Race Matters: The Star Trek Family Car Decals

On the back of my car I have a lineup of Think Geek Star Wars family car decals. I had just got my first car and there weren’t any Star Trek ones I could find. I’m by myself and just one sticker seemed weird, so I put on like 10, hoping people wouldn’t assume I had a ridiculous amount of kids.

Anywho, the equivalent Star Trek family car decals have now come out, and they’re super cute, but I have an issue: the decal of Uhura is white, like all the other main characters.

So I saw them, sent out a tweet, and left it at that.

But then I saw someone had asked a related question on the StarTrek.com Facebook page, simply stating: “Why is Uhura white?”

When I read the 50 or so replies I knew this was something I had to respond to, because (even though I’ve had issues with comments on the same page in past) it was really disappointing to see how defensive some fans were getting over what seemed to me to be an obvious screw-up by the folks at Think Geek.

I’m going to go through some of the defences that were raised and talk about the issues I have, starting with the simplest.

1. “Who said she was Uhura?”

Um, if you click on the link and look at the pictures, as you can see above, it’s clearly labeled.

2. “Might as well ask why Spock isn’t green. pphhtt!”

But Spock ISN’T green. In the pilot Spock’s skin was tinged yellow but for the rest of the series and the movies he’s as white as Leonard Nimoy is.

3. “Maybe his wife is not black”

I’m assuming this means the person who owns the car (whom the commenter assumes is a man because…?), is white and has a white wife, so they need a white sticker for her. Above you can see there are plenty of white female choices: Yeoman Rand, Nurse Chapel, Isis and the Romulan Commander. But what if the wife (or anyone else in the family) IS black? You’re basically SOL.

4. “Cause they are window decals and you wouldn’t see them if they were dark.”/”If Uhura was her natural color, the decal’s face details would not show well on windows.”

I don’t buy this for a minute. First of all, they figured out how to make the Gorn dark green, Isis’s hair dress and cat black, and the Mugato’s skin and tribbles are all brown. I don’t see why it would’ve been so hard to make Uhura’s skin brown. Also, if you look closely, you’ll see her legs are black where Chapel’s and Rand’s are white. Not-sense-making.

I’m going to compare with the Star Wars decals for a minute because these were entirely black and white, so you can see what’s possible with even fewer options.

Star Wars car decals - black and white

Darth Vader, Chewbacca, the Ewok and the Jawa would all be brown or black, and the artists managed to depict them without changing their colors.

4. “Uhura is hot. I don’t even care which actress portrays her because she’s always gorgeous. Enough with the cartoon skin pigmentation crisis.”

Dude, not even going to touch this one.

5. “Racially sensitive IDIOTS just piss me off! Why is this even a question? Seems like every minority person with an inferiority complex feels a need to be offended in an effort to become relevant.”

I would love to see this guy respond if they’d released a series of car decals where everyone was black – Kirk, Spock, Chekov, everyone – and not provided any white character options. Somehow I don’t think he’d be totally cool with that.

6. “The decals are intended to reflect the family whose car they are on, not actual star trek characters.”

Oh, so it’s totally fine to give zero options to families who aren’t white? And while we’re at it, I guess there must be a whole whack of Vulcans and Orions and Andorians driving around today that needed blue and green-skinned people to feel represented. 

This is like arguing it was okay to call the peach crayon “flesh” because mostly white kids were coloring with them. It perfectly defines the problem: white is considered normal and anything else is considered other. 

7. “Why should their race matter? They’re novelty decals not racist statements FFS”

And

“You are ALL missing the TRUE meaning of XMESS! The TRUE gift. Color blindness!”

And

“If we had truly made any progress since 1963, we would just be happy that they have Star Trek decals for our cars. End of Story. tsk, tsk, tsk.

Because the white privilege that gives people like me (and these commenters) “nude nylons” and appropriately-colored Band-Aids and a whole posse of white Star Trek family car decals is so invisible to most people, even drawing attention to it is seen as “reverse racism”. 

In this context, white people turn a blind eye to ongoing, serious, systemic racial inequality and pat themselves on the back by pretending they “don’t see race”. Yes, the 23rd century depicted in Star Trek showed a future where it was more or less possible to be color-blind, but it could not have done that without showing characters of color being fully accepted/included.

That’s because racism/racial inequality was a big deal then, as it still is now.

As one commenter said:

“The whole point is Uhura was a revolutionary character on TV BECAUSE she was black. To label the sticker as Uhura and then make her white is an insult and something no Trekker would ever support.”

Another commenter who said it well:

“Somewhere they decided to make her white. Which should be a major technical flaw to any Trekkie, totally regardless f the fact that it’s also an egregious, galling, and insulting cultural gaffe that spits on the values the show promoted. It’s a deliberate choice that they made to pander to people who don’t want a black lady representing them on their car, to sell a few more stickers to them than to people with black women in their families, or a lick of common decency.”

Representation matters – something that Gene Roddenberry recognized. These decals are not colorblind; they are white-washed.

Note 1: after I posted this story I came across this great article by K.T. Bradford at Ebony: “Why Think Geek Whitewashed Uhura (And Why it Matters)” – check it out.

Note 2:  This post was originally posted at my Tumblr in December 2013. By August 2014 Think Geek had listened and fixed the decals! Now everyone who’s white has a light peach-tone skin and Uhura is black. The Klingon also got a brown face.

TOS decals with skin tones

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