God Bless America: Or Being Brown in a Post 9/11 World

by Alok Vaid-Menon, ’13

after 9/11 your hindu temple
– that one in small town texas where you
grew up believing in america
and god
and other things bigger than yourself –
made new t-shirts:
american flag printed on the back
“we will never forget 9/11. god bless america”

and you wore that shirt to school the next day, made sure it fit just right
like the english on your tongue,
like the bible in your hand,
like the sunscreen behind your ears
and you hoped that its crisp
(white) would distract your classmates from
the terrorist threat of your skin
– that day you woke up
and found that you were
afraid of yourself –

and at lunch your (white) classmate asks you
“why your people did this to us”
and you point to your shirt
and you point to your flag
and you point to your god
but these are things that no longer belong to you.

and for the first time in your life you
feel i’m not muslim, but…
feel we are not them, we are…
feel brown

when they call you a terrorist
you believe them the way you
believe in the cool edge of your father’s razor
as it slices your cheeks –
keep it back,
bleed for your country.

and we are bleeding for your country america:
we, 1501 attacks against people of middle-eastern descent in the US in 2001
we, new york taxi driver stabbed after a passenger asked if he was muslim
we, shaima alwadi beaten in her home “go back to your country, you terrorist”
we, hundreds of thousands of civilians annihilated by your wars (i mean, ego)
we, nine sikh murdered in prayer in wisconsin

and how many of us must you deport before you feel white again, america?
and how many of us must you torture before you feel like God again, america?
and how many of us must die before you lower your flags (and remove them from our lands), america?

and the democratic national convention was last week
and your president – the one who
visits your temples and mosques in the US and
burns them across the ocean –
tells you that america is the greatest nation on earth
and you hear them clapping
and it sounds like the gunshots
on the other channel.

“God Bless America”
is nothing more than a campaign slogan
and is this your blessing?
and is this your remembrance?

and 9/11 is
not over, today your president is flying
drones to pakistan, today your patriots
are raping women in iraq,
but you do not see us, america
our brown bodies, the dirt you must step on in your journey to freedom (propaganda)
our brown bodies, the sand you must wipe out of your eyes for clearer vision (imperialism)
our brown bodies, the shit you must use to grow your food, your children, your economy (capitalism)

and i no longer wear your shirts
and i no longer sing your anthems
and i no longer believe in god (or america, is there a difference?)

but i believe in the brown of my skin,
– believe it the way the waiter at the restaurant calls me brother –
the gospel of our people,
(keep it close)
this devotional,
all you have left for us to

God Brown America!
and this is my blessing
and this is our sacrifice
and these are our soldiers
(rest in peace)


Alok is a senior studying queer studies & comparative studies in race and ethnicity. ze can be reached at alokv3@stanford.edu. to read more of Alok’s poetry, check out their blog: http://subalternrage.posterous.com/god-bless-america-or-being-brown-in-a-post-91

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