Monday, July 28, 2008

extend the white conquest of the earth into outer space

Dashing billlionaire space cowboy Richard Branson,
with mockups of Spaceship Two and White Knight Two

I am quite straight-faced as I ask soberly:

"But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?"

Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!

-- W.E.B. Du Bois,
Darkwater (1920)

MOJAVE, California (AP, 7/28/08) -- Virgin Galactic is giving the world a glimpse of its secret space tourism program.

Sir Richard Branson's space company Monday trotted out the mothership aircraft that will launch a still-to-be-built spaceship out of the atmosphere.

The mothership is a white, four-engine plane with room in the middle where the spacecraft will go.

The early morning rollout in California's Mojave desert came four years after SpaceShipOne became the first private manned rocket to reach space.

Now the White Knight Two aircraft being shown today is due to undergo flight tests this fall.

More than 250 customers have paid $200,000 or put down a deposit for the chance to be one of Virgin Galactic's first space tourists.

A date for the first launch has yet to be announced.

That's a lot of "whiteness," Sir Richard. Its predominance probably also permeates, in a more overtly racial sense, White Knight Two's passenger list. All that whiteness certainly correlates in an odd, perhaps ironic way with the fundamental connection made so presciently by W.E.B. DuBois, between white racial ideology and the conquest of the earth.

It's as if, once the earth is more or less a "white" or "whitened" place, in that it's largely owned by white people, and largely operated under white presumptions, in many cases for white people . . . where else is there to go with such endless white expansion, except "up"?

DuBois wasn't the only non-white person to marvel at how incredibly acquisitive white people tend to be when it comes to land and space. In Linden Hills, Gloria Naylor's 1985 satire on the African American middle class, one of the fictional characters is the black owner of a piece of land located somewhere in the northern United States, sometime in the early 1900s. As this character, Luther Nedeed, contemplates what to do with the land, which will eventually become a wealthy, exclusively black suburb, he thinks:

Like his father, he saw where the future of Wayne County--the future of America--was heading. It was going to be white: white money backing white wars for white power because the very earth was white--look at it--white gold, white silver, white coal running white railroads and steamships, white oil fueling white automotives. Under the earth--across the earth--and one day, over the earth. Yes, the very sky would be white. He didn't know exactly how, but it was the only place left to go.

During the 1960s, America's largely black-and-white racial divide was reflected in differing communal opinions on "America's" effort to reach the moon, via NASA's Apollo program. Many black people knew that the whole "conquering outer space" thing was mostly a white thing, and not just because all the people they saw doing it on their televisions were white people.

As Lynn Spigel writes in her chapter on "Outer Space and Inner Cities,"

While many whites were critical of the space project, nationwide polls demonstrated significant racial differences. According to David Nye, from 1965 to 1969 the strongest supporters of Apollo tended to be Caucasian, male, young, affluent, and well educated. Meanwhile, "the strongest opposition lay within the Black community, where less than one in four supported the expenditure of $4 billion per year for the Apollo program." This opposition was not a rejection of science or even space exploration per se. Instead, African American criticism of NASA was articulated within the broader context of racial protest. . . .

Mainstream media targeted at whites typically presented the space race in the context of family life. In Life and Look, astronaut heroes were depicted as ideal suburban dads and their wives as perfect housewives. And while Hollywood science fiction films and television programs did sometimes present stories that dealt with prejudice and colonialism, these media spoke allegorically about race. In contrast, African American responses to the space race (whether positive or negative) were often explicitly tied to a critique of suburban segregation and the plight of blacks in the inner cities.


Gil Scott-Heron
"Whitey on the Moon"


  1. Old fashioned Science Fiction was all about the "Whitey in space" theme. There was even a sort of racist anti racism about some of it. Robert Heinlein surprised his readers a time or two by informing them, well into the story, that his protagonist was not white. His readers were surprised because the characters always acted and spoke like "regular" science fiction heroes: square jawed military engineers. Heinlein seemed to be claiming that, if only lesser peoples could be given the same opportunities enjoyed by white men, they could be taught to act just like white men.

    Recently there's been a lot of Sci Fi written by women, queers and people of color. Try googling Nalo Hopkinson, an Afro-Canadian queer woman who writes thoroughly enjoyable post colonial science fiction. There is also a whole group of leftist white men who are very successful. China Mieville, Iain M. Banks and Charlie Stross are all associated with the British Socialist Workers Party.

  2. I came thru the CNN link to your blog. I like your take on this! Hadn't thought of this angle before, and I think you're right. After looking over more of your blog, I think you're doing good work here.

  3. Yeah, that's it. It's a "white thang." Y'know, I think it's far funnier that so much science fiction is predicated on the entire universe knowing English, or that alien computers can be infected with our computer virii because the entire universe is networked with TCP/IP.

    But I have to be honest, I think you're just a bit sensitive. I don't know what Rutan and Branson have in mind with "White Knight", but I would imagine it has more to do with the image of a savior than of racial dominance. Would you have been happier with a "Brown Knight"? Or would that have been, as you put it, "racist anti-racism." That's a cute term, by the way, one that's hardly avoidable. Unless, of course, you use overt racism, like, "stuff white people do."

    And now the challenge: what race am I? Don't cheat. Just guess.

  4. Todd, I have no idea how to cheat on this one, but if I had to guess your race, I'd say . . . Cablinasian?

  5. Macon D wrote: Todd, I have no idea how to cheat on this one, but if I had to guess your race, I'd say . . . Cablinasian?

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. That is the perfect answer to a silly question.

  6. i like the original video better


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