Forgetting to Remember

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The following post reflects anger and sheer disappointment.

As a native New Yorker, I vividly remember alarming acts of 911. In 2001, I was  a naive 7th grader, initially unaware of what was going on the island if Manhattan, only a half an hour away. I recall being envious of my classmates, as they began to be called out of school . As the number of my peers being pulled out of class increased, my enyy shifted to curiosity. After being unable to reach her husband, my social studies teacher broke down in tears prior to our lesson. My curiosity begged for information, but there was a degree of bliss in not knowing. Would I too be drawn to tears upon the knowledge of what was going on? For this reason, I went about my day, unaware of the lives that were lost as I took notes.

Upon coming home and turning on the television, I saw an image that I would never forget. I recall seeing a plane penetrate a building causing it to burn and fall. The building, which I knew was made of brick, seemed made of clay as it compromised upon contact. It seemed even more unbelievable that there were people in this building.

My mom went to a funeral every day for nearly two weeks. The programs accumulated on the living room table, many for those whose bodies were never recovered, and some who had perished entirely.

The tragedy of September 11th resonates personally with me because of my residency, but mostly because of the humility that followed this tragedy. September 11th shattered any fallacious ideas of immunity against terrorism, as Americans and as New Yorkers. It demonstrated that the United States is just as susceptible to attack as any other region in the world.

Each year, on the anniversary of 9/11, I weed through a series of 9/11 memorials and personal testaments, all promising to “never forget.” This promise angers me, and it wasn’t until this year that I realized why. See, we as a country have forgotten and continue to forget.

Perhaps it is much easier to conceptualize 9/11 as a tragedy because it features the United States as a victim and not as an aggressor. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for remembrance for those who built much of this country.

Blacks who remember slavery are treated as a problem, and diagnosed as living in the past. Blacks who discuss the sacrifices of those who came before them are met with rolling eyes and slapped with the ever inappropriate label of racist and “blaming whitey.” Acknowledgement isn’t blame, and I’ll be one of few who will shout from the mountain tops for blacks to not only remember, but to be proud. There is a sense of shame attached to being the descendants of slaves, as I have experienced smug interactions with African brethren who keep up a place of superiority against American blacks because they were not slaves in the United States. While inappropriate, this assertion of superiority is a disgrace to the legacy of blacks in America who made it possible for Africans of Africa, the Caribbean and Latin American to have access to the American dream.

I may not be able to tell you the exact country and tribe of which my ancestors are from, I may not even be able to tell you the names of the first of my descendants to walk on American soil, but I can tell you that I remember their contribution and remember their legacy. I remember my ancestors who toiled in the cotton fields, who endured physical, sexual and emotional abuse by their white masters. I hear the tears cried by my female descendant for her sold children and I hear those silent cries for a fraction of the life of which I am able to live today. Their blood, sweat and tears have produced the world around me, and their contribution is my memory. Simply put, I am because they were.

So while my coming of age story is largely kicked off by the events of 911, the coming of me story, is rooted in slavery. The countless memorials I see of 911 are a testament to selectively acknowledging and remembering history. Those who know that “his” story is not the only story, are not granted the ability to selectively celebrate a history that silently demands their exclusion. I remember because to forget is to ultimately erase all aspects of myself. So as you post or weed through testaments of remembrance, I challenge you to ponder who and what has already been selectively forgotten.

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