Dear Navvab and Nolan (my children),
When I was around your age, I had this total obsession with space.
Star Trek, the Next Generation was my escape from reality. A reality where no matter how much I tried to blend in, my physical and cultural differences made me a constant target.
Picard and his diverse crew of upstanding officers showed me a glimpse into the future – a future that I could look forward to, without the bullies, bigotry, and racism. Where different beings worked together to solve difficult problems; where leaders were virtuous and admirable; where individuals (organic and synthetic) were valued for their inherent potential and for the merit of their deeds.
I really wanted to be on that ship. I really wanted to fly into outer space – to be part of all that.
Since my childhood, my heart has always been captured by space exploration. Today, NASA and SpaceX represent the faint hopes of that scrawny brown kid in Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia, who wasn’t happy with the way things were. A kid who just wanted to be teleported to the bridge of the Enterprise, where everything made sense.
Yesterday, we watched a tremendous launch. The first hu-manned SpaceX flight. I’m excited to see that the two of you are also enamored with the wonders of space…and Star Trek. I think I might have had something to do with that (wink/smile).
However, as you know, while this was all going on in Florida, Americans were flooding their streets in protests across the country. These protests were not like the organized, friendly, upbeat demonstrations that you’ve been part of in Ottawa. The protests currently underway in America are awash with rage and sadness expressed through violence and destruction.
To put it mildly, people are VERY frustrated.
They are frustrated because, George Floyd (a Black man) was murdered by a police officer in broad daylight and before the gaze of bystanders who advocated on Floyd’s behalf.
Mr. Floyd also pled for his own life, “I can’t breathe.”
They are frustrated because this type of dehumanizing violence towards Black people has happened many times before:
- Rodney King.
- Eugene Williams.
- The Central Park Five.
- Tamir Rice.
- Trayvon Martin.
- Sandra Bland.
- Breonna Taylor.
- Eric Garner.
- Ahmaud Arbery.
- Christian Cooper.
These are just a select few, but I want you to look them up and learn about their stories.
I want you to learn why Trevor Noah would say that the bodies of Black Americans are “being looted.” The brutality and blatant disregard for Black life in America seems to have become so normal that sometimes it’s hard to believe anything has really changed in the last half-century.
Let me explain why I said, “last half-century.”
It’s a tragic irony, but on July 16, 1969, a civil rights leader named Ralph Abernathy led a band of roughly 500 protesters outside the Kennedy Space Center, a few days before the launch of Apollo 11.
Remember, Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first humans on the Moon. A great moment in human history. It was the lunar landing that Neil Armstrong described as “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Yet, some 384,000 km back on the Earth, civil rights activists disagreed. This was no leap at all. This was a slap in the face of Black Americans struggling to survive on Earth, while white men launched from their platform of privilege and comfort into outer space.
During the peaceful protest at the Kennedy Space Center, Reverend Abernathy met with NASA administrator, Thomas O. Paine. Paine later described his encounter like this:
“We were coatless, standing under a cloudy sky, with distant thunder rumbling, and a very light mist of rain occasionally falling. After a good deal of chanting, oratory and lining up, the group marched slowly toward us, singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ In the lead were several mules being led by the Rev. Abernathy, Hosea Williams and other leading members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The leaders came up to us and halted, facing Julian [Scheer] and myself, while the remainder of the group walked around and surrounded us…. One fifth of the population lacks adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care, [Rev. Abernathy] said. The money for the space program, he stated, should be spent to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend the sick, and house the shelterless.”
That was more than 50 years ago. What have we achieved since then?
Remember last week when we watched that Netflix show, “History 101”? Remember the episode about The Space Race, where they showed those infographics with the cleverly added estimates for “solving the global food crisis” and “eradicating world poverty”? Remember how they said that every year the global price tag for space exploration is $62 Billion and that the International Space Station is the most expensive object created by humans ($120 Billion). If you don’t remember, I’ve included the infographics below.
Obviously, where there is a will there is a way. You know that saying?
But is there a will to address these systemic and persistent forms of injustice? Are governments willing to spend billions and to bend all their resources towards fighting racism and inequality?
What have we really achieved since 1969? And as much as I’d love to see the starship Enterprise launch on its maiden voyage – at what cost? Would Picard’s Federation welcome our planet into its fold as we are today?
I don’t think so.
Yesterday, after the launch, the President of the United States stood before the public, flanked on both sides by the NASA logo, and gave this speech . Only a few minutes into it, President Trump said, “I stand before you as a friend and ally, to every American seeking justice and peace, and I stand before you in firm opposition to anyone exploiting this tragedy to loot, rob, attack, and menace.” He was clearly referring to the outraged protesters.
He continued, “Healing not hatred, justice not chaos, are the mission at hand…the memory of George Floyd is being dishonoured by rioters, looters, and anarchists.” The speech goes on and on, and frankly, it’s all quite infuriating because it’s tone deaf to the history of Black oppression in America. It fails to acknowledge the lived experiences of generations upon generations.
You know that I’ve always said not to attack individuals, but to focus on ideas and issues. This isn’t about President Trump, it’s about his words, what they mean, and how they hurt.
So for me, that NASA logo is now tainted. I’m no longer proud of what’s happening up there in space.
Kids, I know this letter is very long, but there is so much that needs to be said and so much that I want you to learn and pay attention to. Yes, space exploration is cool and the future of humanity would be so awesome if we could overcome our prejudices and social inequalities, to emerge as a United Federation working to “better ourselves and the rest of humanity”.
But that’s not where we are right now.
Trust me when I say that getting to Mars is as easy as pancakes. The Moon is a slice of pie. The most difficult mission at hand, my children, is the fight for justice and human welfare here on Earth. Let’s make giant leaps in these matters, and then I promise you that everything else will be that much easier and SO much more rewarding.