Nyota Uhura: One More Black Female Character Fandom Wants To Be Strong and Single Forever

Uhura Telegraph

Image taken from the Telegraph photo gallery “Star Trek cast past and present“.

I need White Feminism (which exists to benefit whiteness and white womanhood) to stop telling me that Black female characters are better off when they’re single.

I need White Feminists ™ in fandom to stop pretending that they’re protecting or promoting Iris West/Nyota Uhura/Abbie Mills/Eve Moneypenny by wanting these Black female characters to stay single and “strong” forever, pushing them away from the potential of canon romances with white male characters.

A day or so ago, writer Anne Thériault saw Star Trek: Beyond and left with a major bone to pick with the franchise: Uhura and Spock’s relationship. She said that Uhura’s plot revolved around Spock and their relationship and that she was framed as “just” Spock’s partner. And then, she tweeted the following comment that was so infuriating that I had to respond to it (both of our respective tweet threads can be reached from this link):

One of the many amazing things about Uhura in TOS is that she is single and her own boss and basically a free agent in space

There are so many problems with everything Thériault mentioned (and, after I pointed them out to her she seemed open to learning), but let’s start with a look at how, in a White Feminist ™ point of view, Uhura being single, strong, and #foreveralone is a point of pride for them.

It’s a #FeministLifeGoal that Uhura was never “bound up” in romantic entanglements.

Except… that’s not how that works.

Uhura was single specifically because the Star Trek show of the sixties was created in a time period of incredible antiblackness. The people watching and creating television shows during the time of the Civil Rights Movement were racist and unashamedly so. The idea of a Black woman in a position of power and framed as desirable – but not hypersexual – was so threatening to them that Uhura was never given same roles and presence as other (white and male) characters.

Uhura was single in the original Star Trek series due to centuries of systemic antiblack racism. Interracial relationships were seen as forbidden, with Black women seen as little better than animals and unworthy of love. Uhura’s kiss with Kirk? How much hate do you think that got the show? How much hate do you think Nichelle Nichols received as a result?

Moving forward from this, we got Zoe Saldana playing the character in an established relationship with Spock in the current series.

From the moment that fandom saw that she was in this relationship, the claws came out.

Fans called her “U-whore-a” as a catchy name. (They still do this, by the way!)

They wrote stories with her being “taken down a peg” – a worryingly familiar phrase and focus that happens to fall on Black women and female characters that are seen as “mouthy”, “bitchy” or “overconfident”.

Then came the concern trolling.

The endless concern trolling.

Uhura being in a relationship with Spock was a slap in the face to Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of the character because it “reduced” the character to a love interest role. Never mind that Nichols herself had mentioned that Spock and Uhura seemed like they had a connection in ToS that could have been a romantic one.

No, the fear that Uhura’s character (one that non-black members of fandom constantly and consistently erased across the decades unless they needed someone to hook up Spock and Kirk or serve as a foil for one member of the pairing) really had nothing to do with protecting Uhura and everything to do with not wanting Spock to be with a Black woman.

To combat the idea that Uhura’s character is lessened by her relationship with Spock in the current film series, here’s a quote from my post Black Ladies Deserve Love Too: Lupita Nyong’o, Concern Trolling, and White Feminism:

Playing a love interest is only reductive from a White Feminist ™ point of view that doesn’t take into consideration how media handles (or rather, mishandles) Black women in and out of relationships. White women have only recently graduated to being seen as capable of helming their own franchises and being in comedy so they assume that everyone else has that access to the roles and positions that they do.

And that’s just not true.

Black women and actresses just don’t get to be the love interest, the princess, or hell – the queen. We don’t have a wider range of roles that we’re cast in wherein being asked to play a love interest is offensive because there are so many other rooms for us to play.

Even if Uhura was “just” Spock’s partner and didn’t kick ass across the galaxy while being a perfect diplomat, that would still be significant because Black women are never the damsels. Never the queens. Never the people that men fight for.

Many of these same fans who claim that Uhura being with Spock reduced her character also said that it was homophobic to place Uhura and Spock in a relationship because the film franchise could’ve should’ve made Spock/Kirk canon. Because you know… it’s all about queer representation right?

Never mind that Uhura and Spock being in a relationship only precludes both characters being queer if you don’t believe that bi/pan/poly -sexuality exist.

They said that making Uhura Spock’s coworker while she’s in a relationship with him was unprofessional and as far from feminist as you can get. Under the guise of protecting her from her canon, fandom tore her characterization apart, making up things when they weren’t outright misinterpreting the canon information.

They claim that Uhura doesn’t fight in the new series, that the only significant interactions she has in any of the Star Trek films is with Spock.

They ignore that in Beyond at least (I haven’t seen Into Darkness and I never will), Uhura has a significant role and without her, we wouldn’t know the purpose of Krall’s weapon or his identity. We wouldn’t have had several poignant moments about teamwork and sacrifice.

As for the claim of her character revolving around her relationship with Spock (the way Thériault and many other critical fans of the series do), that’s not even remotely true.

I’ve seen the movie twice and both times, one thing that stood out to me was how Uhura was in so many scenes that didn’t even remotely bring up her relationship.

Conversely, Spock had some serious conflict going on about their relationship and how it was fracturing due to his internalized fears and worries about continuing the Vulcan race – fears that he at no point mentioned telling Uhura so if you see someone bringing that up as a way to problematize the relationship, they are absolutely reading into missing text.

All of these things fandom has done continue to piss me off, but the concern trolling is the kicker for me.

Because these fans don’t actually care about her.

It’s not about protecting Uhura from a bad canon or protesting a lack of agency. It’s about protecting fandom’s white faves from her – most likely because fandom wants the fandom faves to be together.

And this isn’t something that just popped out of nowhere.

Every time a popular franchise introduces a Black female character who just happens to be in a relationship with or flirting with one of fandom’s white dude faves, fandom crawls out of the woodwork to inform us that these characters are all strong Black women that don’t need a man.

They crawl out to tell us that shipping these Black characters with anyone is wrong and problematic because we’re reducing her strength and agency by deciding that they deserve to be loved.

As I said in my fandom essay post on the techniques of erasure:

Automatically, when you go on and on about how x is a “strong Black/Chinese/Puerto Rican person that doesn’t need a significant other” you are not championing asexuals. You are not being progressive. What you are doing is erasing the fact that POC — and especially black women — are typed as unwanted, ugly, and less desirable for romance.

Fans don’t see comments praising Black female characters for their strength in singleness as erasure or propagating stereotypes. They think that because white women and white female characters have had a pretty decent access to roles that aren’t romantic, that Black women should be at that point too.

But that’s not how it works.

Let’s get something straight here: As a strong, single, black woman (well… femme) in fandom, I don’t need non-Black members of fandom to shit all over a powerful Black woman specifically because she’s in a relationship and they claim to see it as diminishing.

Do you know what I actually need?

I need non-black women to stop deciding that Black women can’t have power if they’re in relationships as if strength wanes when we’re in love. I need non-black people in general to stop pulling out that tired “x character is a strong Black woman who don’t need a man” argument as if it’s anything other than racist and dismissive.

And I really need non-black members of fandom to stop acting as if their sudden care for the safety and agency of Black women in film (when said Black women are in relationships with or have mutual attraction to fandom’s white dude favorites) comes from anything other than a place of immense privilege and a desire to have their white faves distanced from the Black women they’re close to in canon.

If you sincerely and seriously believe that romance reduces a Black female character in any way, that says a lot more about your character than hers. Leave Black female characters like Uhura out of it and quit with the concern trolling.

 

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About Zina

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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11 Responses to Nyota Uhura: One More Black Female Character Fandom Wants To Be Strong and Single Forever

  1. elizabun says:

    Even after tos, everyone got to have a family and still have a career except Uhura. Kirk and even Spock hooked up with women, whether it was for the ship or not. As progressive as people make tos out to be, it’s really not. Nichelle had her lines cut, they were racist on set, she was told she couldn’t have the con even though she was 4th in command, ect. Even though aos isn’t perfect, it’s more progressive to let Uhura have love and more lines.

    Also, I hate that people would rather have Spock/Chapel than Uhura/Spock. Spock rejected her so many times and they had no chemistry. Uhura flirted with Spock many times, and he let her. It was even canon that he taught her how to play the Vulcan lyre.

    The want for Kirk/Spock as the only gay representation is aggravating too. As long as the couples are white, everyone is happy. Sulu having a husband, while also having a great role in the movie should be seen as great, but no. People just want to see white gay guys.

    Like

  2. lkeke35 says:

    Okay! This came out much better than when I said it on my post!

    Like

  3. TheWarner says:

    Why can’t Uhura love and be loved? Lord knows Kirk tried to have sex with every female in the galaxy, no matter the species. As someone who was a Star Trek fan before Abrams reboot, I always felt Spock and Uhura should be together. In the episode The Trouble with Tribbles she clearly flirted with him, and he seemed quite comfortable allowing her to do. I’ve always felt if Uhura was with anyone on the ship, it’d be Spock.

    Like

  4. SapphireYagami says:

    I noticed that as well, as I watched the TOS. It seemed like Uhura and Spock had something going on and now with the new Star Trek alternative timeline- they are together and I love them to together.

    Like

  5. “They said that making Uhura Spock’s coworker while she’s in a relationship with him was unprofessional and as far from feminist as you can get.”

    I think of all things, this is the most bizarre argument, since most of these are from Kirk/Spock fans, and like…. Two equal colleagues is WAY more balanced in power than dating your captain??? Like, talk about fucked up power dynamics and unprofessionalism. People gotta fucking settle.

    Like

  6. JA_l says:

    This is an excellent on point meta about everything that is fail about ‘white feminism’ and why it’s so annoying.
    Who is Anne Thériault, anyway? You called her writer, what did she write? If I were to judge by her comments over twitter.. the ignorance gives me second hand embarrassment honestly.
    How can they get the intersectionality of Uhura being a woc and why her being a love interest is progressive when their own feminism has nothing to do with supporting women, to begin with? It’s utterly hopeless, there is no way you can educate people like that.
    I went to their twitter and she and her ‘friends’ are a case of rampant sexism and hatred for women. I can’t believe they are essentially calling Uhura a slut who slept her way up to the enterprise (the whole debate about her saying ‘oral sensitivity’ is crass. She said AURAL and if people don’t know what it means they better find a dictionary before projecting things that are not there) which is super ironic and you know why? In that scene she actually was calling Spock out on the fact that he overcompensated by assigning her to a lesser ship because of their relationship, in spite of her earning her place on the ship through her academy accomplishments (which is the reason why he corrects his mistake). You know who actually got on the ship not because of their merits but because of a relationship? JIM KIRK. He cheated on the kobayashi maru test and as a consequence he wasn’t assigned to a ship but his best friend sneaked him aboard the best ship with him anyway. It’s very telling that the movie basically intertwined the Uhura scene with the one where Kirk is helped by McCoy’s lack of professionality, yet people like that Anne girl and her friends don’t complain about Kirk and McCoy’s actions but they keep accusing Uhura of being the one advantaged by her relationship with Spock in spite of her scene essentially showing the opposite and that she actually was one who almost didn’t get what she has worked for because of her personal life. The movie even made it clear that unlike the other officers, she got a promotion by Pike because she was more competent than the previous officer.
    I don’t even need to mention the obvious favoritism PIKE had for Kirk when he made him the first officer in a slap in the face of every starfleet rule and when Kirk wasn’t even supposed to be on the enterprise.

    People like that person disguise their own misogyny, sexism and double standards as something pro-women and it’s tragic. It’s obvious that if Uhura were a white man they wouldn’t judge her in the same way, and it’s also obvious that her vagina automatically makes them have rampant double standards for her and she’s criticized for everything the male characters either get a free pass for or are praised for. They even project on her flaws that the male characters have and whom they are not criticized for because when it comes to THEIR actions they are not considered problematic.
    ‘Feminists’ like that person are part of the problem.
    Did they even watch the movies especially the last one? Uhura’s role is more important than that of McCoy (who is just Kirk and Spock’s friend and doesn’t even interact with other characters) and Scotty (who is mainly comic relief and character exposition for the new female character). Someone who says she’s just Spock’s girlfriend (all the while they are praising male characters whose entire plot revolves around their friendship with the lead character) is the one with a very obvious problem with women. Not the character and not the actual narrative.

    Like

  7. Tara Strand says:

    Thank you so much for this. I’m just gonna stay mellow and leave it at that.
    Except to also say that Spock and Uhura are pure magical perfection of the most beautiful foreverness.

    Like

  8. Tara Strand says:

    You also might consider giving these people an education: http://www.bustle.com/articles/172732-star-trek-beyond-should-let-uhura-be-the-badass-character-she-is-without-spock and http://www.bustle.com/articles/173600-are-spock-uhura-together-in-star-trek-beyond-the-problems-of-the-past-still-haunt. And since you haven’t seen it I’ll just mention that Uhura was NOT a “nagging girlfriend” in STID by any means. She was justly concerned about a person she knows intimately and cares deeply for and who cares deeply for her too. And there was no lingering “rift” between them either – God, the things these people create in their minds… There were actually lots of really lovely, meaningful moments between them in STID. But the people at Bustle try really hard to mask their trolling by seeming positive about *some* aspects of the *idea* of Spock and Uhura’s relationship, and it’s hilarious to watch them simultaneously walk it all backwards for “Uhura’s own good” or whatever. Gross.

    Like

  9. Tara Strand says:

    Apologies, I can’t seem to stop. But I wanted to add one last thing a friend brought up that’s a problem that stems from trying to navigate peoples’ sexist, anti-feminist double standards when it comes to Uhura. It seems like due to the uproar from Uhura daring to express an opinion about what was going on with her boyfriend in STID (while Kirk is, of course, free to berate Spock and it’s just totes awesome), that in Beyond the writers seemed careful to ensure Uhura did not dare get to share her own experience dealing with the initial dissolving of her years-long relationship lest she be accused of being “diminished” or “defined” by it. While I do love that Beyond was a delicious layer cake of Spock pining for his beloved Uhura and them finding their way back to each other, being selective about what Uhura’s allowed to express is not feminist.

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  10. Pingback: So Long and Good Riddance, Sleepy Hollow | Stitch's Media Mix

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