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The biggest detriment to being an adult nerd is the requisite of picking and choosing the avenues down which your nerdom can traverse. Let’s face it: we’re [mostly] insanely busy adults and we only have 24 hours per the Earth’s rotation, so prioritization is a necessity. Between daytime job, participating in science-based awesomeness, running a writing group, and occasionally diving into sinkholes, a lady has to sadly let some things fall by the wayside. That being said, you can imagine my numerous rounds of self-immolation when I discovered that I missed the Trek Con in Chicago last weekend. I’m staring at my NCC-1701 pizza cutter wondering if I deserve such a magnificent tool.

In a hasty and half-assed attempt to redeem myself to my Gateway Nerd Drug, I perused the Trek Con’s website, an action which was pretty much me pouring more salt on the proverbial wound of epic failage. Somewhere between the $40 general admission tags and the $1,200 VIP packages, I began to feel better for being a fiscally responsible adult and not blowing what sadly constitutes as a paycheck on a crumpled up piece of paper containing Jonathan Frakes’ signature. Then I stumbled across the Photo Ops Section and discovered Avery Brooks/Michael Dorn duo option. My heart jumped and sank simultaneously, jumping at the chance of being photographed with Sisko and Worf, and kicking itself for incredibly poor planning for missing said opportunity. Something else occurred to me as well. Why were Sisko and Worf featured as a collective photo op? True, Worf had been reassigned to DS9 after being promoted to Lieutenant Commander (more on the asininity of Worf’s promotion ceremony in a later post), but the majority of Trek fans know him from TNG as the sole earth-adopted Klingon in Federation history. Then another realization hit me:

Avery Brooks and Michael Dorn were the only two regularly occurring, senior-ranking people of color that the Trekverse introduced to my generation. I also recalled that, more often than not, they were constantly questioned, criticized, second-guessed and subject to ridicule and/or caricaturization. Oh, and they tended to get their asses beat more often than not. A very odd portrayal of life beyond racism, isn’t it?

Now, there is no denying that Gene Roddenberry created what was a radical concept in 1966: all of humanity looking past racism, sexism and Communism in order to reach a greater purpose and fulfilling our inner desire to push our boundaries and explore that Final Frontier. There is no denying that Roddenberry created what would become an international phenomenon which would permeate every aspect of human culture from literature to merchandising to college courses to NASA’s Space Program. It was a radical notion, and as a black woman and a giant nerd, I am forever grateful to Gene Roddenberry for creating a future in which, as Whoopi Goldberg once said, “I knew that I was going to be there”. Which is why it pains me to say, Mr. Roddenberry, but you and your successors still have a long way to go before you truly encapsulate everything for which the Federation stands.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize the great risk that Roddenberry took in presenting this story to various studios. A ship crewed by a half-human science officer who is also 2nd in command, a skilled, competent, and beautiful black woman as a communications officer, and GASP! and is also piloted by a descendant of Japanese warriors and Russian whiz kid?! In 1966, this concept was more than enough to make the everyday American grandmother clutch her pearls and fret over the fate of her beloved society. But that was 1966…and while TOS is rife with its own issues of racism and sexism, not much has changed in the 47 years since it first graced CBS’ airwaves.

So, in developing this radical idea of peace and unity amidst the tribes of men [and women], where did Gene Roddenberry go wrong? To this avid Trekker, he went wrong where many WHMs go wrong to this very day: he doubted that the human race could socially evolve to the point of seeing color without automatically assigning it to a hierarchy. Confused? Don’t fret. We don’t put that much analysis into our biases because they are so ingrained into our mentalities that they have become almost second nature. There is also the inherent and understandable reluctance towards calling yourself an asshole in any situation, including and especially in those in which you know you’re being one. Human interaction tends to be rooted primarily in conditional logic, racism being the poster child example of such. “If he is white, then he is good. If he is black, then he is lazy.” By removing X, you remove any implications of Y. “We’re not white, black, red, yellow or brown. We’re all human.” was Roddenberry’s message, and it was a message that was pounded into us with every episode of TOS.

At the time, one could argue that it was necessary to spread this color blind message due to the rampant atrocities suffered by black Americans, as well as the constant fear of nuclear annihilation perpetuated by our own government. TOS provided refuge, a quick fix, an escape, to/from all of the fear-mongering that was polluting the American psyche in the 1960s. So where is the problem with this? Well, a “quick” fix is just that, isn’t it? It’s a “let’s tie this cloth around this leaky pipe until we can get around to repairing the damage”. A quick fix is the easy resolve, the band-aid on the broken leg, the “cover up the gaping hole in the couch so we don’t have to look at it” solution. The quick fix is America’s desired fix, for it is always easier to change one’s ideas than the mean(s) and method(s) upon which one develops his/her ideas. Guess what, folks? Life, like pimpin’, ain’t easy, and that is what DS9 brought to the table…which made everyone get up and leave the restaurant.

[Head’s up – my focus will be on DS9 since I have not seen Enterprise.]

In my opinion, DS9 failed to capture the average Trekker’s adulation for the following reasons:

DS9 tackled on a cavalcade of complicated social issues, particularly racism (Cardassians), sexism (Ferengi), rebellions (the Maquis), and a major galactic war (the Dominion); all issues that Roddenberry proclaimed to have eliminated from his Utopian, disturbingly clean universe…and it tackled these complicated social issues with a black man at the helm.

As I mentioned before, Trekkers embrace the ideology of a post-racial society because conditional thinking demands it as the only option conquering to the 40 Acres and a Mule legacy. To have a black man, and not just any black man, but the black man who was known in Hollywood for breaking legs and converting white supremacists, a man who was unapologetically, unabashedly, undoubtedly black to take on the role as head of a Star Trek show practically spat in the faces of every doey-eyed “post-race” Trekker of the X and Y Generations. And then he had to go and punch Q. That was it. Avery Brooks had, at that moment, solidified the character of Benjamin Sisko as a man in the future who was black, who was in charge, and who was adamant about the distinction between him and the beloved, quasi-robotic Jean-Luc Picard. The collective post-racial Trekker Braintrust broke into a million little pieces.

DS9 dared to challenge conditional thinking by giving us a more adult, and consequently more complicated, vision of humanity in the future…and it did it with a predominantly minority cast.

So, here you are, on an old Cardassian space station forced to deal with several species, of which some of their respective members are outwardly hostile, all because the collective species on the other side of the one stable slingshot across the galaxy are genocidal maniacs. How do you deal with this day-in, day-out tension without breaking down and causing an all-out ‘73 Attica-like riot on a giant space frisbee?

You snark; you scoff; you lecture; you listen, or you don’t; you drink with friends; you get into career-threatening fights; you make poor choices (and suffer from their ramifications); you create loopholes in treaties; you sleep; you dream; you plan; you play; you compromise; you socialize; you live and you learn.

TOS gave us the childlike excitement of exploration; TNG gave us the ministry of spreading an existentialism that caused us to rethink the definition of humanity; DS9 gave us the ramifications of pursuing both, and unlike TOS and TNG, it did not spare its Caucasian characters from the repercussions of their actions. White Privilege did not exist on DS9 because DS9 presented a future in which being white (or being any color, ethnicity, species, etc.) did not make you special in any way, shape or form. Now, I’m not going to delve into the rationales behind and the ubiquitous purveyance of White Privilege at this moment; I’ll have many more opportunities to do so in this blog. What I will simply say is that using one of the bastions of modern American Science Fiction to point out to the WHM Nerd Collective that they are just as accountable for their thoughts, decisions, and actions as the rest of us, that they’re NOT special, is going to cause a massive backlash within said bastion’s community. Remember what I said about earlier about pointing out that you’re being an asshole? Here’s the caveat: just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to and shouldn’t be done.

So what does the future of Star Trek behold for POCs? Now that JJ Abrams is bringing his patented brand of lens flare and handicapped story structure to the Dark Side, will we finally have a reboot that combines the cooperation of Roddenberry with the diversity and complexity of Braga and Berman? Or will we be subjected to another White-Does-Right space cowboy romp in which he’s waving his 10-gallon Privilege hat as he rides his undeserving Galaxy-class starship around the Alpha Quadrant bringing “enlightenment” to the masses?

Despite its record, this Trekker remains optimistic that, one day, the Trekverse will produce, and the Nerdsphere will embrace, a show in which cooperation is embraced; biases are addressed; ramifications are realistic; and your tea is always Earl Grey and hot.

Transporter Room? Hope to beam up.

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2 Comments

  1. A great essay, DS9 stands high in my esteem, I wonder though, what credit do you give to Braga, who is usually credited with keeping Voyager fluffy, light and low-continuity?

  2. Terrific post. All the reasons you list why it’s not adored are the reasons that make me want to watch DS9 again, start to finish. It definitely deserves to be more highly regarded among Trek fans (I feel that that is even more imperative, given the execrable Abrams alternate universe “Star Trek”, which I loathe).


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