10 Times Star Trek Went Woke

Star Trek was never WOKE in the past! Give me ONE example! OK, another ONE! OK, another...

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What does it mean to go 'Woke'? How does Star Trek, a show from the 1960s, fall under that particular term if it is something that's only become widespread in recent years? On this topic, let's begin with the Merriam-Webster definition. To be Woke is to be:

aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice) 

The term 'Woke' traces its roots back to African American Vernacular English, and more specifically from figures like Marcus Garvey, the musician Lead Belly, and the 1962 Op-Ed 'If You're Woke, You Dig It' by William Melvin Kelley. Early modern examples began to appear in the public consciousness in 2008, with Erykah Badu's song Master Teacher. It gained widespread reach around 2014, when it became linked with the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

The word has since been adopted, and coopted, to become a short-hand, dismissive descriptor for those who are more left-leaning. It is used as a catch-all term, with shows, individuals, and entire movements being described as 'Woke' - in an attempt to delegitimize them.

There is a long, sad history of culture theft, particularly from African American communities. While this article uses the word as a deliberate tool to highlight Star Trek's racial and social awareness through the years, TrekCulture is committed to amplifying the origins, and correct meaning of, Woke.

10. We Pledge Allegiance...

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The Omega Glory is an ideal first entry on this list as it displays Star Trek trying to say something about racial prejudice, while also sliding right into the very stereotypes it aimed to highlight. It was also one of the initial story pitches that Gene Roddenberry submitted to the network in his attempt to have the show green-lit.

The 'Yangs' and the 'Cohms' are born from the Cold War context in which this episode was written. By its airdate (March 1st, 1968), America had been in a simmering stalemate with the USSR for over twenty years. Those intervening years had seen combat in North and South Korea, with the war in Vietnam now underway as well.

The question of violation of the Prime Directive is very much front and centre here, with the original script going further than the televised version. There, the people of Omega IV are assumed to have developed exactly like Earth, save for a disease that tore their society down. Spock suggests they may even be Human. This was ultimately scrapped.

The Omega Glory sets out to highlight the damage done when so-called 'developed' nations interfere with the progression of others. However, it ends up showing the 'Yangs' as the downtrodden, ultimately 'good' group, with the 'Cohms' - very much styled after Asian stereotypes - serving as the oppressors. 

What could have existed in subtext rapidly becomes text when the American Flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the American Constitution are all shown to have variants on this world. The episode ends with a moment of Kirk silently admiring said Flag as well. 

The Omega Glory, in its attempt to decry intervention, stereotype, and even Imperialism, falls flat on all fronts. It elevates them, thus making this one of the lower-rated episodes of Star Trek.

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Writer. Reader. Host. I'm Seán, I live in Ireland and I'm the poster child for dangerous obsessions with Star Trek. Check me out on Twitter @seanferrick