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Mr. Spock Was A Biracial Role Model Of Notable Cool


Once again, you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.


RATH: I'm sure you've heard lots of heartfelt tributes to the wonderful Leonard Nimoy, who died yesterday. I wanted to sound one more note of appreciation for something very particular the actor meant to me growing up. A lot of people love Spock. Man, have you been hearing that for the last 24 hours. But I want to tell you about what he meant to an Anglo-Indian kid growing up in America.

Spock was the first biracial character I'd ever encountered in popular culture. And so weird as it may sound, Spock was a role model for me. Spock's biracial identity echoed the markers of race here on Earth. Like, if you're brown, you're brown. No one sees the half white, just like with Spock.

Well, you've got pointy ears and green blood, son. You're a Vulcan. No one ever called him Vulcan-human. And as a kid in the American suburbs in the '70s, being half-Indian really did feel like being half alien. In the presence of my white friends, my Indian culture sure came across like it was from another planet. We had gods with animal heads and too many arms, our food was weird - you only have to look at "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom" to see how our cuisine came across - chilled monkey brains and eyeball soup. And that garbage was in the '80s.

Even in the progressive 23rd century world imagined on "Star Trek," Spock's on the receiving end of plenty of racial barbs. In the episode called "This Side Of Paradise," Spock is afflicted with a virus that robs him of his Vulcan emotional control. He falls in love. To snap him back to reality, Captain Kirk has to make him furiously angry. When Kirk wants to kick Spock where it hurts the most, he goes right after the mixed parentage.


WILLIAM SHATNER: (As Captain Kirk) All right, you mutinous, disloyal, computerized half-breed. We'll see about you deserting my ship.

LEONARD NIMOY: (As Mr. Spock) The term half-breed is somewhat applicable.

RATH: I didn't get taunted a lot as a kid, but still that term half-breed summons raw childhood emotions. But here's Spock with a lesson on how you respond to hate with dignity.


NIMOY: (As Mr. Spock) Captain, if you'll excuse me.

SHATNER: (As Captain Kirk) What can you expect from a simpering, devil-eared freak whose father was a computer and his mother was an encyclopedia?

NIMOY: (As Mr. Spock) My mother was a teacher, my father an ambassador.

RATH: Even without that Vulcan control, it takes a lot more to make Spock blow his cool.


RATH: It's impossible to think of Spock without Leonard Nimoy - the gravitas and dignity he brought to what could've been a goofy role. Nimoy said that as an actor, he relished playing outsiders. And watching him as a kid, I knew he understood the weird, wonderful and awkward space mixed-race, mixed-culture individuals inhabit.

I promised myself long ago that if I ever met or interviewed Mr. Nimoy, I would thank him for what that meant to me as a boy. I never had that opportunity, but it feels wrong to let that gratitude go unexpressed. So putting my voice onto radio waves that will go out to where no one has gone before, thank you Leonard Nimoy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Beginning in October 2015, Arun Rath assumed a new role as a shared correspondent for NPR and Boston-based public broadcaster WGBH News. He is based in the WGBH newsroom and his time is divided between filing national stories for NPR and local stories for WGBH News.

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