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Correspondent Friday, 14 December, 2001, 15:04 GMT
Letter from America
Bonnie Greer in the city of Chicago
Live webcast with Bonnie Greer
17th December 2001, 15:30 (GMT).
Please click on top icon on the right "FORUM".

Bonnie Greer examines the rift between America and the Muslim world from the perspective of ordinary Americans. She is passionate in her defence of America as a country of opportunity and liberalism which is as much misunderstood as it is ignorant of the outside world. She challenges the notion of America as "The Great Arrogance".

Click here for transcripts

There is that old saying you never can go home again. I have lived in the UK now for over 15 years. I have been a UK citizen for four. In every sense of the word, my home is here in Britain.

When asked to return to the town I was born in, Chicago, and then on to New York where I had lived for almost a decade, to make a film about 11 September, I knew that I had to do it.

Remembering 11 September

I was working on a BBC radio play when the first plane struck. My producer rang me, but like everyone else, I thought it was a tragic accident.

11 September
Terror struck on 11 September

My brother, who is stationed in Frankfurt for the United States Air Force, rang me to tell me that New York was under attack.

To say it seemed like something out of a movie is a cliché now, but it's true. I watched like everyone else, shocked, disbelieving.

By chance, a friend I've known since university days in Chicago over a quarter of a century ago was in town, and he came over. We sat hugging one another, not speaking.

I wanted to go home, immediately like every American expat wanted to go home. I felt useless.

"Media American"

Being one of the "media Americans" wheeled around from studio to studio to talk about what had happened, I was shocked to hear the anti-American sentiments expressed, some of them from my own friends.

I could not and still can not understand why anyone would justify murder, no religion condones the taking of innocent lives, or the taking of one's own.

What I said on the television and radio to everyone who would listen was that America had been bombed into the world, ready to become a true world citizen. But what I found during the making of "Letter from America" was something completely different.

We were told here in Britain that America was afraid. But instead I found an America that was not especially afraid, certainly not just because of what happened to the Twin Towers.

Views from America

The America I found was ethnic America, a place where fear exists 24 hours a day, both inside and outside the community.


Over Sunday lunch at my brother Kevin's house, he said that while the attack on the Pentagon and the Twin Towers was horrific, it was, in a sad way, "the chickens coming home to roost."

 Click here to watch


My aunt Ernestine added that she thought it was ridiculous to drop food parcels and bombs at the same time. What were the Afghans to think?

 Click here to watch


During a walk in the park with my sister Regina, she told me sadly that we Americans had not been good neighbours: "Before this happened I don't think we were very good world citizens anyway."

 Click here to watch


My friend Fadwa, a Muslim, stated that she was an American and a proud Muslim woman. She felt that "America should mind its own business."

 Click here to watch


At the Chicago Black Ensemble, where I had my first play produced in the late 70's, Jackie Taylor, its founder and still the producer there, looked me in the eye and said: "what goes around comes around."

 Click here to watch


Warner Saunders, one of the biggest broadcasters in Chicago admitted that American news coverage and attitudes reflect the class that controls the news - white and middleclass.

 Click here to watch

For ethnic minorities, for women, for gays, lesbians, the disabled, the elderly, in other words, those of us out of the mainstream business continued as usual, the business of survival in America.

After all this, I had to go searching for the jokes - was not America laughing? I caught Andy, a Chicago comic, at a comedy club doing his "CBS" routine. "CBS was the crying network", he said, "Anybody crying got on CBS." Another comic held up a badge and said "This America's attitude right now - Go get 'em!'"

Ground Zero

My last stop had to be Ground Zero. There are still fires burning underground, there is still paper from the disintegrated offices fluttering around. It is eerie there and unbelievably sad.

Ground Zero
Ground Zero, New York

A stranger sang a song for me, more of a wail than anything else: "I want the old New York." So do I. I used to live there.

11 September has made the United States more isolated, more inward-looking. My trip home made me realise that the nation has become more suspicious, more wary, more "America First" than ever.

It had not been bombed into the world, as I had thought before I left. It had been bombed out of it. I will never quite engage with it again. Not in my lifetime.

Letter from America: Sunday 16th December 2001 at 1915 on BBC Two

Reporter: Bonnie Greer
Producer: Charlotte Metcalfe
Deputy Editor: Farah Durrani
Editor: Fiona Murch

See also:

12 Sep 01 | UK
13 Dec 01 | Americas
14 Dec 01 | Talking Point
13 Dec 01 | NYC Out of the ashes
13 Dec 01 | NYC Out of the ashes
12 Dec 01 | NYC Out of the ashes
11 Dec 01 | Americas
01 Dec 01 | Americas
01 Nov 01 | Americas
12 Oct 01 | Your Views
11 Oct 01 | Americas
08 Oct 01 | Your Views
28 Sep 01 | Americas
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