The White Fireman and the American Heartland in the Memory of 9/11

Justine Toh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Memorial efforts commemorating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11) frequently pay tribute to the fireman and his courageous actions on that day and in its aftermath. This article is interested in the pairing of the fireman (and his associated iconography) with the sentimental signifier of the American heartland in 9/11 memorial culture. It argues that this combination is a potent reaffirmation of the goodness of the United States that effectively does away with the need to interrogate possible reasons why the 9/11 attacks occurred. Through an analysis of heartland imagery, I explore the co-articulation of whiteness and American innocence that characterises the memorial culture of 9/11. First, the article explores how the American heartland is used to signify goodness and innocence, and how such qualities are linked with whiteness. It then explores how the heroism, decency, and integrity of the (white) fireman is used as a cipher for national goodness and wholesomeness in two memorials: the St. Paul's Chapel exhibition Unwavering Spirit: Hope and healing at Ground Zero, and Mural with Silos, a photograph by Jonathan Hyman. Finally, the article tracks how the pairing of the fireman with the heartland rejuvenates white exceptionalist narratives by producing both the American nation, and its protectorheroes, as white.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalCritical race and whiteness studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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