ESR 2 Blog April 2021: Piu-Wai Chan

Disclaimer: I am a Trekkie.

And one of my proudest Trekkie achievements was throwing a Star Trek-themed party by Building the Bridge and Transporter Room with cardboard boxes in Austria. (I do believe it is one of my callings to host a Star Trek party in Wolverhampton when it is possible.)

It may sound a bit old school but I am most fascinated by The Original Series (TOS) that was broadcasted during 1966-1969. Along with the first interracial, yet involuntary, kiss on TV, (the role of Uhura was played by African-American Nichelle Nichols and Sulu was played by Japanese-American George Takei) the racial diversity of the series was part of the all-encompassing humanist ideology of United Federation of Planets. Nevertheless, with the glorification of the fist-fighting, alpha male Captain Kirk, and the orientalist depiction of the Klingon Empire, TOS can be easily dismissed as racist and sexist. However, it was exactly these attempts to break free from the stereotypes and a deep-seated colonialism that fascinates me, serving as a good reminder that ‘there were people before you and there are people after you.’ And after all, decolonisation is not an endpoint, but an ongoing process.

I noticed myself thinking of TOS again when I attended the ethnography workshops that were organised by the Feinart programme. (But then a Trekkie always has the innate ability to associate everything back to Star Trek.) Looking at everyone vividly discussing ways to decolonise ethnographic fieldwork and the notion of strangers vs. participant observers vs. friends, I could not help but have a picture of Spock in my head. I wonder how Spock, being half-Vulcan and half-human, understood his positionality as he conducted his fieldwork with his human colleagues, while surveying the alien terrain.

A wise person once said that James T. Kirk is the captain of the Enterprise but Spock is the captain of the Star Trek franchise. The popularity of Mr Spock, which I suspect, is due to his embodiment of the otherness that resonates so deeply to the collective consciousness. There is always a part of us that will be registered as the other, relative to the majority surrounds us. The movie Please Stand By (2017) tells the story of a young woman, Wendy, who was diagnosed with Autism, has a fixation on Star Trek. It was later revealed that she had a particularly strong affiliation with Mr Spock. Like Spock, Wendy is the other, who also struggled to operate like the majority around her. Hence, she will forever be the alien and the pink elephant of the room. (Autism Spectrum is a topic that sits close to my heart which I hope I will return to reflect more on in this blog.) And like Wendy, we must find points of reference that offer us empathy and aspiration that ‘keep us going ‘, so to speak. I found myself having a ‘Wendy-meets-Spock’ moment when I came across Françoise Vergès’s work A Decolonial Feminism, whose English version was published last week. (Plain English to be precise. It is written in a no-nonsense, to the point, manner, which is rather impressive as the author is dealing with such a complex topic.) I must say that I found comfort and orientation in reading a text written by another woman who was also born, bred and educated in a colony, with a non-secular stance. For similar reasons, I am very much looking forward to the upcoming lecture by Dr. Shalini Sinha, Gender and Race: Cross Cultural Approaches, at the University of Wolverhampton, as part of the Royal Institute of Philosophy Public Lectures. Their works will certainly motivate the Buddhist, the Wendy and the Spock part of me to ‘boldly go where no man has gone before.’

Live Long and Prosper.

Resources that inspired this blog post are:

A Decolonial Feminism (Vergès, 2019)
Decolonising Methodologies (Tuhiwai Smiths, 1999)
The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader (Telotte, 2008)
The Politics of Star Trek: Justice, War and the Future (2013)

More info on Gender and Race: Cross Cultural Approaches by Dr. Shalini Sinha:

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