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In Star Trek, humans of different racial appearances exist, such as Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. But I assume that if humans have been able to travel easily around Earth, and that there is little in the way of social prejudice against interracial relationships, for hundreds of years, then there wouldn't be much racial diversity left - most humans would have many Asian, African, European, etc. ancestors.

What reasons, both in-universe and out-of-universe, are there for racial diversity in humans in Star Trek?

(I'm mainly familiar with TOS, but I'm open to answers related to anything in the franchise)

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I think even in a future with little social prejudice there are still people who just aren't attracted to other races. So there are probably still many single race families, to have the gene pool not completely mixed. – Thomas Feb 5 at 12:39
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Some people are more comfortable with their own racial type - which is fine. Some people like to mix it up - which is also perfectly fine. A healthy species needs both diversity and blending. – Joe L. Feb 5 at 14:14
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Because the idea that multi-cultural societies will inevitably result in everyone looking the same is complete nonsense! – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 5 at 18:36
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Besides, a few hundred years of intermingling wouldn't be enough to iron out all the differences. Come back a few thousand years from now. – Mr Lister Feb 5 at 20:06
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@Axelrod: They're united under one government but I have serious difficulty imagining a civilisation of trillions of sentient beings who only have a single apparent culture. And for a counter-example you only really need to look at Joe Sisko's creole restaurant and how he got annoyed at his doctor for confusing it with ... cajun, I think it was. I know you could say it's just foodstuffs, but I think there's sufficient cultural subtext there. Then there's Chakotay, who literally grew up with a tribe of Native Americans, who still followed the "old ways". I could go on.. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 5 at 20:16
up vote 91 down vote accepted

Out-of-universe, Roddenberry wanted the cast of the Enterprise to reflect his dream of what the Earth of the future would be. Therefore, the social commentary of having Africans, Asians, and Caucasians serving together and working together peacefully outweighed the need to be accurate about what a post-racial Earth might look like.

In-universe, even if racial tensions disappeared over night, it's possible that racial differences could persist for much, much longer. Studies have should that people tend to be attracted to people who look like them (or their parents). In short, even while being completely tolerant and accepting, people may end up dating people of their race for perfectly benign reasons, causing racial differences to persist.

Also, multiple characters in the Trek universe show strong pride for the cultures they were raised in. Sisko is a Creole-cooking, baseball-loving African-American from New Orleans. Keiko engages in several Japanese traditions, and works it into her wedding. Chekov freakin' never shuts up about the fact that he's from Russia, and parrots old Soviet lines about how Russians invented everything. To say nothing of the entire colony of Native-Americans who are still practicing their traditions, and moved to an entirely different planet to do so.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the Trek universe isn't a homogeneous society, it's an extremely tolerant one. Differences are acknowledged and celebrated, and no one judges or discriminates against those of different cultures. I don't think that it's surprising that within that society, people still tend to marry and gravitate towards people of similar races and backgrounds, while not holding any sort of animus towards people who are different. But for every Ben and Jennifer Sisko, there's also a Miles and Keiko O'Brien.

Also, while it's true that Trek doesn't show many multiracial officers, it does show a lot of multi-species officers. That's gotta be more impressive, right?

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In the paragraph about culture (and Sisko, Chekov, Keiko) you may want to add Picard as well ;) – ypercubeᵀᴹ Feb 8 at 9:29
    
Most of the comments here were a general discussion of race/ethnicity and its perception, rather than commentary on this post. Please continue the conversation in chat. If you feel I've deleted any comments that shouldn't have been deleted, ping me and I can undelete them. – Rand al'Thor Feb 8 at 12:08
    
@ypercubeᵀᴹ The English-Frenchman? (which is actually perfectly reasonable: centuries is a long time for accents and cultural drift) – Yakk Feb 8 at 15:02

Star Trek TOS is set 200 years in the future, which is 6 to 8 generations. There probably will be less diversity -- more homogeneity -- in 200 years than there is now. But will this be enough time to totally homogenize homo sapiens?

You have some excellent answers. I will add just one point from modern genetics research.

In A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, Nicholas Wade cites research that shows how stationary most people are:

Using a 500,000 snip chip, researchers at Stanford University have found a srong genetic correspondence between the genetics and geographical origins of Europeans. In fact, 90% of people can be located to within 700 kilometers (435 miles) of where they were born, and 50% to within 310 kilometers (193 miles).

In other words, most people grow up, marry, live and die close to where they were born. In the US, the vast majority of people are descended from people who did move thousands of miles quite recently. And many of us on this site have moved many times because of school and jobs, so we don't realize the extent to which people stay home. (And a large migration of refugees is underway right now, further obscuring the long term view.)

With increasing wealth, cheaper transportation and urbanization more people will move away from their birthplaces, but 8 to 12 generations will not be enough to homogenize 7 to 10 billion people.

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When first aired, they intentionally avoided pinning down a date for TOS; that's why Kirk's historical remarks are so inconsistent in some of the episodes. – Izkata Feb 5 at 22:09
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@rom016 I would be curious if you have some statistics for that assumption. While there are many teen pregnancies I don't know it is enough to push ahead the generations like that. Not all couples have kids early. – Matt Feb 6 at 15:25
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Also, during and after major infrastructure destroying wars (as preceded First Contact), migrations tend to be smaller and far between. – Eric Towers Feb 6 at 21:47
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Don't forget the problem of recessive genes- it's practically impossible to breed them out, because you need to get rid of all heterozygous individuals as well. This means we'll always have red-heads unless someone specifically kills every red-head gene carrier, many of which are not red-headed. (See Hardy-Weinberg Principle: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardy%E2%80%93Weinberg_principle) – PipperChip Feb 7 at 2:27
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...and let's not forget, ST didn't go "one earth, one people" immediately. Chochraine's comtemporaries were sitting in a post-WW III scenario, and were probably not too keen (or, indeed, able) to mix & mingle with people from the eastern block (or whatnot it was called) which they had waged war with a couple of years ago. Such things tend to linger for a while, First Contact or not. Some people still hold plenty of reservations from WW II times in our today, not even counting things like language & culture barriers. – DevSolar Feb 8 at 9:41

Gene Roddenberry's idea of Star Trek was to show humanity at it's most ideal. This meant that everyone was equal, and there was no segregation and people worked together no matter what creed, race, gender or sexual preference. It shows that all people can come together and their differences can be a point of unification instead of separation.

As mentioned by other people, having a mixed race cast was a big deal; especially with the history of the cast and what was going on at the time. (Nichols was even supported by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr when she was debating about leaving because she was a huge role model to his kids. And only a few years earlier, Takei was subjected to the Japanese internment camps in the US during World War II)

In universe, the events of TOS is only 200 years from now, which is only a couple of generations. That's not enough time to completely erase out all culture and races and make everyone look and act the same. In fact the differences of culture is still held on. Several other answers mention specific examples so I won't take them, but there are others who cling to the 'old ways', similar to how the Amish of our world work. Look at Picard's brother: He uses little advanced technology on his winery. Surely there are still those who maintain their culture as a point of pride.

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People in the Star Trek world still often talk about their cultural backgrounds. Chakotay, for example, is very invested in his tribal American background. People like that will tend to make friends and families with other people with similar cultural values, and since those people will largely have similar physical features, the result will be less racial diversity.

I believe there are a couple of scenes in one of the series where they show some type of south-east Asian culture, but I can't remember which series. But it was similar, in that the woman back on Earth wasn't just from Asia; she was heavily invested in the traditions of her people.

We see the same from a number of non-human cultures. Even Worf, who had little reason to care about his Klingon heritage, takes great pride in that heritage.

Overall, it seems many populations within the Federation, while respecting the values and beliefs of other cultures, are still very intimately connected to their ancestral cultures. Again, this will necessarily tend to slow the mingling of races.

Out of universe, there's the fact that portraying everyone as a single race would leave the impression that Star Trek is exclusive, rather than inclusive. By casting actors of many varied races throughout the show, it makes the show feel less racist to real-world viewers who are accustomed to a world with many races.

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One thing most of the other answers have glossed over is the fact that there could still be regional differences, due to people clustering in the area near where they were born. This could result in racial skin color differences not being eliminated for much longer.

Edit: Also, as user2338816 very wisely said:

Perhaps even more importantly, we might imagine numerous off-world colonies established along racial lines. Far more isolated than just "regions".

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Perhaps even more importantly, we might imagine numerous off-world colonies established along racial lines. Far more isolated than just "regions". – user2338816 Feb 7 at 2:56
    
@user2338816 very excellent point! – Sam Weaver Feb 7 at 3:22

Regardless of how much diversity had inclusion within you or your group, community, society or species, the differences between us although may no longer be part of prejudice and bigotry will still always be part of the mate selection process as well as having a strong influence on your choice of friends and peers.

It is still unusual to see interracial relationships. And just as unusual to see a white guy be in the inner circle of a group of black friends and same with the reverse. This isn't a racial statement on my part, it's merely an observation that I think many people can agree with.

People tend to choose people who are most like them as their peers and mates. Even beyond black or white or Asian, but as much as the color of one's hair and their smell.

It will always part of our evolution otherwise evolution will stop. If we are all equal from a biological selection point of view, then we will homogenize. I however have no reason to believe this homogeneity is likely to come about any time soon.

I being a white person have been asked by a black person what I think about events in the recent past, and I my answer is something similar to but not exactly. "Opinions are like bellybuttons, everyone has one and they ALL stink." I also think they we as a species will be unable to get over race until we do discover life out there so that we can start looking at ourselves as "we" as compared to "them". Then all of us can start being "we" collectively for everyone.

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Until Season 5 of Deep Space Nine, the best explanation for the change in Klingon appearance was a special effects failure in the real world. For now, I'd asume that the same applies to lack of mixing of 22nd century humanity.

Regarding the real world, TV networks didn't have the guts/vision to cast mostly multiracial actors.

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You've got it backwards. He's not saying they need more races, he's questioning why races still exist in a utopian, non-segregated society that has been mixing for hundreds of years. – Axelrod Feb 5 at 17:20
    
@Axelrod, my theory is that races are largely mixed in the Star Trek "universe." We don't see that on TV because the studios can't portray that properly. And until Worf's retcon, TOS Klingons "always had" ridges which couldn't be seen due to "special effects failure." – o.m. Feb 5 at 18:33

In universe:

  1. Earth went through some nasty times before the Vulcans found them and helped them rebuild. Society was seriously trashed, everyone was poor and high technology was rare. During this period there would have been far less long-distance travel than previously, and I imagine more xenophobia. That would have reduced the mixing.

  2. Some of the diversity might be artificial. For instance, people like Chakotay say they're full-blood Amerinds. But for all we know a few generations back some Amerind enthusiasts decided to live that way, thought it would be cool to edit their children's genes so they were full-blood Amerinds, and Chakotay is their descendant.

Out of universe:

  1. There just aren't that many blended ethnicity actors, and restricting himself to only hiring such people would have left Roddenberry with a much smaller pool of talent than he had historically.

  2. The networks probably wouldn't have funded a show where the cast were all mixed ethnicity.

  3. Viewers like their characters to look different to each other - hence we get casts made up of some of: one person who is black, one who is Asian, one white with blond hair, one white with brown hair, one white with red hair, one white with black hair, etc.. All looking different, especially in hair colour, so everyone remembers who they are at a glance.

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You are using US as a counterexample to irrelevance of race in mating choices. US has a fairly unique history (by world's standards) in that it used people from far away as serfs and that the serfs did not come from the same geographic area as the masters. In most of the world (during the time period which was ending around the time of US Civil War) the serfs were from same ethnic groups as the masters.

This cultural phenomenon is still preserved, to some degree, in the English language. "Peasants" is sometimes jokingly used as a synonym for "one's lessers" or for people who are low brow. And "peasants" has nothing to do with race.

The reason I bring this up is that the history of racism in America is closely tied to this serf/master divide. But the racial divide which does not have any history of class separation exists in other parts of the world. Chinese can often tell if someone is from north or south China by the tone of the skin. Many South American countries have full gradient of shades of skin tone without any stigma attached to one tone or the other. I would mention India, but they did have a history of a caste system in which the lowest caste were usually darker (even though that was not what made them members of that caste) and the highest caste was usually lighter (even though having lighter skin is not what put them in that caste).

To ask why is there a "racial" divide is really to ask why are there people with different skin tones. But why concentrate on skin? Why do they have people with different color hair? Or different color eyes? Those differences exist and are not indicative of any social status within many societies today.

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