"Never Forget", #NeverForget, 9/11, Archetypes, Atlanta, Genocide, Greyhound Bus, Holocaust, Hyper-Patriotism, Ignorance, Islamophobia, Media, Navel Gazing, Racism, Sikhs, Stereotypes, Tropes, Xenophobia
The media trades in archetypes, stereotypes, and tropes the way an alcoholic can become drunk by just smelling ethanol from a block away. It’s been so true around every 9/11 anniversary that it’s somewhat sickening.
There are two tropes the mainstream media has used to keep Americans in a perpetual state of fear and hyper-patriotism since that gruesome second September Tuesday in 2001. One is the theme of “Never Forget” (and the most obvious Twitter hashtag ever). The only other times the mantra of “Never Forget” normally comes up is either in reference to Jews and the Holocaust or to the systematic genocide Native Americans experienced. It should also come up for Blacks and Africans regarding the Middle Passage and slavery, Aborigines in Australia, and other groups who’ve experienced the wanton destruction of their lives and culture in the relatively recent past. Of course Americans shouldn’t forget what happened on 9/11. Nearly 3,000 people died on that tragic day. But 5.9 million Jews, 8-10 million Native Americans, untold millions of Africans, Aborigines, and other groups? Not exactly a fair comparison. If we cannot consistently have empathy and sympathy for the plight of others who suffer and die in the thousands or millions — like with Syrians, Iraqis, South Sudanese — then what does “Never Forget” really mean beyond an extravagant display of navel-gazing?
The second trope the media sells Americans every year is the idea that we “came together” in the weeks after 9/11 like never before. This is some high-grade bull crap. Maybe White Americans did. Maybe Americans who saw Arab Americans, Sikhs, Black and Latinos who looked like they could be Arabs united. But to say that the US “united” in a common bond to bring each other peace in a grand display of patriotism belies the reality of what happened in the six weeks between the attacks and the passage of the USA Patriot Act.
The most poignant moment of my own 9/11 experience was on a fifteen-hour Greyhound bus trip I took from Atlanta to DC after the government grounded commercial airplanes. There was a Sikh man on our bus, who got on somewhere between Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina. Two men, one White and one Black, tried to get in the face of this man and blame him for what happened in New York, in DC, and in Western Pennsylvania. I literally had to get in between these dumb asses to keep them from doing worse than their ridiculous name-calling. If this is what the media meant/means by Americans “uniting” after 9/11, then, yes, we did, if only to show our religious and ethnic ignorance, to vent our not-so-subtle hatred and intolerance.
This was some of what I wrote in the days after 9/11 and my wonderful bus trip up I-85/75.
If we as Americans continue to commit and condone through our silence acts of hatred against Arab Americans, are we much better than the tortured souls who flew four Boeing jets as weapons of mass destruction, all in the name of Allah? If we are to defeat terrorism as a nation and a world, we must also defeat its roots, fear and hatred. If we are to be one undivided and multicultural nation united against terrorism, we can no longer tolerate incidents of terrorism against one another, no matter how much we hurt.
Welp, I was wrong. We would “Never Again” condone acts of terror against our own citizens, right? Whether through the systemic use of law enforcement as death squads against Blacks or Latinos, or the occasional White vigilante dispensing their own form of racist justice? We would unite to stop White supremacists from blowing up mosques, synagogues, and temples, to stop other Americans from harassing Arab American citizens and Sikhs for their open display of their First Amendment religious freedoms, no? We Americans would stand up for the rights of those who protest in opposition to existing examples of lethal oppression, because the American flag is about much more than the US military? Yeah, right!
Americans have proven that “united” and “never forget” are proxies for our societal narcissism. It runs as deep as anything that has taken root in American culture, including racism, individualism, and xenophobia. For me, at least, it is why media mantras like “united” and “never forget” ring hollow, despite my memories of the week that was 9/11.