Spock and Biraciality

Went to see Star Trek last week. Quite liked it, despite problems like the women of the series still getting short shrift in the agency department, and much of the frenetic action having no real purpose. (Why did Young Kirk trash that beautiful car? I cannot condone random destruction of works of art, not even as characterization shorthand.)

But have seen several convos on the ‘net that triggered some thoughts. Namely — whoops, spoiler-cut —

— that Spock was too human.

I’m not sure I agree with this. After all, Spock is biracial (bispeciesal? bispecial? …uh, I think that might mean something entirely different). In the old series he was basically forced to pick one of his cultures or the other; no one accepted that he was both. This fits in with the paradigm of how biracial people were treated in those days — they were forced, either by society or family, to pick, and then they had to fit into their chosen culture as best they could (sometimes failing Tragically, though this was usually a stereotype). This is why I and most members of my family on both sides call ourselves black, when in truth we’re black/Creek Indian (my father’s family) and black/Irish (my mother’s family). I have no knowledge of those other components of my culture — beyond a disturbing love of corned beef — because somewhere along the line, my ancestors made a conscious choice to ignore one or the other half of themselves. Some of this is understandable; I suspect my maternal great-grandmother was a child of rape. I regret the cultural loss nevertheless.

It never sat well with me that Spock was so often asked to make this same choice. He’d apparently been raised Vulcan — fine, that’s between him and his parents, and he looked Vulcan so that was probably a wise decision; he would need survival mechanisms appropriate to his appearance to deal with the world. (Similar to the way parents of biracial boys who look black must often teach their sons how to react to the police, etc., who will racially profile them as black.) But his friends shouldn’t’ve tried to force the choice in the other direction, as so often happened in arguments between Spock, Kirk, and McCoy. To be fair, this was often in reaction to some careless comment by Spock which reflected his Vulcan belief in the superiority of Vulcans; IMO if you’re going to dish that kind of crap, you deserve to have your hypocrisy pointed out. Yet sometimes — usually with McCoy — the pressure on Spock seemed to come from a belief in human superiority, which wasn’t the right tack to take either. The same message both ways: pick one, dammit.

So I thought the film reflected a modern take on multiracialism (-ness?): Spock seemed to be giving equal expression to both parts of his heritage; an eminently logical choice, IMO. And he actively resisted attempts from both directions to force him to choose (as with his beautiful, wonderful “Live long and prosper” to the Vulcan council when they snubbed his human half, when he so plainly meant “Go fuck yourselves”). He seemed to be creating his own identity, including embracing — literally, in the case of Uhura — human relationships. Whether this includes human sexuality is a matter between him and Uhura, but I imagine he’ll have to forge his own path there too. (Actually, I can’t remember — can Vulcans have sex outside of pon farr? I thought it was just that pon farr was when they couldn’t help themselves, so they created a ritual to channel the urge safely, but any other time it was a choice.)

Anyway, just something I thought the film did handle well.

I can’t help thinking now of Yeine, the protagonist of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Like Spock she is biracial, and like Spock she’s inherited virtually the whole set of racial markers from only one of her parents. She was not raised with the modern conception of multiracialism (-ality? argh); she was quite solidly raised to think of herself as Darre, even though she loved her mother, who was Amn. This is in part a reaction to Amn beliefs about genetic purity — they would reject her for being part anything else — and in part a survival strategy, because Darren culture demands that one constantly prove worthy of societal acceptance. Yeine basically had to out-Darre her fellow Darre, or they probably would have killed her. This puts her at a serious disadvantage when in the novel she’s forced to try and out-Amn her fellow Amn. She has few of the necessary cultural tools to do so; she doesn’t even understand the rules of engagement. She has virtually no chance of succeeding.

By contrast I’m flipping things a bit in Book 3 (tentatively titled The Single Shining Star). The protagonist here is Shahar, a woman who looks Amn but is in fact racially mixed herself. She’s been raised Amn, but her heritage is widely-known — in part because her twin brother inherited most of the visual markers of the non-Amn race. He’s kind of a living reminder to everyone that she’s not really what she looks like. He bears the brunt of people’s discomfort with this, and she loves him and becomes protective of him as a result, but she gets a little of it too. As a result, she often tries to out-Amn her fellow Amn, which naturally leads to some conflict with her brother.

No analysis or conclusion on this; just thinking out loud. I can’t say whether I’m handling the issue right. It feels right, intuitively, but then I’m basically channelling (great) Grandma, who never spoke of her issues yet showed them, if one knew what to look for, in virtually everything she did. I didn’t know what to look for as a child, but as I reflect on my memories of her as an adult, I understand better. (::sigh:: Miss her. Wish I’d been able to know her as an adult; she died when I was 20.)

Anyway. All of this is just a long-winded intellectual BSy way of saying I’m planning to go see Star Trek again. ^_^;;

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7 Responses »

  1. Ooh. This is REALLY interesting. Must ponder.

  2. I was doing some thinking about Spock myself. TOS/Animated Spock grew up on Vulcan, where his agemates would’ve considered him half-human and he wouldn’t have fit in. And it always seemed to me his father was pushing him to be more Vulcan, to be a chip off the old block as his only son, that sort of thing. And Amanda just more gently pointing out that he shouldn’t deny his human half, but not being so rigid and pushy about it.

    And then Spock joins Starfleet and he’s the first Vulcan ever, living amongst a bunch of humans, something he’s never done before, something even his body isn’t fully adapted too. The temperature and oxygen content and I think even the gravity all being slightly off. All of that constantly reminding him that he’s not fully human. And then of course McCoy goding him, which doesn’t encourage him to embrace his human half, but makes him more strongly cling to being Vulcan.

    But still and all, he lives with humans, and Romulans, for a good long time. So we get Ambassador Spock, who’s rather emotional for a Vulcan. Not that he doesn’t have plenty of reason to be emotional when we meet him in this movie. He’s matured and grown to accept that sticking strictly to logic doesn’t work for him. That that’s not how he wants to live his life.

    Now we get this new Spock, and his history is different. It’s hard to say just where his history starts to diverge, but it’s clear that the death of Amanda is a big, big part of it. Now that his human mother is gone, a very good way for him to honor her memory is to remember that he’s half-human and that his human mother had a lot of good, non-Vulcan qualities. And then his father, so rocked by the death himself, actually admits that he loved Amanda. So now even his father isn’t bearing down on him to be all Vulcan, like Spock 1.0 had to deal with.

    Throw in Uhura, who certainly seems like a very good match for him, at just the right time, and we get a Spock who can handle emotions without mastering them. Who can be more human without utterly falling apart.

    In either case, I think Spock was moving towards embracing both halves of his ancestry. But Spock 2.0 gets to arrive at that point much sooner.

    Though he may not yet have it fully sorted out, and we may see more of this human/Vulcan conflict coming into play in future movies.

  3. Your love of corned beef IS truly disturbing. :D

  4. I know! Except I don’t like it with cabbage, I like Reubens, which I think are Jewish. Confusing.

  5. Animated Spock?

    I would agree that in OldTrek, Saarek pushed Spock to Go Vulcan, and Amanda did the 1960s good-wife thing and let her husband’s wishes dominate, albeit with caveats. I’m not sure NewTrek Spock is more advanced in mastering his ancestry and emotions, though. I think he’s doing it differently to OldTrek Spock, but will still have to face the same issues as time goes by. Bigger problems, really. For example, this Kirk’s a bigger dick, and this Spock has less patience. This McCoy’s still a bigot; it was played for laughs in the old days, but NewTrek Spock has already shown himself to react very badly — violently — to bigotry. So I forsee shitstorms. Also, there’s the pressure of the Vulcans suddenly being endangered. I imagine they’ll react in a logical manner, by implementing measures to breed their population back up to healthy levels — and for genetic diversity’s sake, I can’t imagine they’d be happy with Spock, himself “diluted” in their eyes, frittering away more precious Vulcan DNA on another human chick. So we may see T’Pring again, and this time I can’t see Spock being allowed to just say no. Or they may go the other “logical” route, and forbid Spock from making any genetic contribution to the resurgent Vulcan race, since now that contribution would have a much greater impact on the population as a whole. I imagine this situation will cause Vulcan bigotry to increase, as they will now have to discourage breeding outside the race if they want to rebuild a “pure” Vulcan strain. We could see Spock storylines about forced sterilization, citizenship tests (maybe now he *has* to get through the Kohlinar, or be disinherited), maybe strained relations between Vulcans and humans because those humans keep macking on their best and brightest…

    So we might get Spock dealing with his internal Vulcan/human conflict amid a broader context of societal conflict. Which IMO would be deliciously realistic and very apropos to 21st century Trek. Enough of the simplistic “can’t we all get along” stuff of yesteryear; let’s have some Trek that actually reflects the complexity of the human experience. (Still optimistically, though, so it doesn’t turn into BSG.)

  6. You just mentioned a lot of points I hadn’t thought of. More stuff to ponder!

    By animated Spock, I meant the Spock of the Animated series. It’s been awhile since I watched it, and I don’t think I’ve seen every episode. But we do see more of Spock’s childhood in one episode. IIRC, a time travel one with future Spock interacting with his younger self. And there’s some wilderness rite of passage, that in retrospect is probably CA-questionable, and we see his pet sehlat.

    http://www.treksf.com/podcast/yesteryear.jpg