Post-9/11 All Over Again: The Hate-Mongers Who Bombarded the Internet After Osama bin Laden's Death
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The first fatal victim of post-9/11 hate crimes was a man named Balbir Singh Sodhi. He was killed in... wait for it... Arizona. He owned a gas station and was mistaken for a Muslim because he, like many Sikhs, wore a turban.
Up until about a week ago, Arizona legislation was in place to ensure his name wouldn't be included in a state memorial. Just prior to Osama bin Laden's killing, new legislation was enacted to include his name. According to Colorlines, "Singh Sodhi’s family members said they felt re-victimized by the bill, a decade after the national tragedy and the death of Balbir, but now feel relieved." But for how long?
The day after Osama bin Laden was found and shot dead, I took to Twitter –– partly because I'm bored and an egomaniac like most people on Twitter, but also to utilize it as a microcosm for greater society and explore this revitalized racism. I had previously used the platform to turn a mirror on American racism against Hindus and Indian people, and was interested in seeing what effect Osama's death had on how people were discussing race. I searched the terms "sand ni**er,""sand ni**ga,” “dune coon,” “camel jockey,” “towel head,” “hindu" and any other thing I have been called in the last 25 years, particularly since 9/11, by any number of races.
What I found was overwhelming. So much so that I wasn't sure if I wanted people to see what was going on outside the comfort of their personal Internets – and I wasn’t sure I wanted to have to repeat (or retweet) such disgusting language for followers who weren’t people of color.
What interested me wasn't just white racism, something I’m well accustomed to (although not as well accustomed as some of my darker skinned bruhs). I was also interested in how the racist slurs were being treated as though they were perfectly reasonable coming from people of color. I have always felt anyone can be racist (though white people have the power to make their racism fuck with my life), so this wasn't a shock, but more of a reminder that racism occurs across levels. I thought about me, not just as an Indian, but as a person of color and what the history of people of color in this country is. Although my experience as a South Asian in America was nothing like the experience of a black person, it wasn’t too much fun either.
Turnstyle News recapped some of the tweets I curated after Bin Laden’s death here.
On September 11, 2001, as a 16-year-old junior and the vice-president of New York’s Stuyvesant High School, I woke up like any other day: tired, burnt, cranky, and not looking forward to having to "do stuff." I yelled at my mom for not understanding that "I know what I'm doing, yo," and went down the stairs. I hopped on the bus to head to Kew Gardens and get on that E/F. I probably met up with my bandmate Ashok “Dap” Kondabolu on the bus ride. I missed the QM1A that would go directly from my Queens neighborhood to downtown Manhattan, where my high school was located a couple blocks from the World Trade Center. That bus would have dropped me off in front of the Century 21 clothing store across from Ground Zero, maybe an hour or so before the world would change and I would become a crazy in my head.
Not too long into class, our principal made the announcement. Stanley Teitel, in that weird voice of his, announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and to turn our TVs on to watch the news. Holy shit! A gigantic metal container flying through the sky carrying people crashed into a giant building in the sky and innocent people died. But I didn’t think about it in those terms the second it happened. I couldn’t fathom the enormity. I'm ashamed to admit my first thought may have even been "So we got school off?" We’ve now had 10 years to think (or suppress feelings about) that day, and we still don’t know what to think.