Defining My Space - How Uhura Helped Me Find Myself

Lt. Uhura facing the camera and looking strong and powerful

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When I was little, back in the 1970’s, I would spend each summer at my grandparents’ house in Newport News, VA.  After long days of playing under the magnolia tree or in the back yard with the dogs, I would always come inside to enjoy my three favorite things – a ham sandwich on white bread with lettuce and mayonnaise, a large glass of my grandmother’s iced tea, and Star Trek.

I always knew that I could count on Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and the alien adventure of the week to keep me entertained.  But the real source of my youthful devotion was Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura.  Every time I saw the woman with the sparkling eyes and nut brown skin that was the same as mine, a thrill of recognition and pride would shoot all the way from my toes to my curly pig tails.

 

Lt. Uhura with her hand to her earpiece

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I loved it when she would place her hand to the strange device in her ear and say, “Hailing frequencies open, Captain,” in that clear, musical voice.  And it was so cool to watch her interacting with the men on the crew as their equal!  Why couldn’t the boys in my neighborhood be more like the crew of the Enterprise?

As I grew into a teenager, my love of Science Fiction and Fantasy grew with me.  From Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time to Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, I read everything I could find that took place in space or fantasy worlds.

But it wasn’t until I found Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower as a young woman in the 1990’s that I realized that I had been looking for something throughout all that reading.  I had been searching for Uhura.

 

Lt. Uhura at her station

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It was a visceral moment for me when I saw a young, black woman who looked like she could’ve been my sister on the cover of that book.  I felt that same thrill I used to get whenever I saw Lt. Uhura on the screen in my grandparents’ living room.  But I felt something else that I didn’t realize I had been missing.  I felt validated.  In all those thousands of words I had read that created fantastic tales of the future, I’d never read myself.  Imagine my hurt when I realized that the writers I so adored didn’t imagine me in their futures.

After the shock wore off, I realized something else.  I realized that I had absolutely expected to see myself in those made-up worlds of tomorrow because Lt. Nyota Uhura had shown me that I was supposed to be there.  Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura shaped my perception of the future.  The inevitable consequence of seeing this glorious Black woman on the Bridge of a starship was for me to imagine myself in that space (pun intended). 

In Lt. Uhura, I saw a Black woman standing solid and comfortable in her own power.  When she took over manning the Science Station in “The Galileo Seven” (TOS 1x13) she showed me how to not be a one trick pony by diversifying my education and training. 

 

Lt. Uhura with Mr. Spock

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And again in “Who Mourns for Adonais” (TOS 2x04) when Uhura rewires the entire communications system to create a subspace bypass circuit to communicate with the landing party on the planet, she showed me that not only was she capable and brilliant but, more importantly, that she was integral to the crew and to the story.  She belonged where she was.  

She didn’t try to hide how smart she was or play the coquette to win affection and attention from the men around her.  She simply was her glorious, independent, fully capable, wonderfully human self.

Because of her, I can visualize my future.  And in that future, I am standing solid and comfortable in my own power, belonging right where I am.

 

About the Author 

A photograph of guest blogger Tamia Harper

Tamia Harper is a Co-Founder and COO of the SyFy Sistas.  An aspiring SF/F writer, she and her cat travel the space-ways with Sun Ra’s Arkestra searching for the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

 

 

 

5 comments

  • Thank You for the wonderful read, Tamia. I’ve seen the slogan, “Representation Matters,” and your article gives life to those words.

    Travis Taylor
  • Love this! Thank you for sharing!

    Malissa Longo
  • I love this post. I like that you shared personal stories and quoted episode numbers!

    Michael Kenyon Rosenberg
  • Great article! Thanks Tamia!

    Eve England
  • I loved it! I have to check out the rest of the blog posts.

    Subrina L. Wood

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