On Monday, August 21, millions of Americans will be outside watching a solar eclipse — which in some parts of the country will be total.
During totality, which may last only a few minutes, nocturnal animals will become active while others nest as though it were actually nightfall. And because neither the sun nor the moon is visible at that point, the darkness will indeed be total.
The science of the eclipse is fairly simple — there is an easily predictable path of totality, and those outside that path will view only a partial eclipse. Although there are usually two solar eclipses annually (there can be as many as five), the paths differ enough that specific locations may go years — even centuries — between total eclipses.
For example: St. Louis, Missouri, is in the path of totality for Monday’s eclipse. The last total eclipse visible from St. Louis occurred 400 years ago.
Monday’s path, according to NASA, looks like this:
But as people get ready to view the eclipse — some traveling hundreds of miles to get a better view — people have been offering up theories regarding this eclipse’s path of totality. None of them are based in science, and each is more outrageous than the last.
The Boston Globe published an article in early August suggesting that the eclipse was following a path of Trump supporters — a stretch, considering the fact that the eclipse can be seen in near totality at least the 48 contiguous states.
But the most recent offering, from Alice Ristroph of The Atlantic, puts a racial twist on the path of the eclipse.
Ristroph suggests that the path of totality will introduce blackness to areas of the country that are predominantly white. She writes:
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 3 p.m. local time. It has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and along most of its path, there live almost no black people.
Presumably, this is not explained by the implicit bias of the solar system. 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. At a moment of deep disagreement about the nation’s best path forward, here comes a giant round shadow, drawing a line either to cut the country in two or to unite it as one.
Ancient peoples watched total eclipses with awe and often dread, seeing in the darkness omens of doom. The Great American Eclipse may or may not tell us anything about our future, but its peculiar path could remind us of something about our past—what it was we meant to be doing, and what we actually did along the way. And if it seems we need no reminding, consider this: We tend to backlight our history, and so run the risk of trying to recover a glory that never existed. When the light in August changes, watch carefully.
Ristroph then follows the path of totality from Oregon (which, she laments, is predominantly white now, although it used to be home to Native Americans) through America’s heartland, careful to remind readers that slavery used to be legal in some of the states along the path.
When the eclipse gets to Missouri, things get interesting. The African American population centers in Missouri are in the major urban areas — Kansas City and St. Louis — and the path of the eclipse will effectively bypass both, running north of Kansas City and south of St. Louis.
Aside from the southern states like Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina — where Ristroph concedes that the eclipse will pass over African Americans, but only because those states used to own them as slaves — she asserts that the only real exceptions to this rule are prisons like Kansas’s Fort Leavenworth, where typically black inmates outnumber whites.
The eclipse has spoken.
Oh, FFS! The eclipse is racist?? Seriously, WTF is wrong with your souls?
— Brian O'Kelley (@BrianOKelley1) August 19, 2017
— shuckle (@HeIsRisen69) August 19, 2017
The only way this piece of garbage could have even less science is if it linked eclipses to global warming.
I expect Atlantic has that next
— Doug Quixote (@DeTroyes1) August 19, 2017
And somehow, it managed to get filed under “science”:
Filed under 'Science' for some strange reason. Should be filled under post modern ethno bullshit pic.twitter.com/e5QUW219sF
— Ed Brooks (@EdB_SP) August 19, 2017