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I was born in 2002.
Me and all the other kids born that year were the first generation to be born after the attacks on 9/11.
We have never known a world where these attacks did not happen. We know nothing of the twin towers breaking through the Manhattan skyline, of relaxed airport security, of an invincible America incapable of being destroyed.
We know nothing of that patriotic naivety that is so quintessentially American.
Yet, I never feel more American than on 9/11. I went to high school a few blocks up from ground zero. Every year while the rest of the world seems to remember a little bit less, all of New York City is engulfed with memories.
A mournful sort of quiet replaces the usual bustle.
People take their time walking down the street, searching the sky, some imagining, others remembering.
Fire stations open their huge metal doors to reveal pictures of all of the first responders they lost, surrounded by flowers and candles left by family and strangers alike.
On this day, I bring cookies to the firefighters and thank them for their bravery. I stop at the murals commemorating all the lives lost and try to picture the faces as living, breathing people. I go to the big memorial downtown where the near 3,000 names are etched in bronze and read as many of them as I can bear.
On this day of remembrance, I get a taste of some of that patriotic naivety. I feel pride in my country, in their ability to survive something so devastating and emerge from the ashes even stronger. I never feel more American than when remembering just how many American lives were lost.
But there is guilt in this pride, one pushed by the knowledge of all the terrible things this country has done.
Most days it’s hard for me to call myself American.
This is the country in which I was born and raised, but it is also a country that has never claimed me as its own. As a Black person descended from enslaved Afrikans, I am fully aware that the laws of this land were not built to support me, but to keep me oppressed. As I grow older, I only seem to learn more about the atrocities of America’s past and present, things that are irredeemable in my lifetime.
I learn about the hand America played in tearing apart the Middle East for easier access to their oil, how we destroyed countries for riches.
I learn about the war we started in the middle east after 9/11, killing tens of thousands of men, women and children who had played no part in the terrorist attack.
I learn about the consequential rise in islamophobia and xenophobia, strengthened by Trump and his blame game.
Despite not being alive for the attacks, nor anything other than the tail end of this unjust war, I feel deep shame for actions I’m not sure America even does.
I no longer have the ability to be proud of America. I know too much. But on this September 11, I feel the mourning of my city. There is a heaviness in my heart for all the families, the parents and grandparents of my friends whose lives were lost.
I feel a sense of pride for them. A pride for the people who kept on living even though the loss of someone you love is one of the hardest, bravest things you can do.