Last night I Watched DS9 episode “Far Beyond the Stars,” and was impressed by its grappling with the politics of being a black writer in early 1950s New York. In the end, Sisko, as Bennie the black science fiction writer, has a breakdown, after seeing a black friend killed by the police for breaking into a car, and then being beaten himself to within an inch of his life, for daring to express outrage at the police brutality. Later, he is fired from his job for daring to write a science fiction story about a black space captain in the future, and so this all comes together to provoke his mental breakdown, during which he repats: “I am a human being!” The implication that his ideas deserve just as much recognition as anyone else’s: his story was good, so who cares if it is about black men in positions of authority? Why do whites need to fear this, or suppress the idea?
The episode was filmed in the late 90s, and since that time the arrival of Obama has made the issues feel much less ‘present-day’ poignant, though of course anyone with humanity can still sympathize in the historical context. While in the late 90s, the notion of a black man in charge was still a futuristic dream, less so than in the 50s of course by a longshot, but it was still unfulfilled… today, that sort of poignancy can never be as acute, thanks to Obama. One of the epic healing salves of the entire American and indeed western culture was his election. And yet it is striking, one of course has to sympathize with the notion of being discriminated against, being fired, being beaten up, having your friends die, simply b/c you are not the same color as the in-group. In a paroxyism of rage, anger, and helplessness, which was still mitigated against by his stories which dared to dream of a better future, Bennie collapses on the office floor, and is carried out in an ambulance.
It struck me, that since this was filmed in about 1998, the race issue has been more healed than perhaps ever before, but that the economic issues underlying the episode have if anything gotten much worse. Management and administration has everywhere not only gotten stronger, but implemented a policy of systematically squeezing, downsizing, piling on work, reducing salaries, reducing benefits, making every job part-time and short-duration which used to be stable and full time and long term.
And it struck me, that all of us are Sisko/Bennie.
We are all daily subject to indignities, to discrimination, to hierarchical control, dehumanization, prejudice, and institutionalized brutality. And it is called your job. (more…)