14 July, 2021
04 May, 2021
|by Andrew Domachowski|
A few years ago, on Martin Luther King Day, I wrote a short piece about an episode of the original series of Star Trek, The Ultimate Computer, episode 24 of season 2, from 1968. I think it goes a little way toward explaining what I mean by that, and I've reprinted it below.
I watched this episode again today. I watched it specifically because it was today. Mainly, this story is about limiting the extent of computer automation, and how taking risks to achieve things is a vital part of humanity. But beyond that, this episode has something perhaps less obvious to say.
At no point, during the entire episode, is any mention or reference made to the fact that Doctor Daystrom is a black man. He is the most brilliant computer scientist of his time, an unparalleled genius. He is also deeply troubled by his own legacy. He is eventually driven past his breaking point by the events of the story. But all these things are the triumphs and failures, the accolades and problems, of a scientific genius, not of 'a black man'. This character could have been played by any actor. He was played, wonderfully and passionately, by William Marshal. But the colour of his skin made no difference, in any way. He was a scientist. He was a person.
I give great credit to my parents, and to the other family surrounding me in my childhood, that I saw nothing out of the ordinary about this fact. To me, all people looked different. All individuals were unique, and yet all people were the same. We are all people. Differences in culture, language, appearance; all these were fascinating things to be learned about and appreciated. Only later, as I learned about history, and saw in the news the strange and unreasonable ways in which some people regarded such things as skin colour, did I realise how powerful the subtext of this episode was.