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The second jetliner headed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. — AP File photo

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, who among us didn’t feel violated?

Whether you lost loved ones or didn’t, the images of that terrible day – the worst terrorist attack in American history – are indelibly burned into the minds of billions of people worldwide.

In the weeks and months following these heinous attacks, national cable news networks, always with melancholy music tinkling in the background, pushed the narrative that we were all Americans, that we all bleed red, and that our differences didn’t matter. And yes, there is a commonality hewn from collective anguish that tends to engender such emotions. For evidence of this, look no further than the colorblind disasters of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

But emotions are fleeting. Facts, conversely, are not.

What has been all but ignored in the 16 years since 9-11 – mostly because it’s politically incorrect to broach such topics – is the abominable racial and economic stratification the crumpling World Trade Center towers represented.

A 2015 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis analyzing the period from 1992-2013 found that college educated whites saw their wealth soar by 86 percent. The same study found that college educated Blacks saw their wealth plummet 55 percent. Some of the reasons given for the disparity pointed to the obvious differences: generational wealth, the necessity of loans vs not needing them to pay for an education, etc., etc.

Once towering above all other buildings in the heart of downtown Manhattan before their harrowing collapse, the twin towers illuminated a far more empirical and symbolic look at the aforementioned wealth disparities in this country, and why simply working as hard as someone else in an effort to pull oneself up by his or her own bootstraps is often an exercise in futility.

Of the 2,753 that died in the attack, 75 percent of the decedents were white and male. Whites with bachelor’s degrees or higher accounted for 1,462 deaths. Most of these workers occupied the higher floors and had the best jobs in the buildings, working for elite companies such as financial firms Cantor Fitzgerald (658 dead), Fiduciary Trust International (87), and insurer Marsh and McLennan (295).

Far fewer college educated people of color died in the tragedy, the reality of this being that many of these companies still likely simply refused to hire them, doing their part in erecting one of the many more hurdles minorities are forced to clear that white counterparts are never required to navigate in the pursuit of upward mobility.

However, in a twisted sense, perhaps karma was at work here, as that discrimination that likely shattered so many dreams to work in the World Trade Center may have indirectly saved hundreds of qualified people from perishing that day.

Famed Harvard University Professor Cornell West came under fire in 2002 when, while addressing Harvard law students, he compared the events of 9-11 to the “niggerization” of America, his rationale being that now the United States had gotten a taste of what Black folks have lived with for generations: the prospects of being unsafe, unprotected and “subjected to unjustified violence and hated.”

West was painted as a racist for saying this, and the true context of his message was lost in the same echo chamber that today conflates NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s appeal for equality and humanity in policing with an attack on the military and the the flag.

Just as the numbers aren’t lying when they prove that unarmed Black people are twice as likely to be shot by police as whites, illogically, the majority of whites who voted for Donald Trump somehow believe they face more discrimination than Blacks.

With so many people operating from such a warped mindset, expecting racism in hiring practices to be viewed as the problem it is, even when a historical attack on the nation places it squarely under the microscope, the likelihood that it is ever properly addressed is, at best, scarce.

John N. Mitchell has worked as a journalist for more than a quarter century. He can be reached at jmitchell@phillytrib.com and Tweet at @freejohnmitchel.

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