Fellow White People: Think About Race the Way You Think About Space
I don’t know much about outer space. I know it’s big. I know your head explodes if you’re not wearing a helmet. And I know that thinking about it makes me feel confused and stupid.
However, I know there are people out there that know far more about space than I’ll ever come close to understanding. All of my half-conceived notions about what’s out there, how it started, and how we fit into it are based on a couple of Neil Degrasse Tyson podcasts, the first Men In Black movie, and the Tralfamadorians. It’s a goulash of secondhand information related to me by people more intelligent myself.
This is how white people need to approach understanding race relations.
I’ll never go to space. Neither will you. So we need to listen to astronauts and cosmologists to ever come close to understanding what we’ll never experience. At the same time, I’ll never experience true racism. I’m a white guy. There’s a large slice of shitty people that give me a complete pass. I wish these shitty people didn’t exist, but I can’t just erase them. Fact of life.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to think about the recent protests and riots. My first inclination was that I shouldn’t have an opinion at all. I don’t deserve one. I’m only tangentially-connected to any of the reasons for the mass protests. I can be sympathetic to the cause, but I can’t actively engage in the conversation. I don’t feel it’s my place to do so.
So I have to sit back and listen. I don’t know anything about what it’s like to be a black person in America. I can only turn to the experts.
There’s one mind-blowing fact that most of us simply accept without really thinking about it: Space is larger than you can fathom. You’re physically and mentally unable to internalize the magnitude of space. We shrug, say okay, and live the rest of our lives resigned to the fact that space is out of our grasp.
As a white person, racism is also out of my grasp.
I have been listening to stories of prejudice my whole life. I’ve spoken with friends about it, I’ve watched documentaries on the systems of oppression that have been implemented in our country, and I’ve listened to and watched countless illustrations of the subjugation of minorities through art.
But it hasn’t touched me.
I can read about space all day long but it won’t change the fact that I’ve never been in it. I understand that it’s up there but I don’t know what it’s like to float without gravity.
Any opinions we white people try to have about the various reactions to this continued racism are moot. The riots? Looting? The peaceful kneeling by a high-profile athlete that was unanimously ignored and strongly discouraged which didn’t leave many other possible actions besides screaming in large numbers and smashing a fucking Target or two?
We don’t have enough information to have a legitimate viewpoint.
So if I can’t have a fully-informed opinion on race relations, what can I do?
Be supportive. Amplify those around you. Realize you don’t understand that space is a vacuum containing a low density of particles, predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, neutrinos, dust, and cosmic rays.
And you don’t understand what it’s like to be systematically oppressed because of the color of your skin.
But be aware that it’s happening. And work to make sure everyone else is aware of it, too. We can’t work toward a solution for a problem some people either don’t think exists or choose to ignore.