Sunday, March 20, 2011

In this story’s terms, that better future is focused on the possibility that “a Negro captain” could command a space station—that is, that African Americans could be accepted as equal, as fully human as anyone else. That they could be accepted in professional and leadership roles, with all that leads up to that and all that follows from that.

“You are the dreamer and the dream” has a specific resonance in this context. It reminds us of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most famous words, known universally now as the “I Have A Dream” speech. In it he outlines a world of equal opportunity and justice.

This wasn’t the case in 1953, nor was it in 1963 when he made that speech. Due to the dreams and actions and sacrifices of many courageous people, great progress has been made since then, and in the real world, Star Trek was part of that progress. Martin Luther King himself recognized this, when he told Nichelle Nichols to stay on the bridge of the Enterprise because her role was important—it showed whites and blacks that an educated, professionally recognized black woman was accepted without question by her colleagues as vital to this enterprise. Nichelle Nichols, who had herself been denied lodging because she is black, made history in the real world by portraying a character on a television show set in the future. She was the dreamer and the dream.

Today there are African Americans in most if not all professions, including captains of ships. The President of the United States is black. But equal opportunity remains an unfulfilled dream for many, and the prejudices, the deeply embedded fears and projections on the Other are not entirely erased. How often do some in the U.S. tell us that our black President is not “one of us,” that he is literally an alien from another country? To accept him as President upsets the social order for some, even today, while others exploit this reaction.

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