Never read the book, can barely watch more than 30 minutes of the mini-series, and have no intentions to expand my exposure any further. Granted, I have no personal beef with Alex Haley, and who doesn’t love LeVar (Geordi!) Burton? In fact, I offer a respectful nod to the effort it took to even get it slotted on to major network programming (apparently, SOMEBODY called in a few favors that year). But nonetheless, unapologetically, I’ll pass.
Because in a way, I’ve already read the book. Already seen the movie before. I’ve been exposed to this kind of content, and it pretty much hits me like cold oatmeal (that is, I’m willing to accept it if nothing else is around, but damned if there aren’t better options for my palate). The tale is just all too familiar: noble Black man/woman/child protagonist (sometimes a combination of the three) courageously trudges through the muck and mire of unspeakably cruel acts, spurred by bigotry and ignorance affixed to various unsavory points in human history. Somehow this person (usually) manages to overcome at least some of these atrocities en route to some point of affirmation that he/she/they are worthy of more than the inhumanity they’ve endured from myriad social forces conspiring against their very existence, and ultimately we the audience are asked/expected to walk away with some kernel of insight into, or at least a basic acceptance of the relevance of Blackness (be it in this country or abroad) to our existence, and why we should “never, ever forget…”
Star Trek appeals — across generation, across gender, across language, across nationality — because from the very first episode it offered a bold, optimistic vision of the future; a vision so distinct from our own contemporary 21st century world as to seem at first glance to be more fantasy than science fiction.
Forty-seven years later, Star Trek endures for many fans precisely because of this fantastic quality. Five centuries into the future, humanity has forged a “more perfect union” with hundreds of alien races to build (and maintain) a peace that spans most of explored space and across one-fourth of the galaxy. In fact, the constant theme of Star Trek across all five series and twelve movies is one of unity: above all else, Star Trek is the story of community united across race, gender, class and even species to build a brighter tomorrow. Most of our favourite Trek adventures detail the struggle to overcome the obstacles that impede unity — whether barriers of language or distance or culture or war or time — through technological innovation, political wrangling, or personal ingenuity.
The prize for this unity is clear through Roddenberry’s vision: the United Federation of Planets offers its members an end to poverty, disease, and even war.
But, rarely does Trek interrogate the cost of that unity.
My parents attended different Baptist churches in my hometown, vibrant, bright places of worship where suburban Blacks developed a respectful, life-affirming, joyous relationship with a living God. Each Sunday meant uptempo gospel music, dedicated Bible study, and hour-long sermons on the spiritual uplift offered through Christian precepts. This was the Black church: fine clothing, expensive hats, smiling children, gaunt deacons, relaxed tresses, choir robes, public praise, Negro spirituals, religious supplication, spiritual uplift. For my neighbors, for my mother, church was the emotional recharge, the soul cleansing needed before Monday morning’s journey into corporate White villainy. I don’t pretend the same of my father; I always found his belief an extension of his duty to family and country. Still personal, but reserved, stately, imperial.