Good day, everyone! Welcome to the latest entry in my relatively new column here at the Thoughts on diversity in Nerd Culture. For today’s brief post, I wanted to point out a trend that I’ve noticed in older pieces of speculative work and leave you all with a few questions. Shall we dive right in?
The idea that fans of science fiction are, on average, more tolerant toward racial and cultural differences among their peers is an old one, though an idea I have found very little written about. In my own conversations, this is usually traced back to the original Star Trek and its first televised interracial kiss between Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner, and such episodes as the classic “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” available in its entirety on YouTube (if you have a free hour and a knowledge of what was going on in 1969 when this originally aired):
The title of this new series within the larger column on diversity is actually drawn from my experiences with Star Trek and how one can argue that learning to see humanity in colorful aliens does in fact make you more likely to see someone who doesn’t look like you as a human being. For this first part, I will look at characters with green skin.
Star Trek – the infamous Orion slave girls
This is an odd choice, I know. Given how incredibly sexualized Orion women generally are as a rule in Star Trek, it is almost baffling to realize that they hold all the power within their culture. Either way, is there ever a question that these women are intelligent, emotionally complex beings?
DC Comics – J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter
Originally a sort of Silver Age alternative to Superman, the Martian Manhunter is oftentimes the conscience of the Justice League. He has even been referred to as saintly in his moral character. He carries with him the emotional weight of hailing from a culture that destroyed itself through racial strife and warfare, and his time on Earth is spent largely in the pursuit of peace and security. It bears noting that a science fiction-themed team that lacks visible racial diversity oftentimes does include a green member, exemplified best by the Martian Manhunter (voiced perhaps purposefully in the Justice League cartoon by the great Carl Lumbly) and the next entry in this list.
Dragon Ball Z – Piccolo
The Namekian character Piccolo is a complex being who starts out as a villain but, through his own sense of honor and dignity, is changed by the respect and forgiving natures of his former enemies into one of Earth’s greatest heroes. Always portrayed as an introspective character, it is fascinating to watch the shifting of Piccolo’s moral compass as time passes.
And that is my list for today. What do you all think of it so far? What do you think of the central ideas of this week’s entry? Do you think this sort of practice in some speculative fiction to effectively trick the less tolerant into being more tolerant has merit? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to be on the lookout for the next entry in this column.