Friday, November 5, 2010

Why I Love Star Trek, Essay #7: Glenda Kenyon

Why I love Star Trek
By Glenda Kenyon

My trek upbringing is one that starts from the beginning of the series.  I was not there from the beginning, but I’m a third generation trekkie.  The universe is a family heirloom.  It’s something I inherited, unknowingly, and have embraced.  So to understand why I love this fantastic sci-fi world, I should introduce you my grandfather.

Bishop King had proudly served in the Korean War as a communications officer. From what I’m told it was difficult.  He served honorably, and was a smart enough man for the job, but he wasn’t treated as an equal.  That’s to be expected when you were serving in the army as a black man in the 1950s.

Years later, Bishop sat down to watch a new kind of show.  It was a show about an military-structured organization exploring space.  It had people, and aliens, that were all respected for their talents.  Regardless of background, rank and experience came first and foremost.  And right there was a black communications officer on the bridge every single episode.  Uhura was a smart, educated woman whose position on the ship was never questioned.

And Bishop watched this show with his oldest child, Donna.

I’m sure Bishop not only loved that there was an idea of equality amongst the ship, but also it was one of the only shows that discussed the political and social questions of the day.  The censors would notice if it was about current race relations or political tension, and it wouldn’t get put on the air.  However, if it was about aliens and space colonies, the censors didn’t care.  Roddenberry got to talk about the topics of our day, and Bishop got to talk about those topics with Donna.  It was good timing too, since Donna was an obvious child of all the changes of the 60s and 70s.  Star Trek helped her deal with real life trouble of equality and progress.

Out of the six children Bishop raised, Donna was the one who stayed a nerd.  She became a huge sci-fi fan, and growing up she expanded her sci-fi TV repertoire with shows like Doctor Who and Blake’s 7.  But none of them had that same appeal.  None of them were the sci-fi discussions that she grew up with.  The first Star Trek movie disappointed Donna, but Wrath of Khan brought what made Star Trek great back, and she was sated with the following movies for a while.

In the meantime, Donna fell in love with a white man, who although was very much an intellectual, wasn’t a super huge Trekkie.  Interracial dating was taboo at the time, but both were able to ignore those who criticized them for it.  They got married, and on September 27th, 1986, they had their first child, Glenda.  A year and a day later, The Next Generation premiered.

Donna was suspicious of the first season, noting how it struggled to find its place in sci-fi history.  By the end of Season 2, though, Donna saw what the show had achieved--a place to discussion the intellectual issues of the day and age, similar to the show she had watched years before.  With that, she kept up with the series.  And when it wasn’t too late for her, Glenda got to watch it as well.

This is where I come in.  As a kid I would watch Star Trek with my mom, and once again there were some great role models for my identity on that show.  In fact, looking back I can see how I grew up with a solid idea of my personal identity despite how it was questioned over and over again.  There were a lot of characters who had to deal with duality of background.  Interracial characters like Deanna who embraced both her heritages and saw them as strengths.  Adopted characters like Worf who respected his birth family and his adoptive one without internal conflict.  And Data, who explored what is was to be human while being almost exactly the opposite.  These characters never wavered long on what or who they were.*  And neither did I.

To understand how important that was, I was an interracial kid who didn’t look like her black mom at all.  Not just the fact I was much lighter than her, I also ended up looking like my grandmother on my dad’s side.  The first years of my life my mom was never recognized as my mom.  When I was a baby she was my babysitter.  As I got older kids would constantly ask why I was adopted.  And nowadays, despite how close we are in public, complete strangers will still ask awkward questions like “Are we sisters?” Even on my own, a lot of people finally give up and ask “What are you?”

To have characters who knew who they were, and many times rediscovered who they were, on a show I watched all the time, Star Trek helped me grow up and be proud of every part of my life that made me the person I am, familial or otherwise.

Of course, I love the intellectual discussions the show sparks, the characters on it, how smart the writing and acting is... There is a lot to love about Star Trek.  But what I love most about it is that it is something that has carried my family three generations.  It reaffirmed the identities we had and made us proud of those identities.  It’s the sci-fi that made it okay to be me.  And that’s one of the best heirlooms I could ever have.

*Data did a bit in First Contact, but not when I was a kid watching the series.

1 comment:

  1. I never looked at it that way.
    What a great story!
    (And so what if I'm biased:)