A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness || From Inside the First World: On 9/11 and Women-of-Color Feminism
On the morning of September 11, I turn on the news to watch the twin towers of the World Trade Center fall to the ground. I am deeply shaken, as is everyone, by the immensity of the assault. My children, leaving their morning oatmeal, run to the TV set. I watch their mesmerized eyes. The scene is right out of an action thriller. “This is really happening,” I say. I am, I believe, afraid—but of what? In the futuristic action film that is now our lives, “the bad (foreign-looking) guys” blow up the World Trade Center and “good (Anglo-looking) guys” bring out the big guns to defend the United States against the assault. But this scenario can produce nothing but pure hopelessness because terrorism will never be defeated by big guns, only by a collective reckoning with the United States’ own history of global economic terrorism, and “the fundamentalism of free enterprise.”
As the Pentagon represents the armored core of the military industry in this country, the World Trade Center represented the pinnacle of Corporate America and globalization, housing some of the most powerful financial, technological, legal, and manufacturing firms in the world, all doing business with the United States. World Trade Center workers were killed en mass on September 11—the majority not six-figured shareholders and bank investors and corporate lawyers (although they too were sacrificed), but office clerks and service workers and janitors and waiters and secretaries. Knowing this, how can corporate America elude at least shared responsibility for these deaths?
President George W. Bush may not have been flying the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center, but he is the most recent pilot of this turn-of-the-century disaster. Individuals govern the United States at the highest level, a ruling corporate-government elite who personally wield political power for profit. These individuals, at an unprecedented rate in the last generation, have destroyed the lives, livelihoods, environment, and political autonomy of Third World peoples around the globe from whom the greatest profits can be made with the least amount of resistance. Shielded by corporate affiliations, protected by government legislation, and in cahoots with the military industry, the same individuals will learn only one lesson from this disaster: they must devise ever more aggressive means of preserving their freedom to make a profit at the expense of a majority non-Western population and the working classes. Tragically, their strategies will only serve to further endanger the lives and threaten the well-being of the peoples of the United States.
As hard as it is for this nation to admit, the so-called terrorists were not “cowards,” as Bush referred to them, but people who believed so fundamentally in their cause that they were willing to kill and die for it. In the same way, many of our sons and daughters will be willing to kill and die in this impending world war in order to protect the freedom of enterprise, erroneously understood in the United States as a “democracy.” Suffice it to say, I denounce the murderous acts of September 11 with the same outrage with which I, along with so many others, had condemned the murder of tens of thousands of Iraqis civilians in the United States’ “defense” of its oil interests in Kuwait. President George H. W. Bush executed that war in 1991. Ten years later, it’s junior’s turn. But as a global citizen, Xicana, and passport-carrying “American,” I am interested in the root causes of violence, especially those perpetrated in my nation-state’s name.
The position of greatest power […] also occupies the location of greatest vulnerability. As members of a global citizenry, we are forced to acknowledge that the United States has appropriated well beyond its share of the world’s resources, and as such becomes, rightfully, the most visible target of the world’s discontent. The bigger you are, the harder you fall. I speak in clichés, or are such phrases, which now rise to the surface of our daily discussions, simply tried and true axioms that this country has forgotten?
By four o’clock on 9/11, my idea of the necessary politics of our times—what I envision for a future of radical activism—has shifted as dramatically as the collapsing spine of the World Trade Center. I am shocked and horrified by the disaster, but, I confess, I am not surprised. The assault reverberates with a profound sense of the inevitability of the United States’ demise as a monolithic power. Upon the news of the attack, major network television ran images of Palestinians dancing in the streets. Although there was no credible evidence to confirm that the filming in fact occurred after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks (which raised serious questions regarding the U.S. media’s role in manipulating U.S. anti-Arab sentiment), the images struck me with a profound sense of awe, as they forced the general public to recognize how thoroughly the United States is hated by the victims of its politics. For more than fifty years, the Palestinian people have watched their sons and daughters and elders die opposing the Israeli occupation of much of their land. Bombs dropped on Palestinian civilians bear a U.S. insignia. Is not $4 billion a year to support the Israeli state a form of terrorism against the Palestinian people? Are Palestinian children, mothers, fathers, and elders any less deserving a viable life than any citizen of the United States?
When my son asks me why the people as brown as him are celebrating in the streets of Palestine, I respond, “We are not the good guys.” Why is this so difficult for the United States to acknowledge? Do we really believe the Hollywood version of our story? We are always the good guys. They, those “others,” are always the bad. The speeches for the National Day of Remembrance on September 17 reflected exactly this kind of national solipsism, in which speakers for the most part espoused a chest-pounding, self-aggrandizing moral superiority over the “uncivilized” Islamic world. If the truth be told, all the token gestures made toward U.S. Muslim and Arab communities since September 11 are just that—token—and belie a profound xenophobic distrust and disdain of cultures that elude the West’s ethnocentrism.
In my recurring dream of a different América, just as in the replays on the network news, the World Trade Center along with the Pentagon surely fall to the ground in defeat; but, in my dream, there are not nearly twenty thousand workers inside. In my dream, we, the workers, are not fodder for U.S. crimes of greed. In my dream, the profiteers pay, not us. As I told a friend, “If Indigenous América had blown up the Pentagon, I’d be dancing in the streets too.” Is it heresy to state this? But that is just a dream. In real life, I sit at the kitchen table and shake my head in despair, in full knowledge of the deaths to come. And they will surely come to our communities: barrio boy-turned-soldier as dead and as brown as any Afghan.
Eyes glued to the TV screen, my child of eight is frightened. “Will they bomb here?” he asks, and I realize that in all honesty, I cannot answer, “No, not here,” as I have before September 11. Because we live on the edge of the ocean, on the borderline of this nation-state; we live in a major metropolitan city, in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid; we are the symbol on the West Coast of the greed and arrogance that is the United States. “I don’t know,” I answer. How do you teach a child a politic where there is no facile “us and them,” where the “us” who are his ostensive protectors against the bombing of his home city are at the same time the “them” who brought the bombs down onto this soil?
—Cherríe Moraga, 2001
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