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To Boldly Go Where No Racist Has Gone Before

The Enterprise responds to a distress signal from a Ferengi shuttle. Captain Picard walks onto the bridge from his ready room.

Lieutenant Commander Data was the first to speak, “Their containment field is collapsing.”

“Within visual range, captain,” said Lieutenant Worf From his tactical station behind the captain’s chair.

“On screen,” said the captain as he took his seat. The viewer showed the damaged Ferengi shuttle venting what looked like plasma.

“Their reactor core is unstable, captain,” said Mr. Data.

“How many on board?”

“Two, sir.”

“Bridge to transporter room three,” Commander Riker said to the air. “Boost your output and lock on to the two Ferengi on board the shuttle. We may need to attempt a long range transport.”

“Standing by”, the voice from the transporter room responded.

Suddenly, the little shuttle on the screen lit up in a small, silent explosion.  Fire erupted from its side. The time was up.

“Energize,” ordered the captain.

“Got them sir”, said the voice from the transporter room.

“Mr. Worf”, said Mr. Riker. “Escort our Ferengi guest to quarters. Not too close to mine.”

“Understood”, said Mr. Worf as he turned to walk to the turbo lift.

“Belay that order Mr. Worf,” the captain ordered with a healthy dose of authority in his voice.

Without taking his eyes off the forward viewer Captain Picard said, “Mr. Riker would you be so kind to escort our guest to their quarters.”

The entire bridge crew noticed the emphasis the captain put on the word “guest”. Whether it was intended to or not the word managed to hang icily in the air. The crew was too professional to turn and look. Nevertheless, everyone one the bridge waited for the first officer to respond with piqued interest.

Commander Riker was shocked. Before he could catch himself he turned to his captain with an expression of anger and surprise. The commander didn’t like having his chain yanked. And Captain Picard seldom pulled rank on his first officer. But the captain needed to make an example that whatever prejudice his crew had against the Ferengi or against any other race that enjoyed the hospitality of the USS Enterprise, the flagship of the Federation, was to be left unsaid and out of sight in the performance of duty.

The captain coolly ignored his first officer. He continued to look at the main viewer with his elbows on the arm rest of his chair and his hands folded comfortably in his lap. Mr. Riker sucked in his pride with a deep breath and slowly let it drag out.

As the first officer stood up he replied with a flat, “Aye sir!”

The commander walked off the bridge without saying another word. No one on the bridge realized that the young ensign at the navigator’s station was doing her best to keep the smile off of her face.


Actually, that’s not what happened. In the 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Perfect Mate, when Commander Riker made his implied slur against the Ferengis as he sat right next to Captain Picard on the command deck, the captain said nothing. This is one of the few times Captain Picard is depicted tolerating uncivil behavior from his crew.

And the Ferengi was an easy race of people to hate. As a collective, their only concern was greed and profit. The way this race of people was depicted, no Ferengi did anything for anyone else if there was no profit for his or her self. These people were the ultimate capitalist. The civilization of the Ferengi Alliance (the Ferengis governing body) was built on principals of free enterprise, where all other goals are subjugated to the pursuit of profit. Greed, deceit, distrust, and opportunism were their most treasured values. A Ferengi would literally sell his family out for a few bars of gold pressed latinum and be praised for his business acumen.

Ferengi were shorter than humans. They had orange colored skin, with enlarged, hairless skulls, wrinkled, almost pig like noses, and sharp teeth. Ferengi were sniveling. Always looking for an advantage and always looking for wealth. Ferengi were manipulative and operated out of fear that they have to get the best deal before anyone else does. They would have made great twenty first century Americans with their uncanny ability to negotiate payment from people, such as the United Federation of Planets, who supposedly placed no value on personal wealth. While the hero of most cultures would be the warrior or the politician, Ferengi culture worshipped their most successful captains of business.

But regardless of how people felt about a race of people in general, an individual could surprise you. The Vulcans have a concept which says infinite diversity in infinite combinations. When it comes to people, regardless of the rule, there are always exceptions. Klingons might be warriors. But if Klingons are space farers they must value scientist and education as well. Andorians have a reputation of paranoia and suspicion. But it was the courage of an Andorian who went out of his way to help save Earth with Captain Jonathan Archer. And while Ferengi have a reputation for cutthroat business, some Ferengi could give a rat’s ass about profit and greed.

Case in point, in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Suspicions, Doctor Reyga was a Ferengi scientist who was invited to the Enterprise at the behest of Doctor Beverly Crusher to test his recently developed metaphasic shielding technique. The metaphasic technique would greatly enhance the strength of a starship’s shielding to allow it to venture inside a star. It was the metaphysic shielding that helped to protect the Enterprise from a future encounter with the Borg, the most feared culture in the Star Trek universe (at least until they were watered down by the Voyager episodes). That contribution alone should merit some form of respect. It is unfortunate that Commander Riker, as well as Captain Picard, lost sight of that fact.

Too often we allow our prejudices of people to blind us to the fact that the person we meet might be the exception to our preconceived notions. As humans, we have a natural tendency to make assumptions about the people we meet. Tall people make better basketball players than short people. Skinny people have more self control than fat people. Pretty people make better life partners than plain people.

But while we are quick to make these assumptions, as well as many others, we do ourselves a serious disservice when we wear our prejudices on our sleeves and live our lives by them. To say no short person can make a good basketball player and short people need not apply for the basketball team would disqualify some seriously talented basketball players who just so happen to be short. Women don’t have the lobes to make good businesspeople (in case you’re not a Trek fan that’s a Ferengi expression). And despite popular belief, a Vulcan is just as capable of misrepresenting the truth as anybody else.

Getting back to the Star Trek episode with Mr. Riker’s racial slur against the Ferengi, the visitors to the Enterprise reinforced every stereotype the Ferengi people are known for. They really didn’t care that they would only reinforce their reputation for greed and wealth. The opportunity to make money was simply too great to ignore. Hopefully, Doctor Reyga will help dispel some of that business at all cost reputation and be a walking example to everyone of how you cannot judge a book by its reputation. Yes it is true that Ferengis are more likely to be capitalist on steroids. But Doctor Reyga, and other Ferengis just like him, should prove that not all Ferengis are capitalist and should not be judged by the reputation of others.

And lastly, a tip of the hat to Doctor Crusher for ignoring the blatant racism against the Ferengi people that Captain Picard allowed to manifest throughout his ship, the flagship of the Federation, and giving Doctor Reyga a place to prove he is more than his reputation. It seems that even in the twenty fourth century racism and prejudices still abound. And so too are people who have the courage to dismiss popular racist trends.

Thursday, August 7, 2008 Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Life, Racism, Star Trek, Thoughts | 5 Comments