Spaceism

A TV show like Star Trek will get around to covering pretty much every hot-button topic before long — war, government corruption, imperialism, communism, religion, you name it. Star Trek made several heavy-handed attempts to tackle racism early on, but to me, it took them 35 years to really tackle and understand the issue in a realistic way. 

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Right from the get-go, Enterprise showed humans as working with the Vulcans, but not being at all happy about it. They were distrustful. Suspicious. Sure that the Vulcans were keeping them down, pursuing an agenda that kept humans in a subservient role. The Vulcans, for their part, saw humans as backwards, childish, stupid, and genetically inferior. 

Sound familiar? Put pointy white sheets on the Vulcans rather than pointy ears, because their message sounds rather similar to the thought processes of some Grand Wizards in 1960. <

That, to me, was one of the great things about Enterprise. It never explicitly called out the racial tension between the humans and the Vulcans. It never got heavy-handed or preachy — there were no second-season-James-T.-Kirk monologues about how all people were created equal, and they’d damn well better start acting like it, Mister. But there was an undertone there — the racism message was just below the surface, commenting on the issue without throwing it in your face, and without wrapping it up in one or two convenient episodes. 

I think Enterprise got a bad rap. When I went back and watched it last year, it worked its way into my top five favorite sci-fi series ever, despite the awful series finale. 

I’m going to put the question out there to you, folks — as Science Fiction uses fantastical settings to comment on real-world issues, what series, book, or movie do you think was the best in its treatment of racism? Which made the best social statement overall?

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5 comments

  1. Shawn, I LOVED Enterprise. I agree that the finale sucked but I loved everything before that. I think you’re right, Star Trek did have a lot to say about racism — Vulcans, Klingons, the Xindi, the Borg…there was a lot jam packed in all the series about tensions between different peoples.

  2. I really, REALLY wanted to like Enterprise and my household gave it maybe about a season and a half before we finally threw in the towel. And yeah, the politics between the humans and the Vulcans were indeed one of the things I liked about it.

    Re: the question of which SF/F story best treats racism for me… ooh, that’s a tough one. I think Babylon 5 handled it well with the oppression of the Narns by the Centauri. And (new) Battlestar Galactica gets into it head-on with Human vs. Cylon racism.

    Books-wise, my experience with her work to date is admittedly somewhat limited–but even so, my first vote has GOT to go with Octavia Butler. Especially her novel Kindred, which is on my To Read list.

  3. For me, the best non-racism social commentary in SF is Star Trek Nemesis. I love love love how they looked at every facet of the dangers of cloning an intelligent being. I never get tired of watching this movie. There’s so much going on about the nature of life, the nature of intelligence, respect for life. It hits all my buttons.

    In my own SF writing I’m dealing with the dignity of life as a grand theme, and to some extent racism. But it’s definitely more about the inherent dignity of life and an individual’s right to be free.

  4. I think Babylon 5 did a great job with the issues of racism–with all the different alien races running around on that show, it would have been impossible to avoid the topic. I think that the Preamble from the ISA’s “Declaration of Principles” from Season 4 says it best and Andreas Katsulas delivered it superbly:

    The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
    The language is not Narn, or Human, or Centauri, or Gaim or Minbari
    It speaks in the language of hope
    It speaks in the language of trust
    It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion
    It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.
    But always it is the same voice
    It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us,
    And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born
    It is the small, still voice that says
    We are one
    No matter the blood
    No matter the skin
    No matter the world
    No matter the star:
    We are one
    No matter the pain
    No matter the darkness
    No matter the loss
    No matter the fear
    We are one
    Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognize the
    singular truth and this singular rule:
    That we must be kind to one another
    Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost
    diminishes us.
    We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire
    that will light the way to a better future.
    We are one.
    We are one.

    ***

    I found it not preachy but inspiring.

  5. Glenn Stone · · Reply

    Third the B5 thing… but for current stuff, I’m really liking the crowdfunded poet Elizabeth Barrette (yes, she’s named for Ms. Browning 🙂 … particularly her Schrodinger’s Heroes series, whose main characters are an entire rainbow of not just colour but a number of other things. Some of it’s NSFW, but much of it isn’t, and I’m finding a *lot* of it deeply satisfying.

    Her main page is here: http://penultimateproductions.weebly.com/serial-poetry.html

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