As a New Yorker, this passage broke my heart.
I re-read Ta-Nehisi’s words on pages 86-87 at least 10 times. His experience on September 11, 2001 challenged everything I felt about that day. How could anyone possibly experience that day as anything but a national tragedy?
As a New Yorker, this passage broke my heart. I’ve walked those streets a million times. I remember standing at the base of the World Trade Center as a sixteen-year-old seeing New York for the first time. The towers were lit bright green for St. Patrick’s Day. I still recall the feeling of straining my neck to see all the way to the top of the seemingly endless towers. Eighteen months later, they were gone. In the years that followed, I moved to New York City, learning the streets of Lower Manhattan like the back of my hand. I’ve peered into the massive hole in the ground, wandered the newly-landscaped memorial, and seen the Freedom Tower rise above the skyline. Out of tragedy rose an undeniable rally cry: You cannot stop New York City.
Coates admits that he could not see the police officers and firefighters who died as heroes. To him, they were the people who killed his friend. When I read these words, I was blown away by how much his perception of that day differed from mine. As Coates describes, Lower Manhattan’s forgotten history includes the hub of the American slave trade. Ships from Europe and Africa docked just blocks from the eventual World Trade Center site, selling slaves to the highest bidder. What is now a tourist destination was once a human auction. That fact is so easily erased from memory. Coates reminds me that my view of the world is only mine, and that there is a much bigger story to tell. Just because my experience is the most common doesn’t mean it’s the only way, or the right way, to see the world.