One of the things—along with the food and the art—that I love about New York City is the incredible diversity of people. One time when I was visiting my daughter Dee, we were sitting at a café, and I was positively dazzled by the variety of passersby—short, tall, thin, fat, Asian, white, black, brown, men with women, women with women, men with men. There were no disapproving stares, and everyone looked as though they felt completely comfortable with themselves and with others.
“This is good,” I said to myself. “This is very good.”
I was reminded of this last week when I went to see the latest Star Trek movie. Along with the humorous bantering between Spock and Bones, the heroic deeds of Captain Kirk, and the many, many explosions, there was a scene at a space station that was an interstellar version of what I saw at that café in New York city. But along with the brown and black, there were red, green, blue, and other creatures that walked on two legs but did not resemble humans in any way. There they were, all together, serenely and joyfully going about their business, and it made me smile just to watch that scene.
Naturally, in the course of the story, the space station comes under grave danger. Readers, I am not going to give any spoilers, except to note that Kirk and company go to great lengths trying to save that station.
From its inception, Star Trek celebrated diversity, and the original show with Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner featured a cast that resembled a mini-United Nations. The main crew included a black woman, a Japanese man, a Russian man, a Vulcan, and the inimitable Scotty. In the early 1960s, this inclusiveness was nothing short of astonishing.
And of course that was the whole point. Gene Roddenberry, the original show’s creator, felt very strongly that as a species, we needed to look beyond the surface to acknowledge the dignity and worth of every person. He was a man ahead of his time, showing us the direction in which we should be headed.
In the natural world, we celebrate diversity and curse those invasive species that can overcome the natural system. Having too much of one plant or animal is usually not a good thing. The same is true for monocropping, with the potato famine in Ireland being a horrible example of what can go wrong when too much reliance is put on one vegetable. Even genetically, diversity is a very good thing, and too much interbreeding, whether with dogs or with humans, leads to all sorts of problems.
So we have plenty of examples of the value of diversity, but we seem to have trouble applying this knowledge to the various types and colors of people who live on this planet.
Nature shows us the way. So does Star Trek and other science fiction stories. New York City does, too. Slowly, many of us are absorbing these lessons. Unfortunately, others are not. But it is my hope that a time will come, sooner rather than later, when racial and cultural diversity is, well, normal, not at all unusual, simply the way things are.