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 told him about what I saw in the early evening sky above Zurich, Switzerland, in 2009. Living in a small rooftop apartment, I noticed 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. A second before had only been the 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 UFO Phenomenon, whatever else 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. Smartphones 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?
I’ve never experienced an apparition or what most people would likely call a ghost or spirit. But the example in the thought experiment is appropriate. For me, the term “Phenomenon” means any seemingly “paranormal” event at any point in our known history that cannot be explained. At least not to the satisfaction of a mentally competent, reasonably reliable witness or otherwise, by earnest, objective scientific investigation. However, for immediate purposes, my focus is specifically on the UFO experience of the Phenomenon.
Some purported witnesses of the UFO Phenomenon actually do attempt to take photos. For various reasons, almost certainly not all of them having to do with equipment and technical skill, the results usually disappoint. Writers such as George Hansen have long suggested that the Phenomenon is a “trickster” toying with the witness. Always almost revealing itself, but again always, not quite. Or, in my own view, perhaps the human realm of collective reality (including cameras) is not yet capable of suspending the required layers of disbelief to manifest a crystal clear photo of a UFO. 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 UFO 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 once 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 was generally positive no matter how well educated. 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 evident 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 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 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 an 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.
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 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 question which bias has the potential to cause more significant harm? To be blunt, I suspect in America mainly; whites are also more likely to believe other whites that claim an experience with the Phenomenon.
The stories seem infinite, of white people doing idiotic things to persons of color who are simply engaged in the most basic aspects of American life. Poolside Pete. BBQ Becky. Permit Patty. Cornerstore Caroline. Most people of color will be familiar with these nicknames and the various absurd racial profiling tales that 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, I’m frequently assumed to be a thief, no matter where I am. The security of wallets and handbags is urgently checked. 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 any 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 fundamental 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 more impoverished 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. Those quickest to scoff may 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 in this topic. However, I’m not claiming they don’t believe stories told by persons of color. No matter their race, religion, or economic status, UFO people 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. As suggested by a recent article, it is much more likely they will be eager to compare sightings and experiences. The author of the article (a female person of color) became concerned about discrimination in Ufology after prominent figures involved with the Mutual UFO Network (an international UFO research organization) were mired in allegations of racism, homophobia, and making slurs against Jews and Catholics. Ultimately she found solace in that everyday UFO people seemed to accept her simply because of a shared interest in the Phenomenon. “Everyone is welcome here, no matter what you look like or believe,” one person told her. Still, no matter how many UFO people 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 how the culture collectively thinks or deems worthy of believing or investigating. In other words, UFO people are unable to challenge the status quo. Sound Ufology must be included in any way forward. Despite all the shameless profiteers, hoaxers, and charlatans, the UFO community’s best 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 any wonder that Ufology has not moved the culture’s needle after decades of study? But governmental officials of both major US political parties (including John Podesta and John Ratcliffe) acknowledge the Phenomenon’s reality, at least as a mystery requiring investigation? Mainstream media coverage by virtually all the major newspapers and cable news channels? And, of course, the eyewitness reports of military officers, such as former Navy pilot Comdr. David Fravor? All of those moves the needle. Avi Loeb, a Harvard professor of astronomy, writing about the first known interstellar object (named Oumuamua) to enter earth’s solar system, possibly being alien technology? That moves the needle. Bob Bigelow, the hotel magnate and founder of Bigelow Aerospace, could say he was certain aliens exist and have visited earth 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 placed their hopes of advancing our understanding of the Phenomenon in ‘To The Stars Academy’ (TTSA), a “public benefit corporation” established to facilitate UFO research? At least before three significant and well-connected figures left the organization. Luis Elizondo, former director of an only recently disclosed Pentagon program studying unidentified aerial phenomena, Christopher Mellon, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Steve Justice, a former Director of Advanced Systems Development at Lockheed Martin, definitely moved the needle. Even if they were UFO people in disguise, they still seemed legitimate to those who are neutral or don’t think a lot about the subject. TTSA challenged the status quo because its leaders looked like the status quo.
Challenging the status quo also means challenging 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’s now more entertainment development-focused incarnation, progress is paramount. For this reason, the Pattern’s destructive effects must be recognized and addressed.
I already know what I saw and, at the same time, have no idea what I saw. Were they real? Indeed 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 know, yet I 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.
Whatever the case, the Pattern has been and still is 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 UFO Phenomenon.
Follow and connect with Chris Blake on Twitter:@Chris3lb