"When this movie first came out, there was thunderous applause because that officer there was the first woman on Star Trek to captain a starship."
So said my classmate, one of a few who are introducing this Star Wars nerd to the universe of Star Trek, while we were watching The Voyage Home. Now, before I continue, let me quick clarify that I'm not a Star Trek expert. I've only seen Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, Voyage Home, and a couple episodes of Next Generation. So when I refer to Star Trek, I'm referring to those.
I wasn't too surprised by his statement. But what struck me more while watching these classics for the first time was the amount of racial diversity. Perhaps the main characters were still mostly white, but it was still a lot more varied than Star Wars, where we have Lando and Mace Windu and that's about it. More unfortunately, it's a lot more varied than most entertainment in this diversity-hungry day and age. But worst of all, this show, several decades old, handled it way better than most diverse stories on the market.
It reminded me of Sesame Street. When I was little, the show took up a good chunk of my allotted television time, what with its hour-long spot. I never really noticed it at the time, but Sesame Street did a marvelous job at portraying diversity, both with race and special needs.
But why didn't I notice it at the time? Because I just accepted the diversity as normal. I was a kid. What I saw was a neighborhood of fun people doing fun things and force-feeding the alphabet and my numbers into me. And if I hadn't been trained as a writer to watch for diversity, I'd probably watch Star Trek and simply see humans in space on cool ships following fantastic plot lines.
Here's the thing. Diversity is political. It just is. Especially nowadays. But it doesn't have to be for kidlit. As someone who went to a well-mixed kindergarten outside Philadelphia, has some Japanese and Cherokee heritage, and has a lot of international friends, I can tell you that as a child, I never noticed I was different from my playmates until people told me I was.
This is probably why Maniac Magee is one of my favorite books. The main character finds himself in a similar situation to me, where as a kid, the concept of racism is thrown on him in the playground realm. There's this part where he looks in a mirror and wonders why people call him white and his friends black, when they aren't actually the solid colors black and white, and instead are many shades of color and many shades of personality. This resonated with me a lot when I first read it.
Circumstances are circumstances, yes, but people will always be people. And in today's day in age, where diversity has become an American Ninja Warrior ropes course of do's and don'ts with your reputation at stake, I wish we'd go back to Star Trek and Sesame Street and promoting normality.