The cult sci-fi hit Star Trek has been a milestone for many things. The team of the starship Enterprise set the standard for numerous storylines and tropes common within the genre. More than that, the show encouraged conversation on controversial topics such as reproductive rights, terrorism, homosexuality, and race.
This November, Star Trek will celebrate its 51st anniversary of the first on-screen interracial kiss. The kiss takes place between Captain James Kirk, played by William Shatner, and Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nicholes. Uhura herself was already a strong figure in the show. In fact, she was one of the first women of color in a position of power on prime-time television. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. even encouraged Nicholes to remain on the show. Depicting a black woman on equal footing with her white coworkers, King said Star Trek was one of the only shows he let his children stay up late to watch.
The controversial episode “Plato’s Children” first aired on November 22, 1968. And it can certainly be said that Star Trek opened up a new “final frontier” by pushing the social boundaries of its time. In fact, the episode was debated and critiqued by social and civil rights analysts for decades. The power rested in its controversy. This show, and particularly this episode, showed that people of color could have romantic relationships not based on the color of their skin.
The Kiss That Inspired Love
Eric Deggans, a TV critic for National Public Radio, said the kiss
suggested that there was a future where [interracial relationships] were not such a big deal. The characters themselves were not freaking out because a black woman was kissing a white man…In this utopian-like future, we solved this issue. We’re beyond it. That was a wonderful message to send.
However, in 1968 less than 20% of Americans thought interracial relationships were acceptable, according to Gallup Polls. In fact, in 1967 it was illegal for a racially mixed couple to get married in many states. This sentiment still resinated with many viewers causing them to see the kiss as a degradation of American values. While others saw it as a great leap forward in representation. In the end, society determined that Kirk and Uhura’s kiss was a step forward in normalizing mixed-race couples.
Love on The New Frontier
As of 2018, about 17% of newlywed American couples are interracial. In fact, Honolulu, HI has the largest number of interracial marriages hovering around 40%, while Jackson, MS has the lowest at 3%. Studies further show that only about 11% of white partners end up marrying someone of a different racial background, while Asian, Hispanic, and black Americans are much more likely to marry outside their ethnicity. What’s interesting is that the rate of black interracial marriages has risen from less than 5% in the 1980s to almost 20% today.
God’s Response to Mixed Marriages
But concern about interracial marriage is not just 20th and 21st century issue. The Bible also records instances of biracial, or more appropriately bi-ethnic, unions. Possibly the most famous is that Moses and Zipporah. Displeased with their brother’s choice in a mate, Aaron and Miriam argued with Moses about his decision to marry a woman from Cush, or modern-day Ethiopia.
Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
An outsider from the Hebrew community, Aaron and Miriam did not believe that Zipporah was suitable for Moses. They actually began to question Moses’ ability to lead because of his choice in a mate. For their xenophobic and discriminatory criticism Numbers 12:10-11,15 record God’s punishment:
And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was a leper. So Aaron said to Moses, “Oh my Lord! Please do not lay this sin on us, in which we have done foolishly and in which we have sinned.”…So Miriam was shut out of the camp seven days, and the people did not journey till Miriam was brought in again.
This story clearly reveals that as far back as the Old Testament God protects interracial marriages. Not only did God show favor on the marriage of Moses and Zipporah, but he also punished anyone, even Moses’ sister, for trying to tear them a part.
Star Trek tried to show viewers that true love will explore new frontiers, new cultures, new people. And the story of Moses and Zipporah teaches us that when we step out to reflect the image of God with partners of different racial and ethnic backgrounds that we have His protection and His favor. May we build relationships that truly exemplify that we are all one in Christ Jesus (Colossians 3:11 NIV). If modern Christians can follow this principle, then maybe Star Trek won’t be the only world exploring a new frontier.