Never forget! These powerful two words will be highlighted, yelled, and displayed ubiquitously throughout the country as we remember Sept. 11. Never forget the terror that was inflicted on this country. Never forget the day America was changed forever. Never forget the day that America’s innocence was lost. Never forget!
One thing you won’t hear is “Get over it!” And yet, that is what black Americans have heard repeatedly and casually over and over in regard to our home-grown terrors: slavery, Jim Crow, public lynchings with body parts sold publicly, segregation, urban renewal, church bombings/murder, the war on black and brown drug use as white heroin use is decriminalized, mass incarceration for marijuana that is now legalized in many states, the school to prison pipeline and on, and on.
“Get over it, and if you don’t like it, leave,” we hear on our own home soil. I remember a local white male government official saying, “Get over it” in this manner to a black female colleague in a televised meeting for all the city to see. I remember thinking to myself, what if some person of Islamic faith had the gall to say that to a white American in response to 9-11? What would the response be?
That’s different, many of you will say. And I agree for two reasons. First, it would never happen. But most significantly, 9-11 was different because it was the first time that white America came face to face with the concept of terrorism. However, if you ask multiple generations of black America, they will tell you they have lived under the threat for terror from 1607-2017, each form evolving to keep up with the times. The thing is, we are constantly told to turn the other cheek. Our 9-11, which has spilled out steadily over 400 years, does not get “never forget.”
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I’m in full support of us remembering history. We must be honest about how we do it, however. Building monuments to slave owners without full context leads them to be revered as heroes and often romanticized in a dangerous fashion without bringing a face to those they afflicted. I often hear the phrase, “It’s history not hate.” But it’s important that we acknowledge the overwhelming majority of this country’s short history for black people has been largely based on hate.
If you have a hard time understanding the different thoughts on the monuments, try this: What if decades down the road, there were reverent statues of Osama Bin Laden and other members of al-Qaida/ISIS posted around the country? Would you take it personally? If citizens who were ISIS participants or sympathizers said, “It’s heritage/history, not hate,” would that work for you? If you talked about 9-11 and one of these folks said, “get over it” would it make you angry?
Welcome to the plight of being black in America, where one can be repeatedly terrorized on his own soil by his own fellow citizens and get blamed for not turning the same cheeks again for the 1,000th time. So before we come together to “never forget” 9-11 again, can we put a moratorium on “Get over it” and replace it with “Let’s learn, truly acknowledge, and address it together for the first time?”
Justin Perry is co-chair of OneMeck, which advocates for greater school diversity and opportunity.