On Grandparents’ Day 2001, my husband and I let our parents know if all went well, they would be Grandparents in May 2002. We were freshly graduated with our MFAs. Bob was in his first year of teaching at Jackson High School, I was preparing to go on the East Coast tour of A Christmas Carol as Mrs. Cratchit and we were expecting our first baby. The world seemed full of excitement and promise.
Two days later I was getting ready to go to work at a Christian bookstore in the mall when a commentary on NPR’s morning edition about Al Gore’s fabled “Lock Box” was interrupted with the announcement that a plane had hit a World Trade Center tower. Like many, I imagined a small, recreational kind of plane and thought, “what a horrible accident.” Then, the news was interrupted again. And, by the time I left for work, it was reported America was under attack. I only worked a few hours before the mall closed. I came home and watched CNN and wondered what kind of world I was bringing our baby into.
That baby is now fifteen years old. When I began teaching, I was just a few years older than my students and we shared a collective memory of 9/11. I realize many of my current students were preschoolers on that day. They don’t remember. They only know what their parents have told them and what they see when the documentaries air annually. But, they have always had to take off their shoes for airport screening. They have grown up in the country of “If you see something; say something.”
While this saying was originally meant to encourage citizens to reports suspicious activity in the hope of preventing a future terrorist attack, it also became a way to legitimize out-group bias. It’s how people with brown skin get kicked off planes for working on math problems or talking on the phone in Farsi before take-off. It has led to folks attacking when they aren’t even in what might be perceived as imminent danger.. They leave nasty messages on Islamic Center answering machines or share jingoist memes on Facebook.
So, as we commemorate this terrible day in our nation’s history, I encourage you to embrace another form of “if you see something, say something.” If you see someone harassing someone because they are considered different, whether it is because they wear a hijab, have dark skin, have an accent….or any reason...go up to the person being harassed and say something. Say hi. Start a conversation. Ignore the harasser if you can. If you see something posted by a “friend” that is discriminatory or if they say something in conversation that perpetuates stereotypes or racism, say something to that person. It will be scary, but this is the Land of the Free and the Home of the BRAVE. Be brave. Your silence is interpreted as consent.
Speaking of silence, if you wonder how to speak up or feel like you need more information in order to be able to, consider joining in a series of community conversations being held from 6:30-8 for the next nine Tuesdays at Cup n Cork. These were started because some community members saw something, and decided it was time to say something.