STAR TREK ATTEMPTING TO FIGHT RACIAL BARRIERS

index“Star Trek, the final frontier”, this is the statement at the beginning of the show. While I believe that this show on a ship named “Enterprise” is about in most respects  commercialism and colonial advancement, it does attempt to break the racial barriers of the 1960’s.

With the crew of 400 on board the ship and hurtling through space, it attempts to show people of different ethnicities working together.  The first inter-racial kiss on television was in “Plato’s Step-children” from 1968. This kiss, between Kirk and Uhura, in the 1960’s at the height of the equal rights movement was a daring move by the shows creative staff. The contraversy brought into play by this kiss gave much attention to the fact that racial equality is important and in the future will be gone.

Yes, I know he is the white captain of the ship, but the crew was made up of others whose roles in the maintain of the ship and crew were of different races (even alien to Earth, Spock). Eventually in future spin-offs and movies there are female captains and admirals of different races and alien cultures.

While there is evident racism in this series and maybe not be as direct in the questioning of racism as the movie from 1967 “Guess Whose Coming To Dinner” with Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier, it still was fighting the gender and racial stereo-types that were very much ingrained in society at the time. Taking baby steps the same as in learning to fly before going into space. Not perfect but an attempt to change the landscape of television of the 1960’s.

While some were played by actors not necssarily of that race (Scotty and Checkov),  Sulu and Uhura were Japanese and black. These were the boundary pushing attempts to “boldly go were no one has gone before”.

5 thoughts on “STAR TREK ATTEMPTING TO FIGHT RACIAL BARRIERS”

  1. While it is hard to put racism out of the picture altogether even in todays show I think that Star Trek made a very good effort. I agree that in showing people of all different race together was a wonderful first step. Something that I like even more about this is that there is no obvious attempt to bring it to attention that those members of the crew were of different race. There is no attempt to push the audience to see, well look here see these people are of a different race. Which I found refreshing since no chacater acts like it is out of the ordinary that they are there, all their interactions were very natural. I wish some of the sexism was less obvious but it is better handled in later series.

  2. I agree with kseifrit. The fact that the characters are simply crew members, and not specifically identified as “black” or “Asian” or “female” crew members, speaks loudly of the creators’ aim of inclusivity. In later series, when we have (more or less) agreed that people of all cultures and ethnicities and genders should have equal rights and opportunities, the issue of equality was explored through constructed life and AI- like Data on The Next Generation or the holographic doctor on Voyager. TNG even produced a few interesting (if somewhat less serious than the of issue Data’s autonomy) episodes featuring a holographic Moriarty, constructed by Data as part of a Sherlock Holmes holodeck program, who becomes self-aware.
    The inclusion of prominent characters who are traditionally enemies in the Star Trek universe takes the issue in another direction. Characters like Worf, a Klingon, and Seven of Nine, a Borg, suggest an optimism that we can overcome old hatreds.
    The various Star Trek series consistently encouraged viewers to consider what it means to be equal and autonomous and what boundaries still exist.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post 🙂

  3. This is a great example of what we had addressed in class about SF’s creation of dystopias and utopias out of conscious experimentation and by means of exemplifying goals that are being driven towards in contemporary society. Although the interracial kiss and the inclusion of a diverse set of ethnic backgrounds shows some sort of a dissolvent to racist sentiments, I do not see the racism ceasing to an abrupt end right at this moment. Uhura, in the first episodes of Star Trek is disenfranchised from the great positions of power in which the white men aboard the ship are granted. Because Uhura is the only African character in the series during this time, we rely on the way that she is represented to cast a reflection of the entire African race. First, Uhura is limited to the role of a telephone operator, a job that could be assigned to just about anyone no matter what their intellectual capacity is. More interestingly, The image of Uhura sitting at the back of the bridge inevitably draws our attention to the Rosa Parks incident in 1955. Uhura is not presented with the same integrity projected by Rosa Parks who had refused to conform to society’s hierarchy that placed black people at the bottom and farthest away from the forefront. This is interesting as it seems now an attempt on behalf of the creator of Star Trek, to ignore the progression that had been achieved through Parks.
    With this in mind, do you think that Uhura’s kiss could be viewed as a digression of African sentiment, where Uhura simply represents an objectified image of lust and unintelligence?

  4. This episode was ahead of its time and not just because it is set in a futuristic time. That horrible joke was unfortunately intended. The writers really brought forward the idea of racial equality and how it is not a farfetched thing but a movement that is supported and related to the familiar faces of the crew members of The Enterprise. Although it was controversial at the time, it remains a milestone in television history. I think it was very gutsy and noble for the creators of Star Trek to make this move in a time where open-mindedness was not always present. The show had such a large following that the impact of the episode must have been astronomical.
    I think it is very easy for us to look back and judge moments in our history because they do not live up to our present day expectations. Unfortunately, equality has not fully been achieved in the present, but I think that it is important to see how far we have come and acknowledge those that went against discrimination no matter how primitive it may seem at this point in time. Context is key.

  5. Star Trek was ahead of its time in many of its aspects. I think that it did put forth quite an effort within its own fan base to try to change their points of view on race. It is apparent that Star Trek had a very utopian view in terms of race and the multi-racial crew on board. Which at the time was not common. As mentioned in the post the show does have elements of racism, however, this was not uncommon at the time. Therefore, looking at that aspect with time relevance, is less important. The kiss however, I agree was ground breaking and made a huge impact as well as much controversy at the time.

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