Duet is a heartrending episode where a Cardassian, claiming originally to be the filing clerk Marritza turns up on DS9 needing treatment from Kolla narra syndrome, which he could only have contracted during the mining accident.
He is then suspected to in fact be Gul Darhe’el, the butcher of the Gallitep concentration camp on Bajor But it turns out that Gul Darhe’el was never at Gallitep during the mining accident, and in fact Darhe’el had died some time ago. Gul Dukat confirms that he attended his funeral.
The man was indeed Marritza, the powerless little filing clerk, who felt so terribly guilty about his inability to stop the atrocities at Gallitep that he had transformed himself with plastic surgery to resemble Darhe’el in order to be convicted and pay for the crimes for which he felt responsible.
“I covered my ears every night, but… I couldn’t bear to hear those horrible screams. You have no idea what it’s like to be a coward. To see these horrors, and do nothing. Marritza’s dead. He deserves to be dead.”
It is like a sad duet between Marritza and Kira Nerys who goes from prejudice, hatred and vengeful anger to understanding and pity. It might have been the beginning of a beautiful relationship of reconciliation, until finally Marritza is murdered by a rogue, racist Bajoran on the Promenade, in typical operatic style, the story ends as a tragedy.
“Why? He wasn’t Darhe’el! WHY?” Kira asks incredulously, and Kainon answers with a sneer, “He’s a Cardassian. That’s reason enough.” Kira replies, “No. It’s not.”
My children are often deeply shocked and angered by the portrayal of racism and prejudice shown within Star Trek. But it is always presented in such a way – either openly or subtly, that is designed to make you shocked enough to realise that it’s not logical or rational and is in fact completely inconsistent with Star Fleet ideals and Roddenberry’s vision for the future. It shines the spotlight on our own prejudices and challenges them. Kira doesn’t completely abandon her prejudice toward Cardassians of course (how could she? the atrocities they perpetrated against the Bajoran people happened in her lifetime, and it’s hard for her to accept that not all Cardassians are evil).
I’m a white female. I don’t feel particularly privileged, but I am aware that the colour of my skin as well as my gender affects how people view me, and treat me. I don’t like to think of myself as a racist. I grew up in a multicultural school in London, my friends were a mixed bunch which included all colours and creeds, and my best friend was Caribbean. But I told my children recently that, in order to confront racism, it is important to realise how the prejudice is so culturally ingrained and the system is so firmly institutionalised that we probably have prejudices we’re not even conscious of. We have to be honest and confront the prejudice in ourselves as well as speaking up to defend the oppressed and speak out when the system is so outrageously stacked against people of colour.
I’m in the UK, but it hasn’t escaped my notice that the killing by a police officer of Philando Castile in front of his girlfriend and four year old daughter failed to return a conviction of murder. It is only the latest in a string of killings of young black men – who were guilty of nothing more than being young black men – by police officers that has failed to produce a guilty verdict. I’m sickened, appalled, heartbroken over and over again.
Where do we go from here? When will things change?
Why do these prejudices persist?
What can we do to change the world, change people’s minds, bring down institutional racism?
Is Roddenberry’s vision – of an enlightened society – possible?