From fall 1998 – spring 2002, I taught journalism and advised the student newspaper at a mainly Black and Hispanic community college in South-Central LA. I later turned my experiences into a book called Blackspanic College. This excerpt recalls where I was on 9/11:
Fall semester, 2001
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I awoke to my clock radio, which was tuned to National Public Radio. Still in a dreamlike state, I heard somber voices saying something about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center, a second plane smashing into the other tower, the Pentagon being struck by a third, and that every airplane over the entire country was being grounded. At first I thought it was an updated version of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio hoax. I rolled over and turned on the TV, where every channel was showing the Twin Towers crumbling, on a loop. My heart sank. This was real.
I checked my emotions and was relieved I wasn’t feeling a flicker of guilty glee that Wall Street yuppies and the military industrial complex had just taken a hit. We may not like to admit it, but sometimes we secretly root for the bad guys — Bonnie and Clyde, the Unibomber, O.J. — so toppling the dual symbols of capitalist America and poking a hole in the Pentagon could easily have stirred up some anti-American sentiments left over from Vietnam that were recently inflamed by the bizarro election in Florida, U.S. Supreme Court putsch and ascendancy of the right-lurching Bush II junta.
9/11 was one bodacious move. But as I lay there gaping at the TV, all I was feeling was dread. And it was with a sense of shame that I realized, at that moment at least, I was glad that Bush and the ruthless rattlesnakes around him, rather than wishy-washy Al Gore — whom I’d voted for — was in the White House. Suddenly, I didn’t want my mommy, I wanted my daddy.
I wondered what the students at Southwest College were feeling, and tore myself away from the TV to rush out to the campus for my afternoon classes and to rev up my students for the biggest story they would ever cover. I should have known better. By the time I got to the campus, it was nearly deserted.
Finally, one of my new students arrived. I’d assigned Lakita to cover a Black Student Union meeting previously scheduled for that morning. At the time it seemed like a fairly simple meeting story,although I didn’t understand why a school that was 80 percent black needed a BSU (except as a place for former student body presidents to go, as June had become the head of the BSU after losing the rescheduled ASO election to Willie). But Lakita had tears in her eyes and said she couldn’t write the story.
“Why not?” I asked, thinking she was probably upset by the terrorist attacks.
“Because the meeting was all about you.”
“Me?” I said, incredulously. “What are you talking about?”
“They called you a racist.”
The whole world had changed, and so had mine.
More on Blackspanic College: hbkoplowitz.com/blackspanic-college/