August 19, 2017
In today’s competitive grievance culture, unearthing new sorrows, or reheating old sorrows, can require prodigious, indeed bewildering, feats of contortion. And so, in the pages of The Atlantic, we find one Alice Ristroph railing at the heavens. First, a little context:
On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will arrive mid-morning on the coast of Oregon. The moon’s shadow will be about 70 miles wide, and it will race across the country faster than the speed of sound, exiting the eastern seaboard shortly before 3pm local time.
Clouds permitting, it should be quite a thing to witness.
It has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and along most of its path, there live almost no black people.
There we go. If that one caught you off guard, here’s another:
As the eclipse approaches, the temperature will fall and birds will roost, and then, suddenly, the lights will go out. For each place within the path of totality, the darkness will last a minute, maybe two, and then daylight will return. Oregon, where this begins, is almost entirely white. The 10 percent or so of state residents who do not identify as white are predominantly Latino, American Indian, Alaskan, or Asian.
This goes on for some time. It’s an attempt at symbolism, I think. A beverage may be useful.
It is a matter of population density, and more specifically geographic variations in population density by race, for which the sun and the moon cannot be held responsible. Still, an eclipse chaser is always tempted to believe that the skies are relaying a message.
The message, it seems, is that people – specifically, black ones - aren’t arranged geographically as Professor Ristroph would wish.
From Oregon, the eclipse will travel through Idaho and Wyoming… Percentage-wise, Idaho and Wyoming are even whiter than Oregon… The few non-white residents of Idaho and Wyoming are not black — they are mostly Latino, American Indian, and Alaskan.
Perhaps this demographic bean-counting is all building to some kind of point, a moment of profundity.
From Kansas, the eclipse goes to Missouri, still mostly bypassing black people.
Surely a contender for The Most Woke Sentence Yet Uttered.
Moving east, the eclipse will pass part of St. Louis, whose overall population is nearly half black. But the black residents are concentrated in the northern half of the metropolitan area, and the total eclipse crosses only the southern half.
If you laughed at that, tittered even, you’re a terrible, terrible person.
Eight miles north of the path of totality is Ferguson, where Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown three summers ago.
After Greenville and Columbia, the eclipse goes out where so many slaves once came in: Charleston was the busiest port for the slave trade, receiving about 40 percent of all the African slaves brought into the country.
Ah, this must be it. Stand ready with the righteous seething.
In Kentucky, Tennessee, and eventually South Carolina, the eclipse will finally pass over black Americans. Even here, though, the path of totality seems to mark the legacy of slavery and the persistence of segregation more than any form of inclusion.
And so we’re told, repeatedly and at length, that for much of its journey, the Moon’s shadow “travels over white people only,” and that the eclipse will “narrowly miss Tryon, the birthplace of Nina Simone.” The point of all this is, even now, somewhat unobvious, not least given the large numbers of people planning to travel across the country to experience the alignment. Beyond, that is, the fact that some people aren’t choosing to live where Professor Ristroph thinks they ought to, and who thinks this while listing historical wrongs and attempting to solicit some pretentious collective guilt for the acts of strangers long dead, thereby signalling the author’s own, all-important moral elevation, and implicitly, her social status:
America is a nation with debts that no honest man can pay. It is too much to ask that these debts simply be forgiven.
Yes, guilty, forever.
Though it occurs to me that trying to propagate pretentious, collective guilt - an act of psychological malice - and thereby exalting oneself as tearfully compassionate and high-minded, at least among fellow pretenders, isn’t a particularly noble activity either. And when there’s an opportunity to experience a bit of cosmic perspective, a moment of possible awe, what you really want is some contrived racial grievance-mongering to sour that moment and bring you down to Earth.
Professor Ristroph is of course an educator, a graduate of Harvard.
Via dicentra. [ Edited for clarity. ]