The Racial Legacy of 9/11 [Voices]

Superman and the Heroes of 9/11

September 11th is often remembered as one of those moments where we all came together as Americans in response to a horrific attack on our nation’s soil. However, the truth is more complicated. The enduring legacy of racism prevents many people from being considered as full Americans, and the years after the attack were marred with prejudice and hatred toward American citizens who were suddenly marked as different. We spend this day in remembrance, not only for those who performed everyday acts of heroism, and not only for those who lost their lives, but also remembering the way in which Americans have failed each other – for allowing an attack from terrorists to call into question our ideals as a nation. We may have lost the Twin Towers, but we did not lose who we are.

So, in true American fashion, we will continue to fight to be heard, ensuring that everyone’s American story is told.

Let’s begin with a great video series on the Unheard Voices of 9/11 produced by the Sikh Coalition.

Since many people were caught in the wave of backlash and discrimination post-9/11, the Sikh Coalition asked people to send in their videos about how discrimination has impacted their lives.

Shawn Singh talks about how suddenly, post 9/11, it impacted his understanding of his Sikh Identity:

Kevin Harrington talked about discriminatory treatment at the New York City Transit Authority – despite the fact that he helped to evacuate people on 9/11, Harrington was approached in 2004 and told he could not continue working in passenger service because of his turban:

Rabia Said remembers being 8 years old and being told by a pastor and by the police that her clothing was why she was targeted racial profiling:

SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) released a video and campaign asserting what we all should know intrinsically: America is for all of us.

The National Coalition of South Asian Organizations released a statement explaining the changed landscape in the United States of America:

We join the nation in solemnly remembering and honoring those who lost their lives and loved ones on that day. We also take this opportunity to reflect on the events that have transpired in the decade since.

Like all Americans, South Asians in the United States were deeply affected by the events on and after September 11th. From the days and months following the tragedy to now, member organizations of the NCSO have addressed a range of issues arising in our communities in the post-September 11th environment – from helping individuals who lost family members or livelihoods to advocating for those who faced discrimination, hate crimes, profiling, and arbitrary detentions.

A decade later, many South Asians who call America home continue to be affected by unfair policies, xenophobic rhetoric, and discrimination. Now more than ever, members of the NCSO seek to ensure that our country remains true to its fundamental ideals of fairness and inclusion. Today, as we pause to remember September 11th, we also renew our pledge to work towards public policies and community-based efforts that will reaffirm our country’s commitment to human rights, justice, and equality for all.

At New America Media, Zaineb Mohammed released an article on growing up Muslim, post 9/11:

When asked if she had considered approaching the administration when students make jokes like “Are your family members in the Taliban?” she commented, “I didn’t think I could go to the administration with something like that – I didn’t think it was important enough.”

There are moments when O’Neal is still confronted with stereotypes. During her freshmen year another student passing her on the staircase called out, “What are you looking at, towelhead?” O’Neal responded by asking the young man to touch her scarf. He looked confused, but she prodded him, telling him it was not a towel and to, “never again use your ignorance to put someone else down.”

And El Diario NY has documented the Latino experience in a special package dedicated to exploring the Latino perspective on 9/11:

El Diario 9/11

“Latinos are 30% of New York City’s population,” said Erica Gonzalez, Executive Editor of El Diario/ La Prensa. “They lost loved ones, they responded at Ground Zero and today they are helping restore lower Manhattan to its former glory. We want to make sure their voices are heard on this anniversary and beyond.”

The editorial team at El Diario dedicated months to researching and reporting for the project. The resulting archive of the Latino experience of Sept. 11 has major historic value, as it features the perspectives of individuals not found elsewhere.

“El Diario’s team was on the ground and worked around the clock to cover the Sept. 11 attacks-as we agonized over family and friends directly affected,” said Publisher and CEO Rossana Rosado. “With this project, we hope to show younger Latinos how the community showed great resilience in the face of such a devastating event.”

African Americans may have been left out of Time’s portrait of 9/11 series, but let’s end with Sophia Nelson, who composed a news tribute to the power of love in the aftermath of September 11th:

When we think of 9/11, we rightly remember the tragedy and abject horror of the day. Yet, I believe that the single greatest lesson and take-away from September 11, 2001 for us all, is the redeeming and nurturing power of love.

Love is what we were made for. It is the one thing that can lift even the darkest of clouds from our memory, and propel us to continue forward. Love sustains us, feeds us, and heals us.

After all, it was the love and dedication of brave firefighters that caused them to rush headlong into burning buildings to save complete strangers.

It was the love and loyalty of husbands and wives who called their spouses from cell phones to say “I am not coming home to see you one last time, but know that I am always with you”.

It was the love of the passengers on flight 93 that saved our nation’s capitol from yet another terrible blow.

It was the love of a grieving nation that caused us to take hold of one another across color, class and political lines.

But grief can only take us so far. Racial profiling is still happening – and Breakthrough released their documentary “Checkpoint Nation? Building Community Across Borders,” to showcase the cross cultural movements mobilizing to end racial profiling once and for all.

Remember, it is an act of love to resist racism, prejudice, bigotry. It is an act of love to move past stereotypes to see the person who lies beyond them. And while a decade has passed since September 11th, there is nothing we need more than people willing to acknowledge their pain and instead chose a more inclusive path.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

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  • kim

    This was amazing. I pretty much hid from all the 9/11 coverage because it felt like too exploitative. Thank you for this post.

  • PatrickInBeijing

    Thanks for this.  I was trying to hide from the whole subject.  While I have some positive memories of the reactions I saw around me, they are mostly overshadowed by the jingoism and prejudice that took the place of “unity”, or became the media version of the unity.  So, it is good to have this place to come and read some words that stand as a counterpoint to everything else I am seeing.  Thanks again!!

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I felt the same thing, except I was a bit more cynical in that all that “We are ALL Americans!” jazz I was hearing from Whites, I knew would be short lived and that they’d use 9/11 to let their racism run rampant under the fig leaf of “patriotism.”

      I’ve also been trying to avoid all the 9/11 grief porn of late because, I know when commenters, narrators  and talking heads are talking about “Americans” I know they don’t mean me because I’m Black, even though my family has toiled and sacrificed for this country since the mid 18th century.  And I know that view will never be changed.  To bring it up will result in being called a traitor or someone who hates America.

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  • Ike
    • Anonymous

      Incredibly troubling, but sadly not too surprising. It’s sad we haven’t learned much of anything in ten years.

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  • Soulsentwined

    I was watching some video footage of people running away from the towers and it was a very racially and ethnically diverse crowd. Yet the media coverage has been almost exclusively about white Christian American survivors or victims.

  • Catherine

    Thank you, Racialicious for your important work toward making unheard voices ring out!

  • Keith

    The marketing of  9/11 is in bad taste, and just promotes hostility against Muslims. It’s just another in a long line of tragedies  hijacked for political reasons.

  • Sophia A.

    We should be careful to remember that September 11 only made more visible the daily racial violence faced by Arabic-speaking Africans and Asians, South Asians and other brown folk who were identified as “Muslim” or “Arab.” Do not forget the United States had been actively engaging imperialist oppression of North Africa, Southwest Asia and South Asia for long before this moment in our history. We were not “suddenly marked as different,” and to pretend that is so is to deny much of the history of the Americas and the role Islamic Africa and Asia served as ‘others’ in the foundation of white supremacist empires.

  • Digital Coyote

    This has been the only 9-11 related anything I’ve been able to finish to completion. 

    A coworker (1st gen American with Ethiopian parents) and I were trying to parse why we were so irritated by the onslaught of tributes, memorials, and the like Friday.  Our eventual answer–by no means perfect–was that there was a sense of dignity missing from most of them.  When I see her again, I might suggest the fact that we (PoC) and other people who aren’t included in the popular image of  what an “American” is are missing.  9-11 didn’t just happen to white people, Christians,  white-collar workers, first responders, or some combination thereof. 

    It happened to regular folks trying to go about their day when some assholes decided to ruin it for all of us. 

    The love and goodwill of the day ten years ago no longer exists.  It was squandered when the leader of our nation decided we were going to go it alone when we needed the overwhelming force of our global community saying “No.  The world will not stand for this fuckery anywhere.  We are tired of this.”  An attack on America shouldn’t have been the catalyst for this kind of response: this was simply the escalation of largely unanswered attacks all over the world (e.g. Bali in 2002, 2005; London in 2005; Mumbai in 2006; and others).  The love was misappropriated by the Glen Becks, Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, racists, war hawks, and people looking to make a buck off an invasion.  We’ve got more guns, more deployed military, more agencies, more rules but are no safer and, now more than ever, there seems to be less of a sense of togetherness in our country.  The death of Osama bin Laden seemed to make us stop for a quick fist bump and a deep sigh of relief, but even that quickly devolved in to partisan posturing over what the President did or didn’t do. 

    I am under no illusions about the nation being some sort of melting pot or even a tossed salad.  I think we’re blocks arranged in such a manner that we have managed to build something on top of the flawed foundation our nation’s founders laid down for us.  Right now, though, the blocks are splintering.  We aren’t just fighting the normal us (U.S. [that our initials are “us” always makes me giggle for some reason]) vs. them (the world) battles; we’re us (“real” Americans) vs. us (Americans who support a different party) vs. us (Americans looking to forward their financial goals at the expense of others) vs. us (Americans trying to keep their heads above water) vs. us (Americans being divested of their interest in the country) vs. us (new Americans trying to live the dream) vs. us (Americans wanting to evolve to keep us relevant) vs. us (Americans wanting to go back to a “simpler” or “more innocent” time) so on and so forth.

    I fear the only thing that will bring us/U.S. together again is another tragedy.  Even then, I don’t think it will include love for all of us.

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  • Lyonside

    Powerful, beautiful, and exactly what I needed to read, watch, and hear today. Thank you.

  • TeakLipstickFiend

    Thank you.

    Also in the same vein is the BBC Radio 4 programme “British Muslims – In the Shadow of 9/11”

  • Abentjamil

    I deeply knew that day that was the end of my world!1st of all,I have to thank U 4 this article.It’s the 1st time that somebody else(than myself)is aware about the racism that was born that day.Today,the world is remembering the victims of 9/11 but in all tv shows,everybody is white.I speak 3 languages:Italian,French and English.I saw only 2 black victims,one was in the Pentagon and the other in the Twin Towers!But a little French tv showed a story incredible because so great:a Muslim American born in Pakistan run out the North Tower but he brokes his leg so he felt down and he can’t move.He asked help but when people(who were tuning away)looked at him,they didn’t help him.Guess who did?Have U ever seen the Jewish men in black with a hat and smal curls?They’re the “integrist” of Jewish Religion.4 them,they can’t touch a non-jewish.He gave his hand to the young man and told him:”brother,take my hand and put your other hand on my shoulders.We’ll make it!”Even after this story,I lost hope in human being because of racism that spread around the world in the same time than 9/11 but it’s still growing everywhere.Just try to say that U’re Muslim particularly if U don’t look like.U’ll see fear in eyes and written in your front TERRORIST!Till now.Love can’t do nothing against stupidity!

    • Cocojams Jambalayah

      Abentjamil,  your story about the the twin towers when the Jewish man who helped the Muslim man who others ran past says to me that sometimes when and where you least expect it, there are people who rise above those things that could separate them according to society’s views, and recognize and act on their integral human kinship. True, it doesn’t happen as much as it should, but hopefully each generation gets better in this regard than  former generations.   

    • DeeDee

      All I can say is that I agree with everything you wrote, once again, according to the media it seems only the term “American” in SOME people’s eyes are a certain type of people.