People won’t accept it (a Negro space captain)…
Tonight wasn’t the first time Star Trek had boldly gone.
The show, the genre really, is famous for helping us to discuss what we otherwise could not.
By putting a story in the future, by making one of the characters green, we are able to accept at least a piece of that which was knee jerk inducing only moments before.
And that’s what made re-watching this particular episode of Deep Space Nine so jarring.
Amidst a fantasy sequence, Captain Benjamin Sisko is taken back to NYC in the 50s, where he and a host of other recurring characters find themselves as Sci Fi writers working for pennies/word.
The captain, Benny as he is known in the sequence, is pushed to crisis by learning that his color will disallow the publishing of a recent series of stories he’s written based around a fictional Ben Sisko, the Black captain of a space station, Deep Space Nine.
The episode, culminating in Benny suffering a breakdown after one roadblock too many, features a plea from his girlfriend to sell out his dreams… to just settle down, the murder of a friend at the hands of racist police, and a battery of his own while protesting that crime.
And somewhere in that maelstrom is the magic of Star Trek.
In revisiting the bigotry which would have stopped even the story of Deep Space Nine from being published, we can celebrate the show which faced few of the same hurdles.
Indeed, while Deep Space Nine the show was controversial, it was because of the role of religion in its stories, often a no-no in the Roddenberry universe.
The idea of a Black captain? That was not as challenging, at least not in the 90s.
We’d moved past all that by the 90s… But then who am I kidding?
Star Trek tackles issues because they still exist. This is certainly the case when it comes to racism.
Sitting in my living room on a Friday night, I can turn on Netflix and visit the stars, but – as Bono said – Outside, it’s America.
Black men harassed by the police? Check.
Black writers finding it hard to have their stories published? Check.
Black boys being asked to abandon their dreams for something a little more realistic? Check.
Near the end of the episode, as his world unravels, Benny is told, “You are the dreamer and the dream.”
The meaning? Yes, you can imagine a story, but you being allowed to do that is the dream for another as well.
May we actively seek to empower Black writers.
May we read their stories, may we share them, may we sing of their greatness and champion these dreamers.
How else will the next generation be inspired to believe that they too can tell tales of their own?