There are still many Americans walking around today saying things like ‘Support Our Troops” and “Never Forget.” It amazes me that we still get worked up over September Eleventh. It was tragic, it was traumatic, it was life-changing, it changed the whole world! But it has been almost two decades and we’ve got a lot more important things to worry about, things that directly impact not just our daily lives but the lives of billions around the world. Things like Neo-Colonialism disenfranchising and destroying the majority of the Global South, Proto-Fascism becoming mainstream in America and several other Western nations, wages maintaining a negative correlation with productivity and GDP growth, increasing debt ravaging the working class, just to name a few off the top of my head. There are so many things to worry about, but we seem content to preoccupy ourselves with the illusion of American Exceptionalism and something very much like The Great Replacement — a narrative heavily pushed by open Neo-Nazis and widely accepted by Fox News and mainline Conservative pundits and politicians.
I remember waking up that day. I was hung over, being a teenage drug-addicted alcoholic, I was often overhung and often overslept. My dad burst through my bedroom door. He very rarely entered my bedroom, choosing instead to terrorize me when he caught me in the kitchen or the hallways; my room was the closest thing I had to a safe haven in those days, a refuge from the physical and emotional abuse. I’m not saying my dad was a complete piece of shit, just that it was very rough living with him in those days. So, my dad burst through the door and nearly gave me a heart attack. I sat up, wobbly, from the couch on which I slept, simultaneously terrified and confused beyond comprehension. My dad hollered me awake and told me to turn on the TV. I couldn’t really understand what he was saying or what was happening, a consequence of being abruptly awoken from a heavy drug-induced slumber and the simple oddity of my father talking to me with what seemed like genuine concern. I turned on the TV and took a few moments to adjust to this new world, a world in which New York was under attack, one in which human beings, American human beings, were plummeting hundreds of feet to their deaths on the morning news. Time stopped for a while that morning while we all had our hearts broken and many of our illusions irreparably riven. I don’t want to write much more about it, we all know what it was, we all know how we felt, we all have our own minds made up about it. Suffice it to say that it was a defining moment for all that lived through it, and all of us living now inhabit a changed world because of it.
Many of these Support Our Troops types are hardworking, blue collar Americans. Many of them are currently defined, most often by choice, by their support for Trump and his Trumpublicans. I have never been a fan of the Conservative mindset, I have never been a fan of the military-industrial and prison-industrial complexes, I have never been a fan of mainline politics in general, opting instead for the more humanistic concerns of Leftism, but I have usually been able to manage affability with these people. Over the last few years that has become increasingly difficult. I have never hidden my politics, but I have never been fanatical or exceedingly outspoken about them either. I engage in political conversation as often as I can, but I usually rely on an agenda of tact to get my message across rather than displaying garish flags and signs or wearing a specific hat. For a large number of people, signaling has surpassed substance and constructive disagreement can be substituted with ad hominems and straw men, conversations happen in two-hundred-eighty characters or less, often much less, and political identity makes the (hu)man. I am often accused of being a lazy bum who wants to benefit from the hard work of these patriots, but I attest that I work just as hard as all of them. That track of conversation isn’t going to get us anywhere, so what is?
I honestly believe that the majority of these people are motivated by virtue. Sure, they cave in to their selfishness and narcissism, but so do I; I can’t be a pot calling their kettles black! Most of these guys, the ones you’ll encounter on the street anyway, are normal everyday people. They’ve worked for what they have and they’ve watched as their wealth and opportunities have been trampled upon by the Neo-Liberal Capitalists, but they don’t understand the system and they place their faith in the wrong places. One strategy I’ve been experimenting with is using their connection to 9/11 as a way to elucidate the concerns of us modern Anti-Racists.
Most of these people will recite the mantras with very little incitement; the Never Forget bumper stickers still abound, and the movement has evolved to include Blue Lives Matter and the perennial cries for Law and Order. I wholeheartedly disagree with these sentiments, but I do not blame these people for feeling this way. I get it, the proletariat, the working class that is, has been heavily exploited by rote under capitalism, and they are finally getting sick of it in America. Sick enough to do something about it, sick enough to support increasingly extreme ideas, sick enough to voice their frustrations and join a populist movement. The thing is, the majority of these people are hardworking individuals, and the majority of their time has been dedicated to working, not contemplation; the working class is inherently susceptible to these superficial arguments for status quoism as the majority of their mental energy has been left in the bank accounts of their employers. One thing that gets them uniquely fired up is appeals to identitarianism, and it’s very understandable. Knowing this, I have been trying to relate the Black Lives Matter movement to the Never Forget campaign.
Now, I’m not equating the two, they are fundamentally distinct from each other, but they share some superficial features. Just as these hard working Americans felt threatened by the terrorist boogeymen, people of color have legitimate reasons to fear White America. I ask them to think back to September Eleventh and remember the collective trauma, remember the outpouring of mutual aid and collectivism and good-natured Americanism. I am perfectly happy to let these people bring up 9/11 as long as they allow me to relate it to the actual history of America.
Never Forget. Wow, what a statement. A proclamation to the world that you will wear this event on your shoulder for the rest of your life. Okay, I disagree with you, but maybe you should think about that the next time you tell someone to “Just get over” the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The next time you offer up “But that was hundreds of years ago” in a conversation about reparations, remember how you felt about our god-blessed troops. Remember that Toby Keith song that you all loved so much about putting boots up people’s asses? Why, then, when Killer Mike or Mos Def talk about directly combating the all-too-real legacy effects of Jim Crow laws do you refuse to listen and comfortably use slurs to discredit these honest attempts at reconciliation?
People of color in America have lived under this same exploitative capitalist system as you good ‘ol boys, but they’ve faced an accelerated form of prejudice on top of economic oppression. Not only do they have to contend with the corporations and bureaucrats, they then go home to face ignorance and bigotry in the communities in which they live. Try to imagine, Mr American Patriot, a collective trauma exponentially more intense and long lived than that which you bear with you to this day. Centuries of slavery, which is often belittled in mainstream discourse; institutionalized segregation and persecution that is also often popularly dismissed or even denied; the fact that parents must explain to their children that they will almost assuredly face tangible racism at some point in their life, and that when dealing with the authorities they are at best disadvantaged and often at risk of injurious assault or death. These are facts that we cannot deny; being a person of color in America indeed puts you at risk of becoming a victim of bigotry and bigoted systems.
A lot of Americans are comfortable denying these facts. They claim that their anecdotal evidence discredits the arguments. Look, Jeremiah,, I get it, I grew up in poverty too, and I understand what it’s like to be poor and white and disenfranchised, but that doesn’t mean that racism is a thing of the past, that doesn’t mean that the overwhelming majority of people of color magically fit the stereotype, that doesn’t mean that black men commit so much crime because being black magically, or genetically, or culturally predisposes them to a life of crime. You’re also a statistic, Jeremiah, you’re also a victim of the system, and we are trying to bring change to that system!
Never forgetting 9/11 may not be the worst thing that you could do, if it allows you to understand why we on the Left will never forget how slavery and Jim Crow and red-lining and the War On Drugs and all the other bigoted systems in this country have devastated our communities. We are asking you to stand in solidarity with us! We are appealing to our shared interests and humanity! C’mon man, get with the program, they’re abusing your faith and credulity and using you to prop up the very machine that is manufacturing your misery! We are in fact on your side, just let go of the fear and embrace us!