September 11, 2007
I didn't really want to go out to nigh to the South Orange Library's annual 9-11 remembrance. This was the second time I'd gone, representing the Coalition with Carol, but as the day progressed I kept hearing commentary on what was going on at Ground Zero etc, and was finally glad to be doing something to observe. Here are notes for what I finally said without using notes:
I came to South Orange dreading what I imagined the suburbs would be like, and a lot of the suburbs we visited did put me off– But then, in this community, I saw all the pretty houses and trees, but also 3 boys, white, black, and Asian, and and I thought–that’s the community for me.
Oddly, one of the times when I felt that community most intensely was in the weeks and months immediately after 9-11– discussions, parties, a sense of valuing each other. These intense moments can’t last, not in their full intensity.
But in the wars and misunderstandings that have followed, it has seemed clearer than ever to me that the work of the Coalition explicitly, and the culture of integration and inclusion that most of the people in this community profess– are indeed a way of fighting the attitudes that led to the terrorist attacks.
9-11 art by Mahasin Pomarico
It is the inability of people to imagine that the Other is also Human that leads to terrorist attacks as well as to the kind of ugly anti-Muslim attacks that have too often followed, and to war as well. The idea that some human beings are disposable , including themselves, that allowed those men to crash those planes into those buildings– that inability to imagine the other as human– that is the thing that I want to work to end.
In the United States, that failure of imagination, that inability to imagine that those who are different are truly human led to near-genocide of the indigenous native Americans and also to the horror of chattel slavery and to the hundred and fifty years of racism that have followed.
In some ways, the work of the Coalition seems at a great distance from fighting racism: we run tours, we have neighborhood associations, we give a pre school open house–next Monday we’re running a forum called Integration Matters!– these things are, in my mind, part of a broad, complex response to the dehumanization that allows us to think those who are different from us are not human.