The Inherent Racism of Star Trek

By: Peter Sessum

Spock: It is only logical Captain, you are a racist. McMcoy: “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a Klansmen.” Admit it, you used the voices in your head.

When you say that Star Trek is racist, geeks around the world freak out. They want to point out the diversity in the Federation and lament on how a black woman was fifth in command of the Enterprise in the original series. How can it be racist?

It isn’t the Federation that makes Star Trek racist; it is how the rest of the universe is perceived. The Federation is diverse and open, but every other race is exactly the same. Humans can be whatever they want, adventurers, scientists, farmers or whatever tickles their fancy. Every Klingon is a warrior. A Klingon scientist is rejected by their society and seen as lesser. A human scientist is regarded as an expert in their field, a Klingon scientist is viewed with suspicion and treated like a powder keg waiting to explode because his or her Klingon instincts cannot be controlled for long.

So Klingons are obviously darkies. Full of passion and angry and warlike. Vulcans are the Japanese, all logical and unemotional. Until Pon Far, and then all the repression explodes in a fury of passion. Romulans are the Chinese (Yeah, think about it) and are believed to have shared ancestry with Vulcans. How racist is that? Or course they would think that all Asians are alike. How can people in two different parts of space share roots? To travel to distant planets requires a certain level of technology, so wouldn’t they have some form of records to say that they seeded two different planets? That would not make them Vulcans and Romunalns, they would be whatever it was that they came from. You would think the anal retentive Vulcans would have kept those records.

I am sure you can figure out who some of the other races are. Short, big nose, only care about money, that is the Ferengi. They will do anything for money and if a Ferengi wants to do anything that doesn’t make a lot of money, they are an outcast. Yeah, that isn’t offensive at all.

Why is this on a veterans website? Two reasons. First, this is the shit we talk about on those long nights on guard shift or on downtime during missions. Despite the perception, not all soldiers are hard charging killers. There are plenty of geeks and nerds. Sure, they can shoot you from 1,000 yards away, but they are still geeks at heart. I have had better conversations discussing possibilities of faster than light travel with military members than with civilians.

The other reason why this is here is because that is how we as Americans view the world. Americans are individuals, but everyone else is all the same. An American goes on a shooting spree and we are quick to point out that is the actions of an individual, but hear about a suicide bomber and the reaction is, “They are all like that.” This is evident in Star Trek when a rogue captain goes into the Neutral Zone, the Enterprise will say that there is no call for war, it is the actions of one man. But let a Romulan ship skirt too close to the Neutral Zone and suddenly it is an act of war.

Americans support the profiling of Arabs, Afghans and Muslims in general with the idea that while not all Muslims are suicide bombers, all suicide bombers are Muslims. Tell the same person that not all white Christians are members of the KKK but all members of the KKK are white Christians and they will be offended. Start treating all white Christians as racists and they will get pissed.

After my first deployment to Afghanistan I sat down with three individuals that would describe themselves as informed, educated and best, left leaning. I heard things like, “They don’t want us there.”

Really? I had to ask how many Afghans they had met and talked to. You can find people in Montana that don’t want the government to tax them can you say about all Americans “They hate the government.” The Afghans did some major damage to the Soviets, the fact that I am alive is proof that not ALL Afghans don’t want us in their country. I have been face-to-face with literally over a thousand Afghans, just in tribal diversity alone there is no one “They” when talking about Afghans.

Of course you won’t see that by sitting on the couch watching television. And it would be difficult have a deeper understanding of the rich culture and diversity of Afghanistan when the country is viewed from behind a gun sight. I admit my perspective is different because my job was to build rapport and to understand the people and culture. I left the conversation laughing about how my year drinking tea with the locals was somehow equal to one person watching a two-hour special on TV.

Putting large numbers of people into a single category is not only a disservice to the people, but can also lead to critical mistakes. Treat an enemy too friendly and they can get close enough to stab you in the back. Treat an ally like an enemy and you will destroy trust and cost a good relationship.

This is where you can take your Mom’s advice and treat everyone the way you want to be treated. You would not want to be treated based on a negative previous experience with Americans. A little cultural awareness goes a long way toward making friends. If you build that rapport, give them your respect. If someone still insists on being a bad guy, give them your bullets. It may be cultural awareness, but it is still a fucking combat zone. You still have an obligation to try and get home alive.

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9 Responses to The Inherent Racism of Star Trek

  1. Aaron says:

    Ok… now do an argument against your original argument… Argue that Star Trek isn’t racist. Once you’ve done both you’ll see the full truth.


    • psessum says:

      Orrrr, you could.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aaron says:

        I think the OP should do both for the purpose of being unbiased if i did against i’d have to do fore too. He’s already halfway there.


        • psessum says:

          Did you read the whole way through? The first part has two purposes. It points out that military members are not a bunch of mindless robots waiting for missions, we sit around a discuss stupid stuff. It also sets up the second half o the argument.

          If you would like to counter the an argument, you can make a comment or write your own counter piece and I will post it. But I am not going to jump through hoops for you.


  2. Kyle Allen says:

    There’s an interesting moment in “Day of the Dove” when Kirk tries to get Kang to release control of the ship by threatening to execute his wife. Kang ignores him, and Mara looks amazed that Kirk didn’t actually do it and says something about Federation death camps and war crimes against civilians. Turns out Klingons know next to nothing about humans except what they hear in the propaganda broadcasts.

    OTOH, the spinoffs and the movies treat the Klingons as being basically Pashtuns with starships. They have a rigid code of honor that’s supposed to be totally sacred to them, only half of them apply huge creativity in their private interpretation of “honor,” the other half ignore it altogether, and one in twenty (Worf, for instance) takes it deadly seriously.

    I think we’d all like to see more of that in science fiction: recognition of the fact that self-serving assholes are evenly distributed among all species and all races and the rest of us are just trying to do our jobs without getting killed.


  3. blah says:

    I agree that Klingons became a little too homogeneous after TOS. The problem is because we had Worf – and we got to know Worf’s sense of honor and duty really well, eventually, writers forgot to really make much out of Klingons other than that. In the Kirk movies and show, the Klingons are a lot more human like. In the first episode with Klingons Kirk gets information out of a Klingon by threatening to kill the Klingon – this is something that wouldn’t remotely work in newer Klingons as we know they’re all warriors and all warriors would rather die than give information to the enemy. Regardless – I don’t think your argument should be taken seriously.


  4. All your points about individualsism wihtin a “Sterotype: of cutlure or race are well taken, and some of that goes to Trek and the mechanics of 60s or 80s TV writing. But did you ever watch DS9? By being “the show that goes nowhere” and racking up over 40 recurring characters of all species,they DID get into the cracks of individuals… Quark and Rom among Ferengis, for sure—even Zek and Ishka. Beyond Worf you had Martok, but you also even on TNG/DS9 and even Enterprise saw Klingon clerics, servants, attorneys, spouses. Cardassians are completely rich with not just “Nazis” but rebels, reformed Nazis, guilt-ridden bureacrats. The Romulans have been most neglected as “boring,” but the Romulan roots as Vulcan logic rejectionists a millenia ago is pretty well documented now, as well as their Reman subjugation/tension and their Vulcan re-unification underground—much less what happens with the post-Romulus-explosion diaspora to come.

    Even if you limit to the “cardboard villains” of TOS 60s, you get the Romulan commander and Kang/Mara as texture against the grain, yes.

    You have a good point and buddy conversations are golden, and Trek is guilty of a lot of TV shorthand. But once they get a chance to dwell, the good storytellers do take the “stereotypes’ beyond that because that’s what they’re hungry to do—and even USE such bias in the drama. IF they get the time and chance. We’ll see what Discovery brings.


  5. Bryr, mostly says:

    One of the reasons I loved Undiscovered Country was because it attempted some self-awareness of the racism in Star Trek. It wasn’t a very deep look, focusing as it did on the racist viewpoints of individual members of the crew, but as a privileged middle class white girl Trekkie in the 90s, I felt called tf out for not questioning the stereotypes. “Hardly conclusive, Mr Scott, as Klingons have no tear ducts.” And then it has that wonderfully meta bit of having Kirk and McCoy’s attorney be Worf’s grandfather, as if to say, “okay yeah, TOS was racist af, but we’re really trying to evolve.”

    Tribalism exists because it was once essential to human survival to be able to swiftly identify the “other,” and suspicion of the other more often than not meant that your group’s resources remained safe and intact. I love your example of trespass in the Neutral Zone, because that knee-jerk regression to tribal suspicion and stereotype happens when we feel threatened. I think this primal impulse is at play just below the surface for all of us at some level, to label and dehumanize the other in order to relieve ourselves of the risks inherent in empathy.

    Awesome post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. T says:

    The Star Trek series glares of racism, sexism, and other crimes against humanity. We must protest tv stations to get these shows off the air at once


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