think. This town, like Edison, is often a starting point for many Indians who come from India seeking their fortune in the United States. Having that much of an Indian presence so close at hand provides comfort and a sense of belonging that curtails some of the homesickness and, in time, allows them the confidence to branch out and search for greater opportunity elsewhere. Yet they can still return if they feel a sense of nostalgia, or want to give their children–newly minted US citizens–a small taste (literally or figuratively) of home.
I’m fairly sure the mostly Anglo-Saxon and Nordic stock that made up most of the population of the US before the end of the 18th century didn’t take too kindly to new immigrants setting up little nooks for themselves. Yet eventually, they were embraced, and allowed their little slice of their homeland’s culture. Even today, there is a Little Italy in Manhattan, as well as a Chinatown, Koreatown, and all sorts of towns that cater to specific cultures. What about those places? There may be some grumbling behind the scenes, but certainly it isn’t aired in such a childish manner in a publication that doesn’t usually cater to such banter.
The face of America is changing in many ways. If you can’t deal with it, that’s too bad. You’re just missing out.
So the story goes that Chip Saltsman–a G.O.P. operative vying for the RNC chairman position–distributed a CD with the song “Barack the Magic Negro” on it. The song itself is a parody that had its origins in Rush Limbaugh’s program. Rush Limbaugh is playing the “humor” card, saying he has had many similar songs and parodies on his program that have been well-received.
Let’s rewind a little bit.
Don Imus did something not entirely dissimilar with his “nappy headed hos” comment. It was a racist comment, but it was his co-host Bernard that started the chain of events that led to the infamous remark. This, though, does not exculpate either of them, and we all know what happened to Don Imus. Yet people like Rush Limbaugh can be all-out racist under the supposed guise of humor, and get away with it. Can you smell the hypocrisy?
In an attempt to explain Saltsman’s rationale, the article goes on to state the following:
‘Paul Shanklin is a longtime friend, and I think that RNC members have the good humor and good sense to recognize that his songs for the Rush Limbaugh show are light-hearted political parodies,’ Saltsman told The Hill.
Saltsman said in a statement later Saturday that the title was a reference to an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times in March 2007 with the headline, “Obama the ‘Magic Negro,” which argued that “The Illinois senator lends himself to white America’s idealized, less-than-real black man.
I’m not sure that good humor and good sense are exactly what’s needed to recognize the songs as “light-hearted political parodies. I’m thinking it involves more the complete lack of sense, if not a complete unawareness of what racism entails. That’s just my take on it.
Don Imus was notorious for his parodies, many of them involving racial stereotypes. Eventually he pushed it too far, and had to be both fired from one station and restructure his program on another station to satisfy the public. Rush Limbaugh has faced no such penalties, and his parodies verge far closer to being outright racist and usually dance right over the line separating parody from racism.
I’m hoping the Republican Party and the country as a whole both move to distance themselves from Chip Saltsman as well as Rush Limbaugh. To do otherwise would just encourage the steady smoldering of racism that still exists in our country.
It isn’t just about the Western world against everyone else. It isn’t just about whites against blacks. It isn’t just about one place and their people pitted against other people. Race isn’t even the only factor, it’s race, sexuality, religion, and so many other things. Wherever there are differences, people strive to create some sort of hierarchy.
Every ethnic group, every religious group, every group of people you could possibly consider probably sets their group apart from the rest in some way. Whether it’s considered racist, or otherwise, prejudiced depends on who’s judging.
An example that comes to mind is that, in the context of the Hindu caste system, converts away from Hinduism lose their caste, or in some cases, dropped to the bottom of the ladder. Yet in the Abrahamic faiths, Hindus are not looked upon kindly. I could probably rattle off a whole list of examples. Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, Hutu and Tutsi, ethnic Spanish and ethnic Indians, straight people and gay people, and so on. This is not to say all people in either camp necessarily follow that outlook, since that is certainly not the case. Some people don’t see race, religion, or sexuality. Some people do. Everyone sees it differently.
I guess I started thinking about this after seeing this link. The post starts out with an excerpt from a site evidently promoting white pride, but at the end, the author reveals that he had in fact, taken it off of a Jewish pride site and had replaced “Jew” and “Israel” with “white” and “Europe.” I remember distinctly starting out reading the post thinking “oh how awful” but when I saw that it was, in fact, from a Jewish website, it didn’t feel as bad. And then I thought, why is one any better than another?
I suppose in this case, it’s not quite as clean a substitution as one might think. “White pride” generally carries a strong negative connotation to begin with, owing to its association with such groups as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacist groups. Just substituting “white” and “Europe” results in an entirely different reading, given that context.
The Jews, meanwhile, have a strong religious connection with Israel, not just a cultural one. Their connection has not yet been watered down as strongly as the white connection to Europe, in most cases. Whites (at least Western European whites) have been in this country since its inception, for the most part. Jews have been around since the latter half of the 19th century, for the most part. In considering the various sects of Judaism that exist, and how some are shrinking rapidly (some Sephardi sects come to mind) why wouldn’t some Jews call for a return to intra-religious marriage, within their sects? Maybe it’s because I’ve been raised to marry someone who is the same caste and same religion, I don’t see it as totally radical.
Yet there were people who commented on this post that felt very strongly about it. Some condemned the word subsitution, some condemned the Jewish site, some just condemned the concepts on either side. Try substituting your words of choice…does it read differently? Why?
We shouldn’t see it differently. We shouldn’t praise one and condemn another. There shouldn’t be boundaries to begin with, but since it’s too late to dismantle some of them, let us try to respect them…so long as these boundaries and notions do not cause undue pain and suffering to another. We are all, after all, human first.
I definitely did a double take when I read that the word “white” was originally “Jew” in the context of the original site. Even more shocking was the variety of responses.
I’ll have a more in-depth post about racism being relative, but since I have two finals tomorrow, I’ll leave that for another day in the not-too-distant future.
I go to grad school in the city, but live on Long Island, in a town where I have lived for the past 19 years. Getting to and from the city means (for most Long Islanders) taking the Long Island Railroad (LIRR), a commuter rail system that links the city with most of Long Island, extending as far out east as Montauk on the South Fork, and Greenport on the North Fork. Heaven forbid I have to take the train at rush hour, here is the general scenario:
I get on the train and start walking down the aisle, trying to find the seat. In each car, there are two sets of seats: two-seaters and three-seaters. The general rule, logically, would be that if there is an extra seat and there is someone that needs a seat, the other person would make room for that person to sit down. Not the case on the LIRR. Three seaters are occupied by one person and five bags, two seaters likewise. There are times where I just give up and stand in the vestibule, hoping people get off at Jamaica. Other times, I will march down the aisle, find the person most unwilling to give up their extra seat, and make them make room. That coupled with the businessman who can’t stop cursing on his phone, the Botox-ed fiftysomething drawling on and on about vacuous nonsense, and the teens who are perpetually inebriated and inappropriate, well that pretty much sums it up.
Ok not exactly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But why?
Perhaps it is a function of our being so close to New York City, the financial capital of the world, but I can’t speak for Westchester or Rockland counties, or for New Jersey or Connecticut. From what I’ve heard, they don’t quite have quite the same…er…aura that Long Island does.
Perhaps it is a function of our being Hollywood’s little haven. J.Lo has a home in Greenvale, P. Diddy has a pad out in the Hamptons, and the list goes on.
Nonetheless, there’s something that’s causing Long Islanders to be these cookie cutter people. Men have their suits, briefcases, and Blackberries; women have their fake orange tans (or worse yet, leathery skin from real tans), gaudy French-manicured nails, excessive makeup, plastic surgery, Tiffany jewelry, Coach bags (or maybe Prada), and Blackberries. Starbucks and tanning salons are ubiquitous. Materialism is their god, indulgence and excess, their salvation.
Going from high school to college meant a few drastic changes. It meant going from a place where the teacher and the students excitedly talked about getting highlights that weekend, where Prada and Gucci were a way of life, where conformity trumped any other pursuit to a place where…well…people were actually concerned with varied pursuits, new points of view (political and otherwise), and just plain old diversity. Gone was a lot of the racism and homophobia, replaced instead, by a healthy respect for all things unique and different.
Not all of Long Island is racially/ethnically homogenous, but it feels like much of it still is. Certainly Long Island does feel like a conservative stronghold, among the older generations, though the younger generations are slowly starting to break the mold.
Oddly enough, coming from Long Island I didn’t think too much was wrong, but it was when I realized what Long Island’s reputation is on the outside that I realized that there was much that needed to be addressed. “You don’t strike me as a Long Islander,” people would say, and when I asked why I wasn’t, they would often just roll their eyes and laugh congenially. “It’s a good thing,” they would finally add.
Long Island has been my home for the last 20 years of my life, for better or worse. I went to Long Island schools. Among my closest friends are friends from high school. I’ve shopped at Roosevelt Field, gazed out from Montauk Point, and done research at Long Island’s premier labs. There is a connection I have with Long Island that I can’t deny.
Not everyone from Long Island is as I’ve described above, to assume that would be foolish. Really this can be applied to any similar piece of suburbia in the backyard of a large, populous city. This is just the trend that I’ve seen among the majority of Long Islanders, a trend that is disturbing and needs to change. I can’t comfortably consider myself a Long Islander without adding to it, all the baggage and stereotypes that come with the title. I can’t see myself living here in the future, past marriage, past having kids, and beyond. I can’t imagine my kids growing up to be among those often disgruntled, boorish, and self-centered LIRR riders. I don’t want my kids to just settle and conform to the vapid norms, I want them to stand up and take a chance, I want them to think of other people besides themselves.
The world does not revolve around any one of us, none of us is entitled to anything. I don’t care if you are a big shot trader on the floor of the NYSE or a plastic surgeon, netting millions of dollars a year. I don’t care if you own a mansion in the Hamptons, I don’t care if you’ve partied with the Olsen twins. I don’t care if you own stock in Armani, or drink only fine Bordeaux. Get over yourself. Get over yourself and make room for your fellow passenger. Heck, maybe strike up a conversation with them, you’ll be surprised at what you can learn.
Yet there is hope too…
A week ago, I was again, caught in an LIRR train at rush hour, waiting at Penn Station. I was in a three-seater, filled to capacity, with most other seats taken up. It took me a while before I noticed the noticeably pregnant woman standing next to me, her swollen belly creeping into my peripheral vision. I think she might have been standing there for a good five minutes before I even noticed. Clearly no one else noticed either, because she was still standing, and no one had offered her a seat. She must have been seven or eighth months pregnant, and she was still standing. Can you imagine standing with a ten pound load on your abdomen and legs? So I turned around after no one else decided to do anything to ask her if she wanted to sit. She declined, saying she was getting off at the next station (Forest Hills, as it happened to be, which is a ten minute ride). Yet really, I can’t stand for ten minutes with my bag slung over my shoulder. How would she fare for ten minutes, standing with a living load that needs far more protection from the jostling of a train? So I gave up my seat, much to the shock of everyone in the train. Really people? Is it that unusual? So I stood, sandwiched between several people standing in the aisle, and when the woman got up to leave at Forest Hills, I moved aside and let her pass before sitting down. The man standing in front of me also grabbed a seat. What surprised, and moved me, though was that at Forest Hills, another woman had come in weighed down with bags. The man, who had just gotten himself a seat after standing in the aisle from Penn Station, thought better of it and gave up his seat for the woman.
I consider that a little victory in my book. First one person, then the whole LIRR ridership, then who knows? I’m not saying I’m a crusader for all things good, but if I can do something to inspire someone else to do the right thing, then I think I’ve won something.
Conclusion: Long Island is a place of good people who, unfortunately, have lost sight of the more important priorities. Long Island is not all bad, though if someone can direct me to the parts that have not been overrun by corporate ambition and wonton materialism, that would be lovely.
To anyone who made life difficult for people because they are different,
Ten years ago, I stood behind my middle school, waiting for my mother to pick me up. As I was waiting, two girls from the same middle school who were maybe two years older than I was came up to me, each with an idily burning cigarette in hand. I didn’t know them. One of them sneered at me, her teeth already tobacco-stained, and smiled a cruel smile. “Smile,” she ordered, “smile you fucking Hindu bitch.” Laughing, she and her friend walked away. Ten years ago, I continued to stand there long after they left, confused and hurt. Ten years ago, for me, racism was but a theory that quickly became a stark reality.
Today, the scene is much the same. There is a strong constituent that prides itself on fear-mongering, on the cavalier tossing around of racist slurs, on justifying reasons to hate or ridicule another group of people because they are different. There are still those that believe, intuitively, that someone who is different is somehow inferior. I’m so sorry you all still think that.
Differences have always been present in society, that’s a fact, today though they’re being embraced more strongly…perhaps to the chagrin of many. Ethnic identity is a badge of honor rather than a mark of shame. Other sexual lifestyles are being viewed less as woefully deviant and more as beautifully different. You see this as a sign of the end of days, a change for the worse. You have been fiercely vocal in certain pockets. In the light of the current political climate, with an African American poised to (potentially) clinch this election, you have been especially vocal. You cannot see change such as this as good.
It is different, therefore, it is bad. It must be suppressed, and we must stick to the status quo. Islam is bad. Hinduism is bad. Anything anti-Christian is somehow odd, and perverted. Anything culturally alien is base, is backwards, and needs to be stamped out, if not somehow changed to meet your ideals. Have you considered perhaps learning about the cultures that are slowly melding with with American culture? Have you considered learning about the people, their backgrounds, their faith (or lack thereof), perhaps their rationale for seeing the world the way they do? Have you considered any of it? There is beauty in diversity, and I’m sorry you don’t see it.
You do not reflect America as a whole, thankfully, but unfortunately America’s image is slowly being colored by your clamoring few. America, as a whole, has started to extend its arms to new change, to new differences, and to new views. Yet there are some that are still scared, fiercely so, and you turn instead to put-downs and wild allegations about the people who are possibly bringing new perspectives and new possibilities to a country that right now, is sorely in need of a different direction.
I’m sorry to say, I did listen to that girl. I smiled then, and I smile now. I smile not because I was conquered. I smile because I will never be conquered by fear. I smile because I will work through all the remarks, all the jeers, all the comments. I smile because I see your racist remarks, I see your xenophobic attitude, I see your fear and I raise you…and ultimately I win. Ultimately, we all win. White, black, Asian, Latino, homosexual, heterosexual, religious, atheist, and any and all combination of groups, we all win. Once we accept the changes our country is undergoing–the increased diversity on so many levels and its slow spread into all eschelons–we all win. Then, maybe then, we’ll all have a reason to smile.