If you spent any time in front of a television set, the greatest brainwasher of the 21st Century before the explosion of social media, following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, you may have been lured into believing the mythology that was being promoted.
We’re all Americans, and we all bleed red.
Many of us hoped that after centuries, America, a country of immigrants, would at last cease its internal warring over racial and ethnic differences and unite.
The trouble is, it didn’t.
The outward reaction to 9/11 was from a mainstream that has never felt the need to protect itself from anything realizing that they, too, could be the targets of hatred coming out of nowhere. It’s a space that African Americans have occupied for centuries. No group was more hopeful that, while tragic, 9/11 might help foster a country that lives up to its ideals than the millions of African Americans who know it does not.
But it didn’t take long for this lovey-dovey feeling to dissipate and for America to demonstrate that it could abysmally fail to turn a shared tragedy into an opportunity to be better.
Race relations have undeniably gone precipitously downhill in the second decade since the attacks of 9/11. This is evidenced by the procession of police shootings of unarmed African-American men by white police officers, rallies by white supremacists wearing khakis and carrying torches, and culminating in the election of a president now seeking re-election who once vowed to keep Mexicans out of the country with a wall, keep Muslims out with a ban, and called for the death penalty for Black men wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York years ago.
The president has even attempted to herd his sheep by othering the current plague of the coronavirus, audaciously racializing it by calling it the “Chinese virus,” hoping to keep his hate-mongering base galvanized and blind to the fact that the coronavirus is an exponentially greater threat to them and their loved ones than the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because he failed miserably to take the necessary steps to protect them this time.
Nineteen years since the terrorist attacks, this global pandemic has put the United States once again in the position to finally accept that it is not a myth that we all bleed red blood, that we want the same things for our elderly, our infirm and our future generations.
Currently, we are still living in two societies inside of one, divided sharply by institutional racism and its residues.
This played out in the last few weeks when School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite was tasked with the decision to shut down the city’s predominantly Black public schools, something other surrounding predominantly white districts had already done.
Hite followed the direction of city Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley in keeping the schools open initially before shutting them down. But does anyone think for a second that those suburban districts had to consider whether tens of thousands of their students would go hungry if schools closed? Hite did.
The killer virus forcing this disruption to our American way of life doesn’t see the unceasing inequities that so many are OK with. The coronavirus doesn’t discriminate or care whose lungs it floods with mucous, making a hard-to-acquire ventilator a necessity for survival.
In reducing us all pretty much to the same level of susceptibility, just as Sept. 11, 2001, did, the novel coronavirus is forcing all of us into the same boat. It doesn’t care what color you are, what neighborhood you live in, or in what social circles you matriculate.
Faced with the same threat, America should be learning the post-racial lesson that it pretended to have a grasp of when we acted unified 19 years ago.
This viral scourge gives us the unique opportunity to see ourselves as the same, just as 9/11 did, and not just as we move through it.
We failed miserably last time. It remains to be seen if we’ve learned our lesson.
John N. Mitchell is a columnist and reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this column first appeared.