This will probably make some people unhappy, but I have to say this. There is no doubt that 9/11 was a horrible tragedy, and the victims of this tragedy and their families deserve to be honored. But if you are a person who says “Never forget” when it comes to 9/11, but who forgets or turns a blind eye to far worse tragedies because they did not happen to people of your race, culture, or nationality, or because they were committed by your own country or government, then this is precisely the kind of attitude that is responsible for all of the wide-scale imperialism, racism, and violence that exists today. It is the attitude that certain tragedies or innocent deaths are worth remembering but not others. It is the idea that the lives of our people matter, but others do not. It is exactly this attitude that ends up legitimizing violence and oppression against other peoples, and which has been and continues to be used to fuel this never-ending “war on terror” that is claiming the lives of not thousands, but millions of innocent people, which continues to destabilize a large part of the world, and which has and continues to spread anti-American hostility at an unprecedented rate.
Do you give the tragedy and victims of 9/11 a special importance that you do not give to victims of other races, cultures, or nationalities, especially those who are victims of the policies of your own government? Do you feel outrage or stand up for the honor of these victims the way you do for people of your own skin color? Are you someone who changes your profile picture when a tragedy happens in France or Belgium, but expresses no concern when a tragedy of equal or greater proportions happens in the same week in Turkey, Iraq, or Syria?
If Americans are entitled to say “9/11: never forget,” then should African-Americans too exclaim, “Slavery: never forget”? Or is that a matter of the past, an unfortunate and uncomfortable episode of history, that is better for all of us to forget and move on from? What about Native Americans, who experienced mass genocide, as well as enslavement and rape, by the “discoverer” of America? “Colombus: never forget”? What about the thousands of Vietnamese who died at the hands of the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, or the 50,000 to 150,000 Cambodian civilians who were carpet bombed on the order of Henry Kissinger? What about the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or the tens of thousands of Nicaraguans who died as a result of the policies of the Reagan administration? Should they too “never forget”? What about 500,000 Iraqi children who died as a result of U.S. sanctions, or the more than million who have died as a result of the Iraq War? Imagine if Muslims all said, "Iraq: Never forget." Should all of these groups resolve upon sentiments of indefinite hostility and vengeance towards the United States? Or is this a privilege reserved for (predominantly white) Americans? Do all lives really matter?
If you believe that the lives of Americans who died in Pearl Harbor or 9/11 deserve to be remembered, and only those responsible for their deaths deserved to be brought to justice, but do not believe the same when it comes from Hispanics, Native Americans, eastern Asians, Muslims, etc., then I implore you to reconsider your attitude and the consequences that such an outlook has had for the millions and millions of (overwhelmingly non-white) people in the last five and a half centuries. We should be outraged when any innocent lives are taken, regardless of their race or nationality, and regardless of whether those acts of violence are perpetrated by another government, our own government, or no government at all. But this should be a type of outrage that does not further the cycle of death, but motivates us to try to change our government and society for the better. All innocent life deserves to be honored equally, regardless of race or nationality, and the best way to honor innocent life is by standing up against attitudes and policies that result in its devaluing, and trying to change them. It's our responsibility as Americans, and more importantly, as human beings.
I close with this poem:
A Moment of Silence, Before I Start this Poem
Emmanuel Ortiz, 11 Sep 2002.
Before I start this poem, I'd like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.
And if I could just add one more thing...
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.
Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam - a people,
not a war - for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives' bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war ... ssssshhhhh....
Say nothing ... we don't want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.
Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador ...
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos ...
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west...
100 years of silence...
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness ...
So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be. Not like it always has
Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
This is a poem for interrupting this program.
And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.
If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.
If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.
You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
But take it all...Don't cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing...For our dead.