Last week was the 18th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the entire United States. It is a solemn occasion for the residents of New York City and Americans across the country. I still keep the families who lost loved ones in my thoughts and close to my heart and continue to mourn for the thousands of New Yorkers who have succumbed to 9/11 related health issues due to their proximity to the disaster site.
This semester was the first year in which I have students in my classes who were not born before September 11, 2001. They do not fully grasp how the country felt during the subsequent days. They have not made the link between 9/11 and our continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the bellicose nature of the Republican Party. And they do not fully understand the extent to which expensive wars have decreased the government’s ability to fund infrastructure, schools and so much more.
As I reflect on the countless lives lost that day and the thousands of lives lost in our American military and innocent civilians of Iraq and Afghanistan due to our involvement in their countries, it is hard for me to comprehend all that encompassed that one day that changed the course of history. What have we learned from that day? Have we grown or matured as a nation since?
So many journalists wax poetically about the unity that occurred the day and weeks after the attacks. Indeed, people met neighbors, shared resources and grieved together. However, we must also remember the thousands of American families who lived in fear, were attacked, were fired, and shunned from their schoolmates, neighbors and communities. Muslim Americans and “brown people” became targets of some of the vile hatred that is ingrained in the soil of this nation.
When we are honest with ourselves, this nation was built on the premise of subjugating others and in times of tragedy two types of Americans emerge: those who believe in the ideals stated in the U.S. Constitution and those who believe this nation is predestined to be a land of white supremacy. We must continue to fight for the former. This nation has so much potential, but is shrouded in a cloud of naivety when discussing the foundation of the country and the past practices of centuries of subjugation.
It is my hope that we continue to reflect on the bravery of the FDNY and so many New Yorkers who thought of others before themselves. Let us also remember the undocumented people in the building that fateful day as well as the many who arrived to clean up afterwards not knowing the severe health risks they faced. It is my hope that we keep all victims of 9/11 in our hearts and minds forever.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the new podcast FAQ-NYC.