Friday • 2016.04.08
Why Star Trek is Always the Most Important Show on Television
There is a very special place in space and time that (to me) symbolizes diversity, and always will.
Three white men are in charge of it, although one is slightly greenish and has pointed ears. A Japanese man drives for them, and a black woman answers their phones. There’s a Scottish repair man, and they have a Russian guy who fires the guns or whatever.
If you believe in the larger universe retroactively cast behind the crew of the original Enterprise, then the prevalence of whiteness and the rather conspicuously uneven distribution of job responsibilities of their senior staff was simply the outcome of random chance. In reality, it was caused by racist 1966 Hollywood writing and casting.
Critically though, each of them treated each other with professional respect, and this was very important to all of them. They live in a world clearly built around basic values of equity and social justice.
As a white boy from a white family in a mostly white neighborhood and school, the racial dynamics of the starship Enterprise were obscured by my privilege. I did therefore grow up with the uninhibited opportunity to identify equally with everyone on the show. This is an experience I now realize a lot of people didn’t get to share, which I know they tried to fix over time and will hopefully rectify further in the future. But for me, Star Trek was there when I needed it, and it was profoundly important.
Throughout childhood I had access to a world where being smart was not only okay, but encouraged; Not at all like primitive 20th-century elementary school. The United Federation of Planets was my favorite big little world, my home-away-from-home when home got scary or uncomfortable.
That world got bigger with Star Trek: The Next Generation. It became a place where a person with the “bad face” of a past enemy has become a trusted friend, like family, just because that’s what he happens to be about as a person. It was a place where a black man born blind has fewer barriers to unleashing his wicked-brilliant talent and becoming a leader, because his world is made hyper-accessible by technology. It was a place where a strong feminine blonde woman is in charge of firing the guns and running the whole of security, just because she’s capable and she got there first.
This place, where different never automatically meant wrong or bad, was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced in my life. I wanted to live there so badly, I felt like I had been born in the wrong time.
As a geeky little queer boy in the 90’s, with no friends (from no lack of trying), Star Trek helped me push through a lot of difficult times. Now as a transgender woman, I realize even more how important Star Trek’s depictions of diversity have been for so many people.
In Star Trek, a woman Captain can trust in her crew’s full and unwavering confidence, even in devastating circumstances. Where she can succeed even when she’s angry, upset, sad, or lonely like I would be in her situation.
In Star Trek, an awesomely bad-ass black man doesn’t need to defend or explain himself against deniers when he calls out and talks about the oppression of his ancestors. He can succeed as a single dad, and lead as a Captain without anyone questioning his authority or his judgement, even when saving the Alpha Quadrant and the Federation way of life means taking extreme measures.
In Star Trek, it’s who you are that matters; what you are just happens to be universally accepted. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work in the United Federation of Planets, our favorite fictional utopia. I think that’s how it should work here in the 21st century too.
With a new Star Trek series set to premier in January 2017 and headed by Bryan Fuller, we have a renewed chance to reach toward the right kind of future. Let’s not miss that chance.