Racism is a subject that has been specifically and repeatedly addressed on Star Trek since the 1960s, with a clear message that racial prejudice has no place in an enlightened society. Unfortunately, the official Star Trek Facebook page is peppered with racist comments. Although less common than sexist and homophobic comments, they are equally serious and serve to alienate fans of color.
Most of the comments below are from articles that asked fans to “Describe Sulu in one word” (August 13, 2014) and a challenge to caption a photo of Geordi LaForge getting his hair cut (August 24, 2014). Many comments about Takei, who is Japanese-American, not only singled out his race but misidentified it. These kinds of posts (caption contests and questions inviting one word answers) as well as posts related to site polls, seem to attract less thoughtful and unfortunately sometimes outright offensive commentary. Again, we urge page administrators to take more care crafting posts and to introduce moderation to remove racial slurs or negative generalizations based on race from the comments.
Allowing homophobic and transphobic comments and slurs on the Star Trek Facebook page creates a space that is hostile to LGBT fans and discourages their engagement. It also goes against the stated CBS values of valuing diversity, and Star Trek’s message of tolerance and taking a “special delight in differences”, as Gene Roddenberry once stated.
Most of the comments below are from articles that asked fans to “Describe Sulu in one word” (August 13, 2014) and “Describe Tasha Yar in one word” (August 21, 2014). It is our position that the page administrators should particularly avoid posting this kind of question in future, as it seems to discourage thoughtful fan responses; often leading to large number of homophobic comments and characterizations stereotyping some male characters as “gay” and strong female characters in particular as “lesbians”. While describing an actor or a character as gay or lesbian can actually be a celebration of their diversity, it was more common for us to see the terms used in a negative or joking context. We would ask that more clearly derogatory homophobic and transphobic terms like “fag” be banned outright in a comments policy.
Sexist/misogynist commenting is the most common issue on the official Star Trek Facebook page. This can take an obviously negative form, as seen in the proliferation of misogynistic slurs like “bitch” and “cunt” used to describe female characters or actors, or the vicious and sometimes even threatening responses from some commenters to other fans who try to question the sexism on the page.
Misogynist commenting can also take a form that might on the surface seem positive; that is, commenting about being sexually attracted to various female characters or actors. However, there is a difference between saying a woman is “beautiful” or “hot” and saying she’s “fuckable” or posting a cartoon or meme joking about how she makes you want to masturbate. The problem is when the woman in question is reduced to her appearance and only valued as a sex object for men. When that happens repeatedly, as it does on the page, it reinforces an environment of misogyny – contempt for women as equal human beings.
Women have had a long history in the Star Trek fandom, staging some of the first conventions, creating fan magazines, and coordinating letter-writing campaigns to keep Trek on the air. Women in Trek fandom today should not have to choose between being exposed to hundreds of misogynist comments in threads they might want to comment respectfully on, voicing their concerns in the comments only to be trolled and sometimes threatened, or leaving the Facebook page outright. Unfortunately, that is what’s happening because of the lack of responsibility taken by CBS and StarTrek.com to properly moderate the page.
Jokes about rape are anything but funny. One in six American women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime and only three percent of convicted rapists will ever spend a day in jail (Source: rainn.org). Rape jokes contribute to a culture where rape is treated as normal and inevitable, women live in fear and modify their daily routines to avoid rape, and victims are blamed for bringing attacks upon themselves. Rape jokes delegitimate survivors’ trauma and need for support and create a barrier to reporting their attacks to authorities. Joking about rape (including joking about raping men and prison rape) should not be tolerated on the official Star Trek Facebook page.
Reading through comments on the Facebook page, it’s clear that there are a number of fans who have problem with the sexist, homophobic and/or racist comments that are so prevalent. However, when they raise those concerns directly with the commenters, they often experience a backlash, as shown in some of these examples. We believe this demonstrates that the page should not expect its fans to manage and moderate the page discussion without any backup from an official page presence.