Did a Law Professor Claim the 2017 Solar Eclipse is ‘Racist’?

Two conservative web sites grossly misrepresent the content of a lyric essay in the Atlantic magazine.

Image via Ashwin Kumar/Wikimedia Commons


Law professor Alice Ristroph wrote in the Atlantic magazine that the 2017 solar eclipse, its path, or those who view it, are "racist."



In August 2017, two right-wing web sites reported that a law professor had said the 2017 Solar Eclipse was “racist.”

First, on 20 August, the Daily Caller published an article headlined “The Eclipse is Racist Because it Fails to Affect Enough Black People, the Atlantic Suggests.”

The Atlantic, a once-great magazine, has determined that the total eclipse of the sun due to occur on Monday will fail to affect enough black people.

The following day, the Conservative Tribune claimed:

Are you looking forward to Monday’s solar eclipse — the first full eclipse to hit the United States in decades? You filthy, filthy racist. That’s at least the take of Brooklyn Law School professor Alice Ristroph, who used a staggering 4,544 words in The Atlantic to explaining why the phenomenon of the moon blocking the sun just wasn’t diverse enough for her tastes.

Both web sites are referring to an essay by Alice Ristroph, who is indeed a professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York. The essay, originally published in Democracy with the title “Blackout,” and republished by the Atlantic on 18 August, does not say say or even imply that the eclipse or the path of totality are racist. Nor does Ristroph say or imply that the eclipse will not be visible to “enough” black people, or that those who choose to view the eclipse are racists. 

Instead, Ristroph has written a lyric essay that uses the path of totality as a literary mechanism to explore the United States’ troubled racial history. The path of totality crosses a swath of the United States in which there live “almost no black people.” Ristroph is clear that this is a coincidence, but she uses the fact as an opportunity to examine the historical reasons that some of those areas remain almost all white. Along the way, she discusses different visions of “totality,” such as Oregon’s original goal of being an all-white state, or General William Tecumseh Sherman’s vision of “total war” during the U.S. Civil War. 

At no point does Ristroph use the word “racist”, and she explicitly makes the (blindingly obvious) point that the eclipse itself does not harbor any racial prejudice:

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.

The Daily Caller and Conservative Tribune’s misguided interpretations of Ristroph’s essay suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of it. 

  • Ristroph, Alice.  “Blackout.”
      Democracy.  14 August 2017.

  • Ristroph, Alice.  “American Blackout.”
      Atlantic.  18 August 2017.

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