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The World Is a Ghetto

By Kathy Y. Wilson · September 13th, 2001 · Your Negro Tour Guide
"Don't you know that it's true/that for me and for you/the world is a ghetto?"
-- War

Suddenly, two guys dissing each other for the run of the asylum isn't so important.

At the end of the world, near which we are perched perilously close, the big question might not be what we did with ourselves but where were we when we heard the news. Where were you when any number of late 20th Century and early 21st Century manmade fiascoes bitch-slapped us into reckoning with mortality, eternity and the fragility of the supposed superpower of these United States?

Remember when Timothy McVeigh drove a truckload of manure into the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City? What were you doing -- eating breakfast, angry because you were third instead of first in line for a latte?

What about Waco, Texas, and the fiery attack by the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on the Branch Davidians? Whether or not you thought the religious zealots had it coming to them, weren't you eavesdropping when the clerk talked about it with another customer?

Then there's the white-boy tantrum that was the massacre at Columbine High School. Did you leave work to get your kids out of school?

It's something more than serendipitous that, on the morning we're to choose the finalists who will scrap it out for mayor in November, we're affixed, watching kamikaze death missions unfold at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It all makes you think about context. I'd already heard about and seen footage of the planes smacking into the World Trade Center when I went to my precinct to vote.

And though I knew I was bound to choose one of the four, at that moment I really didn't care who'd be Cincinnati's next mayor.

In New York, Washington and all the hometowns of the passengers and crew trapped on those hijacked planes and in those buildings, the families and friends of victims careened with anxiety and loss.

I could barely concentrate long enough to read the convoluted instructions to vote only once and to remove chads from the back of the ballot. I was so anxious that after I'd voted I pulled the card out and double-checked the hole I made to make sure it lined up with my choice.

Chads, candidates, control, ballots -- it all seemed so stupid.

Less than an hour later, I'd heard the Pentagon had also been hit. People buzzed with news and updates everywhere I stopped before I schlepped into work. It took on gossipy proportions. There was immediate speculation over responsibility and what would be President Bush's reaction.

"Get your foot off my neck," a poet friend said, intimating the terrorists were people oppressed by America.

I hope we don't go off bombing folks the second we uncover the culprits. Who knows? President Bush has a lot to prove, that he can puff out his chest and go nose-to-nose with the big boys. His next move is everyone's.

This, then, is the schizophrenia of terrorism. It makes the seemingly unaffected stop cold and take note.

Factions form. If you don't respond in a typically "American" manner, then you must be a pinko, a traitor. Internally and in low voices, we begin pointing fingers. I'll admit that I myself immediately pointed my crooked finger at Osama Bin Laden, an obvious, exotic and insanely anti-American zealot.

But I had to stop myself from finding comfort in that, because I remember the pervasive sentiment that was anti-everything Middle Eastern after McVeigh bombed the federal building. Absolutely no one thought it could've been who it eventually was -- everyone's next door neighbor.

But rather than taking sides and rising up with our big, bad American selves, my hope for these days is to be mindful of the fragility of our freedoms and of our society.

Used to be we'd sit in our easy chairs clucking our tongues at the world's madness with its bombings and pillaging. We'd watch with horror and amazement as emergency crews in funny-looking uniforms yanked lifeless bodies from crumpled buildings. It all looked more like outtakes from a Dino deLaurentis movie than anything America would experience firsthand.

Sure, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but that was sooo long ago. We've always been obese when it came to domestic safety. That other stuff was for London, Ireland, Africa and just about anyone but us. Now terrorists from outside and within have changed all that. The lull is over.

These days force us to become less American and more worldly, yet we shouldn't cloak ourselves in the ignorance of xenophobia. We can no longer deny that we are citizens of the world, which puts us in danger but also closer to the truth.

And the truth is that, right now, a mayoral race is dwarfed by the human race.



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