Thursday, November 5, 2015


I was making small talk with a student as he got up to leave my office, as I usually do at the end of advising conversations: bookending the visit with questions whose answers make both of us human, or diffuse the tension or anxiety that comes with vulnerability.  When I asked him what he was doing for the fall break, he mentioned he was catching up on sleep, watching movies, and that he might go into the City, which in these parts means "New York."  It's not an uncommon answer, especially for international students during their first year here.

"Oh, that'll be fun," I agreed.  "What do you think you'll see?"

"The museums, maybe the Guggenheim ... probably not Ground Zero, even though I'd like to go."

It was an exclusion that begged the question: "Why not?" I asked.

"It's not a place for brown people," he said, shaking his head slowly.  "We've done enough damage.  I wouldn't want to offend anyone."

It took me off guard.  My student is from Pakistan, but as far as I'm concerned, he has as much right to Ground Zero as anyone else.  He's a gentle soul.  He's disappointed by the current political situation in his home country.  No one would be able to tell he's any different from the 3 or 4 million other people with U.S. passports who are brown (this only counting Asian "brown").  I wanted him to feel like he could pay his respects, too, and honor those lost when the towers fell.  Because that's what it would be for him: honoring them.

I told him as much: "you're not responsible.  We know that.  That site belongs to you, too."

He was skeptical.  And as he left, I wished him a good adventure, knowing that he wouldn't venture anywhere near the southern tip of Manhattan.

It made me think about other incarnations of guilt-by-association, and wonder how we can even begin to heal if we can't even return to the site of our pain, to pay our respects to the dead.
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  1. "It's not a place for brown people."

    And my heart sunk. And immediately I think about the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. And how this line of logic, where no white male be allowed anywhere near that site, would readily be disputed. And yet it's not in this case (or not to the degree it should be).

  2. I like where Cristy went with this. And that you took the time to tune in to this young man's emotions.

    Sometimes I get so sad for humanity.

  3. Wow. That's sad. Especially since there were certainly "brown people" (as well as white people, and people of other hues too) who died that day at Ground Zero (and I'm not talking about the hijackers). I can understand why he feels the way he does, though, given the current political climate. :(


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