What is 9-11 to descendants of slaves? (Sept. 18)

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

When I was a child, two dates had patriotic significance to the American public —July 4 (1776) Independence Day, and Dec. 7 (1941) the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

During my adolescence, when Dec. 7 approached, I began to hear more about Japanese internment camps in the United States than I did about the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and I also heard America committed crimes against humanity by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But I had a suspicion I wasn’t told this for my enlightenment. It was told to diminish Dec. 7which I felt was unnecessary because narratives can co-exist without replacing each other.

Right before the 4th of July 2019, a Time Magazine essay stated, to some people, celebrations of American independence are reminders of the country’s hypocrisy on the matter of freedom (therefore) alternative Fourth of July commemoratives across the United States often draw attention to a different side of that story with readings of the famous speech by Frederick Douglass: What to the slave is the 4th of July? But, what’s really the priority of the alternative commemoratives, to draw attention to a different story or to diminish Independence Day?

In August the New York Times Magazine published the 1619 project. This project was to observe the 400th anniversary of 20 enslaved Africans that arrived at the British colony of Virginia, and the project’s expressed aim was to reframe the country’s history, to understand that 1619 was America’s true founding, not July 4, 1776. (In the recent Democratic presidential debate this assertion was repeated by candidate Beto O’Rourke.)

In 2019 the alternative narrative of the American founding has gone mainstream.

Last week was the 18th anniversary of 9/11. In the 21st century 9/11 has replaced Dec. 7 in patriotic significance. 9/11 anniversaries always honor the heroic efforts of the first responders and celebrates the country coming together as one people during the aftermath. But I wondered, since 2019 is the year of the alternative narrative, were there gatherings of people listening to a reading that expressed a different 9/11 story?

If so, what were they reading?

Probably a section from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, “Between the World and Me.” Coates describes his 9/11 story. Coates wrote, “I suppose everyone who was in New York that day has a story. Here’s mine. I stood on the roof of an apartment building…taking in the sight—great plumes of smoke covered Manhattan Island. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who was missing. But looking out upon the ruins of America, my heart was cold…The officer who killed Prince Jones (a college classmate of Coates that was killed by the police), like all the officers who regard us so warily, was the sword of the American citizenry…I was out of sync with the city. I kept thinking about how southern Manhattan had always been Ground Zero for us. They auctioned our bodies down there, in that same devastated, and rightly named, financial district…Bin Laden was not the first man to bring terror to that section of the city. I never forgot that. Neither should you. In the days after, I watched the ridiculous pageantry of flags, the machismo of firemen, the overwrought slogans. Damn it all. Prince Jones was dead. And hell upon those who tell us to be twice as good and shoot us no matter…I could see no difference between the officers who killed Prince Jones and the police who died, or the firefighters who died. They were not human to me. Black, White, or whatever, they were the menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could—with no justification—shatter my body.”

If these alternative 9/11 gatherings exist, they’re not mainstream, but the section from Coates’ book already is. What does that mean? Nothing—yet.

(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)


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