Teresa Wiltz has written a great review for THE ROOT of the new Star Trek prequel. Having never, ever, seen an episode of Star Trek, I surely annoyed my theater companions, when I would ask, persistently: "Are we supposed to know that person?" But I will say that before long, nothing was lost on me, and that Star Trek is a pretty great summer popcorn flick.
Teresa mentioned some of the cross-cultural pollination that was edgy and rare in the 1970s and 1980s incarnations of Star Trek:
The original series, created by Gene Roddenberry and starring William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols and Leonard Nimoy, provided cutting-edge social commentary and explored big themes: racism, war, sexism, identity. (And let's not forget that it was the place of the first black-white on-screen TV kiss, between Uhura and Kirk.)
My highly logical friend Reihan Salam has furthered discussion with an epic musing on the subject of race in Star Trek, and the case of the "black Vulcan". Submitted for your edification:
Readers of a certain age will remember the late and mostly unlamented Star Trek: Voyager, which I abandoned relatively early in its run. Part of the appeal of the show was that it featured a number of Star Trek firsts, including first female captain and, as far I know, the first black Vulcan, Tuvok.
My understanding, confirmed by Wikipedia (which doesn’t fill me with confidence either, but it’ll do in a pinch), is that Tuvok is a “full Vulcan,” thus suggesting that Vulcan variation in physiognomy roughly parallels human variation. Which is a little implausible, but fair enough. Because Tuvok is one of the only black Vulcans we’ve come across in the Star Trek universe, you have to wonder: what accounts for this?
In the most recent Star Trek film, there were no black Vulcans at the highest levels of the Vulcan Science Academy. This could mean that black Vulcans are a very small minority. Yet Tuvok’s wife, T’Pel, was also a black Vulcan. And so the pool of black Vulcans couldn’t be trivially small. Or perhaps endogamy is relatively common across Vulcan ethno-somatic groups. But doesn’t this strike you as an affront to the iron laws of logic? If ethno-somatic endogamy is not particularly common, one assumes that sharp “racial” distinctions would erode over time. Maybe not. But surely this phenomenon has to be explained somehow.
The iron laws of logic do cast doubt on another hypothesis, namely that the late emergence of black Vulcans in the Star Trek universe suggests human-like discrimination against Vulcans who vary from the phenotypic norm. Granted, we’ve seen evidence of Vulcan hypocrisy before. Vulcan color prejudice would really take the cake, though — it would be in such sharp tension with everything we’ve come to know and admire about Vulcan culture as to strain credulity. Moreover, the Vulcans have been a space-faring civilization for a very long time, far longer than humans. Would they have been able to unite the planet under a cult of logic while allowing color prejudice to powerfully endure?
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