Culture //

Celestial sexism and space racism

Unpacking the term 'space racism' and its defenders.

Art by Zara Paleologos.

Whether it be a credit to my Capricorn stellium or a well-developed sense of critical observation, my recent social media consumption has been overwhelmed by heated scepticism and baseless insults towards the online astrology community. An increasingly large group of sceptics have coined and weaponised the term ‘space racism’ against astrologers. While the phrase has garnered significant attention, a justification for its emergence and use is lacking. What kind of treatment had this coterie of critics endured for such a polarising, politically weighted term to have emerged? And why has it so easily slipped into the vernacular of spiritual cynics without critique? To quell these concerns, I conducted interviews with various peers, who identified anywhere on a scale of “militant opposer” to avid practicer of astrology. In these interviews, we discussed the nature of ‘space racism’ and the anger propagated throughout online mediums and social platforms against this community.

But what is astrology, and why is its practice attracting so much contention? An assortment of answers paints a distorted image, defining the practice as “a hobby” or “a religion”, even an ideological system. Officially, the western zodiac popularised across social media is recognised as a spiritual practise. Neither a mindless activity to fill space and time between more productive efforts nor a formal institution,it is a way of interpreting one’s place in the world and connecting to a higher form of self. In this regard, astrology respects a natural balance of good and bad energies, appreciating the complex layers of strengths and shortcomings which constitute each individual. Hence, with no inherent biases for one sign over the other, but all exhibiting an organic combination of positive and negative energy, astrology is fundamentally unable to propagate celestial absolutes or cosmic (zodiac) stereotypes. 

Unawareness of the true nature of astrology means that many people view the practice solely in light of its recent commodification, characterising it as a “cultish” crutch for broken, “lost”, or “sad” individuals who need a “sense of direction” to give their lives purpose. The fervent scepticism towards astrology is part of a larger history of hypercriticism against areas of interest marketed towards and primarily occupied by a female or queer demographic. Reflecting a growing anger at perceived unfair ‘prejudice’ of character, based on something no one can control; a birth date.

So, where does ‘space racism’ fit in this discussion? Celia Connolly speculates, “it could be a term calling out the white spheres of the discourse”. ‘Space racism’ invites avid astrologers  and sceptics alike to participate in a conversation to become more aware of the cultural and spiritual astrological differences of eastern and western zodiac systems. Broadly, the proliferation of commercial astrology has seen astrology adulterated into a commodity for mass consumption. Furthermore, the phrase might have been productive if it expanded discourses to the dismissal of PoC astrologers by their white counterparts, a commentary on the colonisation of spiritual identity. However, the term ‘space racism’ proved “overwhelmingly disappoint[ing”] in its intended context. It is deployed as a vehicle of unsolicited, unwarranted criticism that minimises “the experiences of people of colour and endorses a neoliberal worldview where discrimination is individual bad actors rather than a broad systemic issue”. 

After talking with my interviewees about the terminology of ‘space racism’, they were justifiably confused; Bella Henderson encapsulated these concerns by saying, “I feel like I’m missing something. I don’t understand where the connection to racism is”. And ultimately, that’s because there isn’t one. Connolly argues that the term “reduces discrimination to bad actors bullying or degrading people for natural traits they perceive as undesirable”. This disproportionately male group of opposers expound, ‘space racism’ in fact acts as a defence mechanism against fears that women will reject their romantic proposals or offers of friendship based on their sun sign. To be clear, this avoidance has not been physically actualised, only threatened, nor have potential romantic partners perpetuated actions of hostility, but instead expressed an underlying connotation of disgust. There is no connection between constellations and racism. There is no cosmic institution perpetuating racist structures and norms, enabling racial discrimination. In a nutshell, the term ‘space racism’ encompasses a personal dissatisfaction with the stereotypes surrounding a star sign and a rejection of a projection of these qualities’ onto an individual. Sceptics justify its use as a rebellious cry from beneath the weight of systematic astronomic oppression. Inarguably, this term is inappropriate and offensive. It trivialises the realities of racial discrimination experiences and turns them into a satirised metaphor, with which the (mostly female and LGBTQ+ populated) astrology community is shamed out of rejecting romantic pursuits or offers of friendship. While birth dates cannot be changed, it is not akin to experiences of racism. Connolly articulates that racism is “far more institutionalised…culturally entrenched and [the] caus[e of] great human suffering,” while astrology fails to execute any discriminatory behaviour institutionally and perpetuates negligible social harm. 

Contrary to common misconceptions, astrology allows us to map out the intricate experiences and characteristics that make us human. It provides a vessel for us to understand ourselves and each other better. Astrology does not subscribe to absolutism; like many spiritual practises, it focuses on a balance of advantages and weaknesses. This balance of flaws and strengths is exhibited through the drawing and interpretation of birth charts. Human beings are layered and complex; subjecting their entire identity to a single zodiac sign would be inaccurate and superficial. Instead, a whole chart is constructed to understand where the constellations lay in the planetary system and the corresponding houses, impacting a person’s possible life experiences or character. They depict celestial imagery of one’s life. 

At the end of the day, the sentiment of zodiac sign preference is unfounded among most dedicated astrologers. Still, ‘sign preference’ can be easily equated to male dating preferences, which are similarly satirised by groups of women subjected to them. Henderson confirms, “she wouldn’t consider [the nature of ‘sign preference’] as different to general dating preference”. However, the women subjected to the impossible heights of these normalised ‘dating preferences’, have not invented polarising terminology, reducing centuries of social, political and economic activism for racial equality to an inadequate caricature of racial discrimination. Henderson iterates that the etymology of ‘space racism’ is an “assumption [that] is inherently racist”. 

Astrology is not for everyone, and non-participation and disbelief are valid and respectable; however, the aggressively tone-deaf and insensitive critiques of the community are deplorable. The term ‘space racism’ is belittling and disrespectful to people who suffer racial injustice, rooted in patriarchal entitlement and bigoted ignorance, unfairly criticising an area of interest marketed towards and predominantly occupied by women and queer individuals. 

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