“[In ‘The Emissary’,] K’Ehleyr and Deanna Troi have a revealing exchange about being caught between cultures. Like Deanna, whose father was human but whose mother is Betazoid, K’Ehleyr is half-human (on her mother’s side) and half-Klingon (on her father’s side). But because she appears very Klingon, with dark coloring and prominent facial ridges, K’Ehleyr has little choice about self-identifying with a race; her appearance determines that for her…
Conversely, Deanna appears to be completely human…Her ability to pass as completely human enables her to reveal her racial mix on her terms, when she chooses to do so. Because she looks like a member of the dominant group, she is treated like one of them most of the time.
Whereas Deanna has happy feelings about her mixed status, K’Ehleyr admits to feeling ‘trapped between two cultures.’ Deanna, by contrast, mouths pieties about ‘experienc[ing] the richness and diversity of the two worlds’ her parents come from…Deanna can be positive about racial difference because she rarely experiences racial prejudice. That these choices depend heavily on the woman’s appareance reveals the central tension of racial tension presented and perceived as appearance.
There are fewer choices for the female character whose appearance is that of the oppressed race or species.”
-Robin Roberts, Sexual Generations: “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Gender, 1999.
I appreciate Roberts’ thoughts on this episode, and I think the comparison between Troi and K’Ehleyr can be useful in helping people to understand the privilege that comes from being in or “passing” as a member of the dominant group, as well as issues people face when there is a tension between who they feel they are and whom others perceive them to be.