A guest post by Chris Blake.
People of all races encounter the UFO phenomenon, but does race influence whether a witness is believed? The everyday experiences of minorities suggest this is likely the case and ufology suffers for it.
My father’s reaction was not what I expected. A retired, religious Southern black man, “No-Nonsense” could have been his middle name. But he just listened. Then he said, “I believe you. Anything is possible.” I was telling him about what I saw in the early evening sky of Zurich, Switzerland in 2009. Living in a small rooftop apartment, I happened to glance at the lights of a plane in the distance flying a familiar pattern around the Zurich international airport. A not particularly interesting sight I’d seen countless times.
But then in the foreground, I saw something else. Something truly amazing that wasn’t supposed to be possible. Where a second before had only been empty sky, now there were five large stationary orange spheres. They hovered closely together in coordinated proximity. The plane was still slowly passing in the distance and these “lights in the sky” carried as much physical realness as that plane. There was a there about them.
Countless people have described the feeling of witnessing an event that in an instance exposes the mind-bending incompleteness of their worldview. The Phenomenon, whatever it is, is also to put it mildly… unsettling. Frozen and staring, I watched two of the objects fly off to the right and out of sight at a stupefying speed. Then another of the objects zoomed far past the lazily moving plane, disappearing over the horizon. Finally, the two remaining objects having never moved, now vanished from the same spot where they had appeared only moments before.
“So where are my photos of this occurrence?” some people ask. Smart phones were becoming a thing in 2009. Old school cell phones already had cameras before that. I owned the first generation iPhone and likely had it in my pocket. But photos were the furthest thing from my mind. I often propose a thought experiment. What if a deceased, dearly missed relative suddenly appeared? Would you be in awe perhaps mixed with fear and deeply wish to embrace the miraculous wonder of that moment? Or would your first thought be to take a photo?
Of course some purported witnesses of the Phenomenon attempt to take photos. For a variety of reasons, almost certainly not all of them having to do with equipment and technical skill, the results usually disappoint. In any case, I started to realize there is a Pattern concerning the type of person who dismissively demands photos and other undefined “proof”. Eventually I began to consider the meaning and consequences of that Pattern.
My experience of the Phenomenon sometimes comes up in conversations. Not at first, but perhaps sooner or later depending on the timing and nature of the relationship. In the same way I might mention I double majored in philosophy and political science, or interviewed Miss Switzerland for a magazine profile. My father’s understated reaction to my sighting was one on a scale ranging widely between warmly curious open-mindedness and stone cold skepticism.
The Pattern demonstrated that the reaction of whites was often (but not always) negative, meaning they expressed higher levels of skepticism. Especially religious white people. No matter their level of education. On the other hand, the reaction of persons of color, no matter how well educated, was generally positive. Meaning they were more willing to accept my experience of the Phenomenon at face value or at least entertain the possibility.
I accept that my analysis is personal, anecdotal and intentionally disregards positive biases that might occur when I mentioned my sighting to other persons of color. I focus on religion and education because (other than their views on race or being a witness themselves) these are arguably the two most influential personal factors for believing a witness or not. It seems obvious that if any topic should be race neutral, there may not be a better candidate than ufology. Unfortunately, this simply is not what the Pattern suggests, regardless of whether I was speaking to people in Europe or especially the US.
UFO sightings are so ubiquitous and sometimes so credibly spectacular that my own might seem mundane. But the Phenomenon was disorientating enough for me to realize I was witnessing something so bewildering that it literally made no sense. However, and this point is crucial, I think blacks and other persons of color already exist in an almost constant state of amazement. We must make our way in a practically alternative reality where we are continually shocked on varying levels by our experience. And that same experience is habitually called into question by a variant of the Pattern well beyond anything to do with the Phenomenon.
Much of this is probably already starting to echo within the context of the American zeitgeist’s endlessly exhausting and fractured dialogue about race. As to when, where and how often racism occurs, opinion polls routinely suggest a majority of whites don’t necessarily accept the version of reality that persons of color report. [i]We can’t vouch for our everyday lives, let alone make extraordinary claims. And what seems to minorities to be at best willful cluelessness on the part of whites absolutely amazes us. There are reasons why legal precedence discourages race based jury selection processes… white jurors are more sympathetic to and more likely to believe white witnesses and defendants. No doubt the same is also true of blacks. But who can honestly doubt which bias has the potential to cause greater harm? To be blunt, I suspect in America particularly, whites are also more likely to believe other whites that claim an experience with the Phenomenon.
Around the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a cluster of polls agreed that a plurality of Americans didn’t believe slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War. [ii]This incredible level of dissonance shocks black people and they recognize the Pattern in that dissonance. Equally shocking stories are in the news practically every day. An off-duty white female police officer somehow manages to shoot dead a black man in his own apartment. She entered his home, mistakenly believing it to be her apartment. A white police officer repeatedly shoots an unarmed, fleeing black man. Afterwards, he plants a gun on the dead victim. All on tape. And that’s just the police.
The stories seem infinite, of white people doing incredibly stupid things to persons of color who are simply engaged in the most basic aspects of American life. Poolside Pete. BBQ Becky. Permit Patty. Corner Store Caroline. Most persons of color will be familiar these nicknames and the various tales of absurd racial profiling which created them. It is telling that many whites will likely have no idea who or what the names represent. If they do, everything we know about the Pattern suggests a majority will seriously question the storyteller’s version of events. If they believe anything at all happened.
On a personal level, I’m amazed that no matter what I’m wearing, no matter where I am, I’m frequently assumed to be a thief. The security of wallets and handbags is urgently checked. And then there was also the time I was (like all the attendees) “suited and booted” for a large networking conference and a white man asked me for a program and seating directions. Most white people do not believe these or many other stories I tell them from my own bottomless collection.
Virtually all minorities have been told by whites “it’s all in your head”, that they are “exaggerating”, or it was a “misunderstanding.” In response we are collectively and constantly amazed. We marvel at the damage it does to all of us as a society. But it turns out that despite the dispiriting Pattern, there is also a subtle unexpected effect. It does open the minds of persons of color.
When a black person sees something stunning, they are rarely much more shocked than they were the moment before. They are likely to accept this newly occurring moment at face value. Or at least entertain the possibility of the Phenomenon’s reality. The everyday reality they know all too well doesn’t make sense either, so why not this too?
On the other hand, denial of the Phenomenon preserves the status quo. The status quo’s survival is essential, no matter the quality of any contradictory evidence. David Hume essentially argued that no matter how many people claim to have witnessed a miracle, it couldn’t be true because miracles are impossible. The status quo equates to power for those who traditionally imposed their version of reality onto others. For those in power, what the “other” claims to experience is not relevant to determining reality and to their collecting the resulting exclusive societal benefits of a starkly different enforced consensus reality, which is in itself illusory. The witness who looks like the skeptic may also not be believed. But the Pattern demonstrates they are at least more likely to be believed and there are palpable negative impacts within that margin.
In this way, the UFO back and forth between the open-minded and skeptics is a microcosm of society itself. This assertion will fall on many deaf ears within the UFO community. They may like to think of ufology as a free zone from such a tiresome and vexing conversation. But (and again, it is unfortunate) the same societal ills driving overall cultural division also explain key dynamics of belief and non-belief in the Phenomenon. The Pattern has consequences in all aspects of life.
These consequences are the same whether they concern the denial of what persons of color routinely experience, the denial of the primary reasons why persons of color are generally poorer and more likely to be in prison. Or the denial of inconvenient challenges the Phenomenon could bring to traditional religions, economic systems and of course, mainstream science.
When an empowered group is well adjusted to being the dominant force defining a reality that they and their future generations will benefit from, they understandably want to maintain the status quo. Even if only on a subconscious level. It is possible that those quickest to scoff have no readily available idea why they react the way they do. And they would almost certainly deny race has anything to do with it.
I’m stating that much of the UFO community will not want to engage this topic, However, I’m not claiming they don’t believe stories told by persons of color. UFO people, no matter their race, religion or economic status, are like those who stumbled out of Plato’s cave. Even if they want to, they usually can’t go back into the cold and damp only to watch shadows on the wall. The Phenomenon has startlingly flipped their world upside down.
They may feel a pressing need to make sense of what they’ve seen and a person’s race is the least of their concerns. It is not in their nature to facilitate the Pattern. It is much more likely they will be eager to compare sightings and experiences. Still however many UFO people as there are, there are still not nearly enough to deter the Pattern. Like the Phenomenon, it stubbornly persists.
This is partly because UFO people alone simply don’t change the way the culture collectively thinks or what it deems worthy to believe or investigate. In other words, UFO people are unable to challenge the status quo. Sound ufology must be included in any way forward. In spite of all the shameless profiteers, hoaxers and charlatans, the best of the UFO community is embarrassingly far ahead of the mainstream. Nevertheless, what may the best chance of ever understanding the Phenomenon lays well beyond the UFO community. The topic simply will not meaningfully progress without bright minds from mainstream science, the humanities and their influence on those in power.
Is it really any wonder that after decades of study, modern ufology has not really moved the culture’s needle? Governmental officials, mainstream media and military officers. That moves the needle. A Harvard professor speaking about Oumuamua possibly being an alien probe. That moves the needle. Bob Bigelow could say what he did on 60 Minutes and emerge unscathed because he’s a billionaire. Despite some controversies of little note here, is it also any wonder that so many have placed their hopes of advancing our understanding of the Phenomenon in the To the Stars Academy? TTSA moves the needle. Even if they really are UFO people in disguise, they still seem legit to those who are neutral or don’t think a lot about the subject. TTSA challenges the status quo because its leaders look like the status quo.
Challenging the status quo also means to challenge the Pattern itself. This urgently needs to happen because the Pattern holds back the progress of ufology. No matter the ultimate fate of the TTSA, progress is paramount. For this reason, the Pattern’s destructive effects must be recognized and addressed.
This is an absolute must even if from a purely personal perspective (as opposed to a societal one), I don’t need anyone to believe I saw anything unusual. I also don’t need disclosure or confirmation. Yes, a close friend’s father who was visiting Switzerland saw bizarre lights in the sky that same night. Yes, I was told about local radio chatter even though some Swiss authorities were dismissing it all as an unusual weather event. Yes, the December 2017 New York Times article was gratifying for many people who have experienced the Phenomenon. And no doubt, doubly so for those who have experienced both the Phenomenon and the wrong end of the Pattern.
I already know what I saw and at the same time have absolutely no idea what I saw. Were they real? Certainly, no less real than the keyboard or computer screen in front of me. But then again how real are these everyday things that few ever question after their one mandatory college philosophy course? Were the aerial objects real enough to take me for a spin in the clouds? I don’t actually know, yet seriously doubt it. So where does that doubt take me? If anyone with credibility knows with certainty, they’re not sharing. Which won’t stop any of us from formulating a model that works, at least for our own purposes. I’m no different.
I don’t claim my ideas are new or shake the earth. But I suspect Descartes did us no favors. Dualism is a trap. This way of thinking seems to slowly be on the way out. Good riddance. I’m not overly interested in whether what I saw was material or immaterial. Maybe it was both, but maybe not at the same time. I’m also not interested in whether an extraterrestrial hypothesis or a consciousness theory is correct. I favor the latter, but I suspect that in some spectacularly strange way, both views are correct. And also that we are a very long way from having any clue to knowing why or how. Perhaps even a literally impossibly long way.
At a high-level Phenomenology, elements of Eastern philosophy and quantum physics all point towards an observer being inseparable from what is observed. The observer influences what they observe. Actually, as a pantheist, I don’t believe any part is separable from the whole. Regardless of illusions indicating otherwise, whatever everything is, it is one thing. The UFOs, beasts, fairies and ghosts change shapes and characteristics over what we perceive as time, all of them being connected in ways we can’t grasp. Through it all, as noted by the likes of Jacques Vallee and Patrick Harpur, the Phenomenon itself persists.
As does the Pattern, being a powerful deterrent to the UFO dialogue. If no one fully understands what is going on, excluding the stories persons of color have to tell is not helping us get any closer to comprehending the Phenomenon.
- Chris Blake