It’s a Saturday evening. My parents have long since put away the VHS rental tapes and as the clock inches toward 11 pm, my dad gets comfortable on the floor. He also read the Sunday newspaper on the living room floor, often passing the funny section to me and the book section to me. But Saturday late night belonged to Star Trek, The Original Series. It was a time for me and my dad to bond. We talked about the differences in the alien races, about the various planets, and the decisions Captain James T. Kirk and his triad of Doctor McCoy and First Officer Spock made for the ship. Watching the series in the late 1970s and early 1980s gave us the benefit of looking back at the 1960s with distant lenses. My dad, born in 1955, grew up during the turbulent 60s and his perspective shaped those conversations around the episodes.
Those memories and conversations around race, relationships, loyalty and equality remained a part of me. In fact, the dovetailed into conversations and teaching from Dr. King, my grandmother-the late Pastor Washington, and my parents’ own instructions. When I first saw Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura, I screamed in glee. Here, a part of a senior ensemble was a Black woman. She wasn’t a prostitute, a maid, a housemaid, or madam, but a communications officer. She did other things too, like fight and sing. I watched her intensely through all the movies, too and as she aged, so did my aunties. Lieutenant Uhura became one of my aunties. I liked the triad of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, but I eagerly watched each scene Uhura appeared in. The more I saw of her, the better that episode because I was there. Me. A Black girl from a housing project in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“We stress humanity, and this is done at considerable cost. We can’t have a lot of dramatics that other shows get away with – promiscuity, greed, jealousy. None of those have a place in Star Trek. –Gene Roddenberry
The foundation and structure within my adolescents centered around the tenants of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. I wasn’t one of those Trekkies who lived and breathed Trek.
That would come later, when as a new adult, Star Trek: The Next Generation aired. Hands down, this crew was my Star Trek. Even thought the show first aired in 1987, it didn’t get going until the 1990s. They embodied so much of the 1990s, including the EMO phases, the dark places that we, as Generation X explored in depth. The things that happened to Captain Picard, would’ve never been applied to Captain Kirk, and for this TNG stretched Trek beyond its original bounds. In fact, Rick Berman and team clashed with Roddenberry on several of TNG’s storylines and plots, because well, it was the 1990s. Everything was dark. Cartoons (Tim Burton’s Batman versus the 1960s cartoonish romp.), television shows, like My So-Called Life, and movies (Heathers, The Crow, Sleepy Hollow), all pointed to exploring those negative feelings within all of us. The introduction of The Borg (who are literally decked out in black leather, who are grayed out skin and obey a single collective mind–they’re totally 90s). Star Trek: The Next Generation was the next generation. Generation X’s fingerprints are all over that series, and it didn’t stop when Deep Space Nine arrived.
Here again, I felt invigorated and more connected because here was a Black man in charge. He didn’t need a ship, but it did get more exciting when they did. However, Avery Brooks consumes each and every scene he’s in whether he’s talking or not. It was a delicious show, and one that pushed Star Trek’s vision to stretch even more. It kept asking the important questions of humanity.
We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.–Gene Roddenberry
Other shows came, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, and Star Trek: Discovery, the first to put a Black woman at the center and anchor of the show, and she’s not the captain. Two firsts for Trek. This season Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks. One explores the life after Starfleet and the other shows the hilarity of what happens below the infamous bridge. I won’t go into all of these shows and their impacts on me today, Star Trek Day, but throughout my many years since those first weeks of watching TOS with my dad, I have carried Star Trek lessons with me. No doubt the unconsciously guide my interactions with people and the connections I make with all different kinds of folks.
Time is the fire in which we burn.-Gene Roddenberry
It often confuses me when Trek fans complain that the newer versions of Star Trek are playing into politics or political correctness. My question is Have you ever watched the original series? Roddenberry was clear on this:
“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.”
So as you go forth today, September 8th, Star Trek Day, I encourage you to reflect on Gene Roddenberry’s vision of humanity–unified beings that explored the galaxy for knowledge and to grow and evolve. I seek to see the humanity in everyone, and that is hard work. But I do try.
Captain Kirk once told Mister Spock that “Everybody’s human.”
Of course, Spock noted the fallacy in the logic of various aliens being human. But, if you seek to find the humanity in everyone, it may go a long way toward equity. The large swatch of racists, violence toward Black and Brown people is rooted in dehumanization, their inability/flat out refusal to see the humanity in us.
As Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa stated at the end of the movie,Black Panther, “
We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”―T’Challa
This dovetails right back to Captain Kirk’s comment to his friend, Mister Spock, years before.
Live Long, and Prosper