It is hard to believe it has been almost 21 years since the tragic events of September 11th. I don’t know if I have fully processed that day and the subsequent months that followed. I remember watching television in my Harlem apartment and not fully synthesizing what was happening. I had just flown the day before and had returned to go to class, statistics class I recall.
The remainder of the day was a blur as I tried to comprehend what had happened, what was currently happening, and what our nation would do in response to this attack. I feared America would go on the offensive with a “scorched earth” strategy and sadly my fears were realized as the U.S. military invaded Iraq and Afghanistan which has resulted in war, death, destruction, and the dissolution of families across the world for over 20 years.
As I see the fights still being waged in Congress about compensation for the brave first responders who assisted victims that day and the subsequent weeks, it infuriates me to think that so many families have lost loved ones who worked on September 11th to help the thousands of New Yorkers who were in the vicinity of the fallen buildings. How can we as a nation not want to properly compensate our first responders?
I also think of all the domestic workers and sanitation staff whose names we may never know. The people who were in the buildings early that morning cleaning and preparing the building for others. The laborers who are invisible to far too many, we must remember and honor them just as forcefully as we honor all others.
As a New Yorker, I don’t know how to properly honor and commemorate September 11th. It is such a large part of our city and our nation’s story. It is also one of so many tragedies, I am not sure how to hold space for it. I also think of all the tragedies across the globe that have occurred because of the American military. I think also of the innocent people in various countries just going to work on a mundane day and having unimaginable tragedy befall them by the U.S. military. I don’t want to create an oppression Olympics, but I do want to remind myself to contextualize the brutality that America continues to inflict on innocent workers and citizens of other nations. It is a lot.
So, how do you plan to commemorate September 11th? Will you focus on New York and those lost that fateful day? Will you think more globally about the interconnected violence we inflict upon nations? Or will you think of ways you can become an instrument of peace in an increasingly violent world? However you choose to remember September 11th, may your heart find peace.
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 podcast “FAQ-NYC” and host of “The Blackest Questions” podcast.