Did Spock Tell Uhura She Didn’t Belong?
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds starts with a familiar “Mediocrity v. Excellence” story for Cadet Uhura.
Immediately coming off the series finale of Star Trek: Picard I wanted just a little more Trek. So in a moment of weakness, I watched Strange News Worlds. I’ll be the first to tell you that I never watched much of Star Trek: the Original Series. The whole thing, to me, was played out. It was the United States version of the Wild West playing out in space. So watching a series about Kirk’s predecessor, Captain Pike, the man who made Kirk Kirk, just wasn’t up my ally. Kirk had to get his wild ways from someone and in my mind, it was Pike. However, I was persuaded to watch the first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and I’m glad I did.
After the first episode I couldn’t wait for the next. And when Episode 2 was a character development story for Cadet Uhura, I was ALL IN.
Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and Lieutenant Geordi LaForge are major contributing factors to the engineering paths I took as an adult; I imagine they were for a lot of little Black kids. For her to have an episode so early in the series was strumming on my heart strings.
See, Uhura’s story is one that I think a lot of people can relate to. Tragedy and loss formed a lot of her early adulthood decisions and in the wake of losing her immediate family, she escaped to the stars. Looking for a place to be after losing her community, her family, where else was she to go?
The series hasn’t said a lot about her history yet, but it’s implied from Pike’s introduction in Episode 1 that she had an impressive stint at Starfleet Academy before she earned her place as a communications officer on the Enterprise. As a Black woman viewer, the boxes are being checked:
Hard worker, check.
Tragedy into triumph, check.
Standing out from peers, check.
These are boxes that any worker should check but as a Black woman, we know we have to check them in bold just to be considered. Throughout the second episode I just kept secretly dapping Uhura up. “Yes, girl! You betta’ correct them on the number of languages you speak!” and “Oooh, sis, I’m so sorry you lost your parents” which then lead to “And your brother too?! Where are the writers because I just want to talk.” She fumbled, socially, at the dinner but overall, the mama in me was proud. The professional in me was proud. Most importantly, the Black girl in me felt seen. For someone who spends a lot of time apologizing and trying not to take up too much space in the non-Black world of engineering, I thought Star Trek had captured an authentic experience of a cadet who happened to be Black.
She immediately became the Black Cadet in the next scene. After the dinner, Spock and Uhura were walking in the hall when she asked for feedback on how her statement came off to others when she basically stated that “Starfleet wasn’t the goal, it was just something to do until she found her way.” Spock responded that many people live their lives trying to get to Starfleet and that if she didn’t want to be there, then give her space to someone that wanted it.
I’m not gon’ lie. I wanted to fight Spock. A Vulcan neck pinch ain’t got nothing on this street fight he can catch. How dare he?! For Spock to say “Give your spot to someone who wants it” like Uhura didn’t earn it, was super frustrating and I’m sure it’s something that Black women, and Black Men too, can relate to as well. To have to put in twice as much effort and sit at a table where they missed a large percentage of the languages you speak; they invalidate the desire for this job to be an end goal.
Uhura put in the work to be where she is and just because it’s a part of her journey and not her main goal, doesn’t mean she has any less reason or desire to be there than anyone else. She doesn’t have to give anyone her spot that she earned. She belongs just like everyone else.
Let’s consider how people look to their profession to identify themselves. I peeped the familiar looks on the faces of the dinner attendees after Uhura made her statement. Everyone in the room defined part of their personalities based on being a prestigious Starfleet Officer and here, a cadet, just got a job that would help her achieve a personal goal (and get paid to do it too). I’m sure it’s a blow to them personally that their goal isn’t something shared by everyone, especially a cadet. To Uhura, Starfleet is a means to an end. If being in Starfleet helps her get to that goal then so be it.
The accomplishment is not the goal and it doesn’t have to be. To anyone that saw that small drama play out on TV, just remember, we all get to our destinations differently. You don’t owe anyone your spot.
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