I guess that many of you have figured out by now that I’m an ironic person, in that ironies intrigue me. I find all kinds of ironies in my life and in looking into the lives of others. Not to mention the ironies that living in the world as it is presents. For example, I think that it’s ironic that my son began his first day of school twenty-one years to the date that I left Mount Vernon, New York for Pittsburgh. I think that it’s ironic that I’ve had bosses in the past who’ve claimed the mantle of mentoring while being in need of significant mentoring themselves. I learned irony the hard way, as my family went on welfare when I was thirteen. Prior to that, for as long as I could remember, my mother always said that no matter what happened to us, that we would “never go on welfare.”
Americans are an ironic people and our nation in the midst of ironic times. For some, the ultimate irony and contradiction in American history is that many of our country’s purported freedoms are ones that have been maintained by limiting or denying those freedoms to others. Whether Black or immigrant or American Indian or women of various backgrounds in the past, or the working and welfare poor these days, this irony is also an ironclad fact of American history. Within that irony exists one other. That without the sacrifices of the same groups whose freedoms had either been deferred or denied, that American freedoms and expressions of inclusion, equality, and other ideals would be even further away from realization than they are now.
Today on the seventh anniversary of 9/11 we live in the midst of ironic times. We commemorate and commiserate at the same time around one of the greatest tragedies and most violent attacks in American history. Yet I also know that after seven years that some of us wouldn’t have remembered without today’s newspaper or CNN or going online. That’s the irony of American life, that many of us quickly forget about remembering such things, not to mention all the things that we need to do to protect our ideals and to prevent another terrorist tragedy in the future. Yeah, I know, it’s the economy stupid, and boy do I know that through my experiences this year.
But despite all of that, we’ve become obsessed with escapism and with the trivial even as we say that we care about inclusion and unity and the economy and the environment and climate change and so on. How ironic is it that a presidential candidate whose qualifications are similar to JFK’s is basically the equivalent of me as a seventeen-year-old, at least as far as some are concerned. Or that a recent vice presidential running mate represents progress for (White) women in America, even though asking about her qualifications and character is considered sexist? With our short attention spans, our contentment with reality TV as soft porn and softcore violence, where celebrities are famous because they’re rich and the needs of the poor are ignored, it’s no wonder that our politics and policy proposals sound more like pregame shows for the NFL and NBA than it does like This Week with David Brinkley!
I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again. We have become an unspecial people, a nation so engrossed in its own sense of uniqueness, entitlement and privilege that we’ve forgotten that nothing, including economic prosperity, is guaranteed, and that unity is more than a slogan. It certainly is something that we should seek more than a few times a years, especially when it concerns 9/11. We are unspecial Americans, a unique people living in unique times but acting as if it’s 1968 instead of 2008. For all of our sakes, I truly hope that there aren’t more ironies to look forward to after this election cycle. Otherwise, I might have to look to the UK or Canada for a publisher for Boy At The Window.