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Star Trek Taught Us How to Deal With Microaggressions

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Aug 28, 2022, 3:25:33 AM8/28/22
Growing up, my father was a big Star Trek fan. As a child, I didn’t
really care for the show. It was a bit too philosophical for a 9-year-
old and there were no light sabers to be found.

Eventually I became a fan of the show, however. I learned to appreciate
its writing, which was quite good at times, while overlooking the cheap
sets and the goofier plots.

There were some really bad stories, of course, but one could ignore
this because the show was often exploring big ideas: how humans
understand truth; how logic and emotion can both help and inhibit our
quest for truth; the nature of good and evil.

One of the wackier plots I can recall involved Kirk and Spock working
with, ahem, Abraham Lincoln (or, technically, an alien projecting
itself as Lincoln). They were pitted against various villains
throughout history by—bear with me here—a conscious rock that wanted to
understand the difference between good and evil.

Most of the episode is not worth mentioning, but there is a 30-second
exchange that seems quite relevant today.

Aboard the Enterprise, Lincoln meets Lt. Uhura. This white man of the
19th century looks at this black woman of the 23rd century and says,
“What a charming Negress.”

Yeah. It was awkward. (Even writing about it now I feel awkward.)

Lincoln did not mean to offend Uhura, but he quickly senses he may have
committed a faux pas.

“Oh. Forgive me, my dear,” he says. “I know that in my time, some used
that term as a description of property.”

Lincoln’s statement, in modern parlance, is a microaggression: “an
indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a
marginalized group.”

Microaggressions are “the new racism,” Time magazine declared in 2014.
These microaggressions almost always involve transgressions much
subtler than Lincoln’s clumsy remark, yet they are handled in a much
different fashion in 2017.

In modern American universities, people who commit microaggressions are
reported, usually anonymously, to authorities. Transgressors are often
compelled to offer public apologies. Corporations, while offering
regular instruction on how to avoid microaggressions, compare them to
actual violence.

Perhaps such preventative actions are entirely appropriate. But I found
myself prefering Uhura’s response.

“But why should I object to that term sir,” she says. “See, in our
century, we’ve learned not to fear words.”

Now, of course words can hurt. But consider the context. Uhura is
saying it would be silly for her to feel injury because of someone
else’s lack of etiquette. A person’s ignorance of a particular custom
says precisely nothing about the offended party.

Uhura’s response looks not just more mature, but more constructive. It
would seem to foster mutual understanding, whereas reporting systems
and punitive actions seem more likely to fuel resentment.

In response to Uhura’s reply, Lincoln bows his head slightly and offers
his hand in appreciation of her grace.

“The foolishness of my century had me apologizing where no offense is
given,” Lincoln replies.

It’s amazing how many things Star Trek got right in predicting our
future. Alas, it seems they got this one terribly wrong. I wonder if
that’s our loss.

Let's go Brandon!

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