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Reforming racism by Star Trek’s example} ?> It hasn’t been that long since the massacre in Charleston, SC, where nine African-Americans died in a church because of racial prejudice. When this was brought up in conversation and I was asked to write about racism for Area of Effect, it didn’t take me too long to think of a meaningful geek parallel.
Star Trek is the first thing that came to mind, in particular, the character of Lt. Commander Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). It was absolutely unheard of to have a black woman in leadership in the 60s, yet here she was on the bridge of the Enterprise. Her leadership role at that time is part of the beauty of Science Fiction. It can speculate and forecast a possible future, argue that it is better than our own, and demonstrate its ideal under the guise of fiction.
Topics of race and equality did not stop with The Original Series but continued throughout every Star Trek series and remained the subtext of many an episode. So if we are going to glean anything from what Star Trek can teach us about processing the aftermath of Charleston, we should probably focus on the one series that explored the depths of character. It had to; I mean, they were stuck on a (mostly) stationary space station. What else is there to explore?
And I don’t care what you say, its character development is why Deep Space Nine is the series to rule them all. You can argue with me, but that won’t change that you’re wrong.
While The Original Series painted a utopian future about race no longer being an issue of inequality, Deep Space Nine took it one step further and asked, “Now what?” What should be done in the face of horrific racism that borders on genocide?
It’s the Bajorean occupation by the Cardassian Union that sets the scene for the (mostly) Federation-run Space Station. From this history we are presented with Gul Dukat, who is known to be ruthless, cunning, charismatic, and clearly views any species not Cardassian as less than his own.
Then, in Season Four, we meet Tora Ziyal, Dukat’s daughter, and everything changes.
Kira: You’re hoping she’s still alive, so you can rescue her.
Dukat: Not quite. You see… if my daughter is still alive, I’ll have no choice but to kill her.
Dukat is suddenly aware he has a daughter who is half Cardassian, half Bajorian.
He doesn’t see her as his family, but only as a weapon that his enemies will use against him, and she therefore must be expunged. At least that’s what he says until he stands before her, rifle raised, intending to relieve himself of this burden.
But then Ziyal says, “If I can’t be with you, I’d rather die.”
She steps forward, rifle against her chest, ready to have it all end here. Her father is all she has left. Cardassians will not accept her, Bajoreans will not accept her, and so she hopes that her father will become her refuge. Perhaps it is her bravery or her desperation, but something in Dukat melts and there he embraces his daughter.
Of course, it’s not all Kanar and Yamok sauce for Dukat after that embrace. He continues to face opposition for accepting Ziyal as his own; his loyalty to his Cardassian people and his half-Cardassian daughter are often at odds.
That clash of loyalties comes to a horrific climax when the Federation returns to seize control of a Cardassian-occupied Deep Space Nine and Dukat is forced to flee. Tired of the constant racial prejudice, Ziyal refused to retreat with her father, forcing his hand. Who does he loves more: his people or his daughter?
Dukat’s right hand man notices his leader’s hesitation, and makes the decision for him. He executes Ziyal with cold precision. And suddenly, where there was once a great, ruthless and cunning man, stands a father overcome with grief, incapable of feeling anything but agony.
Dukat’s eyes were opened because of his daughter. He saw someone else as greater than himself and his own ideals, recognizing the prejudice he carried.
Perhaps that is where we begin. To assume we can combat the plague of racism with an easy-to-swallow pill is foolish, but we can begin to vaccinate ourselves against our own prejudices if we take the time to listen. If we take our finger off the trigger and listen to the plight of the person who stands boldly, fearlessly, and desperately before us asking for justice, we might hear something unexpected.
And if we accept some responsibility for the subtle racism and prejudice all around us, we might take a step towards mending the rift between blacks and whites, or the aboriginal population and Canada. Taking that step doesn’t make me less of a person, it makes me, and the ones asking for justice, more.