In Star Trek, I have encountered several situations in which Starfleet makes remarks towards somebody's race, in a form that even nowadays most people will find offensive. These behaviours seem to contradict directly with the Charter of the United Federation of Planets:

We the lifeforms of the United Federation of Planets determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and to reaffirm faith in the fundamental rights of sentient beings, in the dignity and worth of all lifeforms, in the equal rights of members of planetary systems large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of interstellar law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of living on all worlds, and for these ends, to practice toleration and live together in peace with one another, and to unite our strength to maintain interstellar peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institutions of methods, that weapons of destruction shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ interstellar resources for the promotion...

One should expect from Starfleet that they live and behave by the rules established by the UFP.

Some examples:

  1. In General Order 7, Spock is referred to as:

    Half-Vulcan Science Officer Spock

    One would not expect a racial prefix attached to his name, not nowadays, and especially not in the 23rd century's Federation.

  2. Simon Tarses was afraid of providing true information about his grandparent being a Romulan. In his opinion, that would not allow him to serve in Starfleet. One can expect that Starfleet was prejudiced against people with Romulan heritage.
  3. The Cardassians are referred to as spoon heads or Cardies. Miles O'Brien has used the terms on numerous occasions and has never been told to stop it by anyone from Starfleet. The terms are pejorative, they are used to laugh at Cardassians physical features, and they tend to suggest that all Cardassians behave in the same way (as in ‘The bloody Cardies can't be trusted!’)
  4. There is also the case of Dr McCoy, but it seems to be answered here.
  5. In the first episode of TNG, Commander Riker seems to be prejudiced against Lt. Cmdr. Data.

    RIKER: But your files they say you're a —

    DATA: Machine? Correct, sir. Does that trouble you?

    RIKER: To be honest, yes, a little.

    DATA: Understood, sir. Prejudice is very human.

    One would expect more from the XO of the Starfleet's Flagship.

  6. The Vulcans, in general, felt superior to Humans and other races. Spock is an example of a person that has been discriminated by Vulcans. But they enjoyed to remind us about their supremacy on any occasion :)
  7. Captain Kirk and Admiral Cartwright were prejudiced against the Klingons in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Why would Starfleet personnel behave like that to other species?

Why are these behaviours not discouraged or commented by, for example, their CO?

  • 7
    Good question. One thing I don't think fits is the part about Data. Yes as TNG progresses we see Data become considered more as a "real person", personally and legally, it's still true, and moreso at the beginning, that he's not another "race" per se. Riker's concern may be more about how an android can make judgement calls required of a bridge officer, despite Data's use of the word "prejudice". Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 14:35
  • 10
    Being "half-Vulcan" is not a racial prefix...it's a statement of fact.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 15:09
  • 5
    @paulie_d maybe, but the fact that it's relevant and worth mentioning means that a decision (implementing a general order) is being made on the basis of race.
    – Graham Lee
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 15:29
  • 2
    Not exactly an answer, but 2 and 5 are valid concerns, not racism/speciesism: Romulans were on/off enemies of the Federation at the time, and Data was the first of his kind.
    – Izkata
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 5:02
  • 3
    Probably because they've been through the process of racism (where we are) and realise that race is a differing quality and deserves recognition, but not stigmatising. There's nothing wrong with what they do.
    – insidesin
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 5:12

9 Answers 9



  • Sometimes Free Speech has its drawbacks...
  • Prejudice will always exist...

As you mentioned the Federation is an organization that comprises numerous planets and organizations. The goal of the organization is to foster peace and inter-species cooperation. Each of these planets and species have different cultures and histories between each other. The goal is to get everyone to join and work together... Hopefully in the process they will all learn to love, or at least accept, one another.

Part of this is to get the different cultures to agree to a basic set of laws, principles, and rights for each of its citizens. One of these protected rights, just as today, is free speech. Free speech allows you to say what you want free of professional or civil persecution.

While you would expect prejudices to be at a minimum at such a time you miss the fact that they are - at least in the terms of Earth and humanity! That is what humanity has always done, we band together against the new 'outsiders.' With the UFP different races from Earth are all working together, woman are star ship captains, sexuality is not a big deal, etc.

BUT at the cost of forgetting our own prejudices from thousands of years on our own planet we have accepted new ones. Now they are directed towards the different species of the ever expanding galaxy for a whole host of new reasons. Our planet now has the ability to form a larger group and resist further outside influences, so we do.

AND at the same time as humanity has developed its own new prejudices so has all the other species in the galaxy that join the warp capable. I think that the Federation was smart enough to understand that attempting to restrict such emotions would not be as possible in such a vast and ever growing situation. They also hoped that working side by side with each other would cause acceptance to come at its own pace: have your life saved by another species, realize each others potential, understand where each other are coming from, etc.

A side point, kind of related:

While today's armed forces typically restrict free speech so that they can not speak ill of their current respective administrations and commanders there is no specific restriction towards racism and the like. It can be covered under other restrictions (like one that restricts indecency or failure to follow orders [i.e. a commander said don't be racist on duty]), but those punishments are typically left to the commander's discretion and not taken directly to court martial. The key here is that not being taken directly to court martial, and only losing rank/grade or some pay, means it is not as serious an offense.

While some captains may resist such outbursts from their officers/enlisted and/or strictly enforce their own feelings on the matters it is not mandatory for all of Starfleet. That is why we see both acceptance and prejudice widespread throughout the series. In Star Trek, the utopia is Earth, not the rest of the galaxy!


First of all, we have to make a distinction between the Federation, Starfleet and private persons.

The Federation protects free speech and the freedom of opinion. As such, nobody can be forced to think in a particular way, especially not civilians. Federation personnel, and especially Starfleet members might be subject to more strict policies, though.

Next, Star Trek mirrors the real world, especially the western/US world/culture. There is a cold war going on with the Romulans for most of Star Trek, with emphasis on espionage, subterfuge and deception. In TOS, there is a very open and hot war with the Klingons, and later we see the struggles of an advanced and open civilization to reconcile with their former war enemies. This is a real and believable struggle.

In the same vein, the Cardassians are war enemies and have committed atrocities against the Bajoran people. Do you really except the Federation and Starfleet to hug them and love them? What kind of signal would that send to any neighboring race that also oppresses some other race? It would send them the signal that you can do whatever the hell you want to without consequence.

So, with that in mind, lets draw some further analogies. The Federation Charter is modeled after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Charter of Human Rights), and there we read:

[...] recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world [...]

[...] the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom [...]

[...] Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms

Especially the second part I have quoted should be strikingly familiar. Given that, why do you think racism and in-equality still exist in the real world? Why does prejudice and hate-speech still exist? This Charter is from 1948, shouldn't we have abolished all that by now?

Star Trek is not an Utopia. The goals of the Federation are noble, much like most goals of the UN: But Star Trek frequently depicts how even an advanced, and quite tolerant society struggles with basic human nature. And depicts how one has to concede to politics some times.

Lets look at your points.

  1. Yes, this one is a bit odd. Its an official Starfleet document, and as such one would expect some moderation. Yet, that Spock is half human and half vulcan is a statement of fact. Its from the Menagerie, which has a lot of problems. At that point in Season 1 of Star Trek a lot of things were not set in stone. The writer probably thought it would be prudent to remind the audience that Spock is, in fact, not completely human.

  2. The Federation has noble goals, but they are not stupid or naive. They are in a state of constant Cold War with the Romulans. From a security point of view, giving someone who has known ties to an enemy which is known to espionage, subterfuge and deception is just plain stupid. No matter how advanced the Federation thinks their society is, they would not count on every member of their society to share those goals unconditionally, especially if said member has ties to a different culture with a known tendency to espionage. This isn't prejudice, its just common sense.

  3. The Cardassians have oppressed the Bajoran people. They fought the border wars against the Federation. They later joined the Dominion and again became war enemies of the Federation. Some resentment is to be expected. O'Brien fought them directly on many occasions. That he isn't really fond of them is somewhat natural. What he says are his personal views, not official Starfleet communications. If he were to write an official report, he would not describe them as "Bloody Cardies", as that would be unprofessional (and he would likely get reprimanded by his superior for it). As for offical Starfleet/Federation policy: They have to show the Cardassians - and every other race that might want to oppress another - that such behavior is intolerable. That is why you do not see the Federation hug the Cardassians. Plus, the Cardassians threaten to attack and take back DS9 multiple times.

  4. Is already debated

  5. This is actually a very good depiction. A society has to learn how to accept something new. They have to answer the question whether data is indeed a lifeform. Whats rights does he have? Data struggles with the law and the right of self-determination multiple times. We see this again with the Doctor later (especially e.g. in VOY: Author, Author). Is it really so hard to imagine that even the most open and tolerant society would sometime struggle to accept something radically different (A machine as lifeform? Preposterous!)? I think Data/The Doctor are one of the best aspects of Star Trek, a subtle way to challenge prejudice and preconceptions without being outright preachy. Whether the charter you quoted above, which talks about lifeform even applies to Data and the doctor is a point of discussion in TNG/VOY.

  6. Nobody is perfect, not even the Vulcans. A race that knows-it-all and is kind and empathic (like Betazoid) would be quite boring, wouldn't it?

  7. You call it prejudice, I call it caution. They have been at war.

Star Trek is not perfect. The Federation strives to be a better place, but struggles with the harsh reality of war, hostile neighbours, espionage, politics and deception. A society that, in light of all that, would always be loving and caring towards everyone else is simply not believable and frankly boring to tell stories in.

We see a great deal more problems where the Federation Charter clashes with reality. Ferengi are often met with prejudice, for example Quark. Yet can you really call it prejudice? Quark does everything he is accused of on a regular basis, and we see again and again how Ferengi take advantage of people who did not heed the warnings (e.g. Tom Paris rescuing Harry Kim from Quark). This isn't a black and white question, the question this imposes is where prejudice and statement of fact bleed together and where the line is drawn, and no definite answer is given. Star Trek does this a lot, challenging our own assumptions.

We even see Starfleet struggle with shady intelligence organization like Section 31, which violate even the most basic rights of Odo when they poison him.

But we always get reasons why people are pushed in a certain direction. They do not do it simply because they are racist or evil. They do it because events and experiences have led them there. And because they are flawed. And being flawed is human, but it also alien.

The Federation Charter depicts how things should be, much like the Charter of Human Rights, but Star Trek often shows how it is, with deeply flawed people that struggle under the influence of their reality of war and of their own preconceptions. But on the other hand, we also see a great deal of exploration, diplomacy, tolerance and awesomeness, lets not forget that.

  • 3
    Star Trek is pretty racist, but it's more the writing than the in-universe starfleet ideals . .. i don't know what's more ridiculous, the ferengi or chakotay's panpipes and spirit animals...
    – user68762
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 12:33
  • 1
    @Morrigan That articles says more about the author of the article then the authors of Star Trek. Ferengi depict Jewish people? Really?
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 13:59
  • 1
    @Morrigan Its science fiction, what about it could possibly "inexact"?
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:25
  • 1
    @Morrigan Please elaborate? I do not really get what you want to tell me by linking to that episode? Is your critique that Star trek is sometimes inconsistent with its own rules? Then yes, every franchise that has multiple author (and even with only one author it happens aka JKR is bad at maths), but I do not get what that has to do with the question and answer at hand.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:32
  • 2
    I don't think Star Trek is racist at all. Star Trek has always been a collection of shows and movies that use allegory to drive a point home and make others look at things from a different perspective. Putting something in a movie or show to make someone think of something does not make it racist whatsoever, but instead, allows for someone to see that a thing is wrong when it is not being put into a context that allows it to only be seen one way. Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 6:59

"Assume good intent" is a Federation virtue

Unless a behaviour is causing harm — in which case it needs to be dealt with, regardless of the motivation behind the behaviour — the Federation values a laissez-faire attitude regarding personal expression.

Attitudes matter more than words

When an Excalbian playing the role of Abraham Lincoln referred to Uhura's ethnicity and then immediately apologized for his word choice, Uhura's reply summarized 23rd Century attitudes:

"But why should I object to that term, sir? You see, in our century we've learned not to fear words."

— Uhura, "The Savage Curtain", TOS 3x22

Cultures express attitudes differently

A Zaldan once spoke to Wesley in a way that humans would consider extremely aggressive and abusive. Wesley understood that the alien hadn't (from the alien's point of view) been impolite — and realized that this cultural understanding was part of his Starfleet Academy entrance exam — and responded in kind so as not to appear dismissive and insincere:

Alien: "How dare you! I am Rondon, you despicable melanoid slime worm! LIAR!!"

Wesley: "Who do you think you're bullying?! You bumped into me! It was your mistake! You were at fault! Do you want this to become violent?"

"Coming of Age", TNG 1x19


The Federation and Starfleet are against species prejudice, but you can't control what people think, and some will always have their own attitudes; Worf, for example, openly hated Romulans to the point where he wouldn't let a Romulan prisoner have a blood transfusion and basically let him die. Doctor Pulaski had some bias against Data, apparently considering him inferior as an artificial being. And there were the Doctor's concerns about the rights of holograms. Other characters had their own reasons for their behavior-Miles O'Brien had seen Cardassian brutality first-hand as a colonist-"it's not you, I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became that day because of you." McCoy and Spock had their legendary feud, which came out of friendship and respect. McCoy could joke about Spock's heritage and Spock could make comments about humans from a Vulcan perspective because of it. Alien species were often more prejudiced, which were used as metaphors for contemporary attitudes, and often used by the Starfleet characters as examples of how humanity used to be.


From a modern-day human perspective, while it seems an ideal that race, colour, gender etc not even be mentioned when considering suitability for a job role or in similar situations where persons may be appraised or assessed in comparison to peers, the fact is that many kinds of identity are necessary to highlight. For example, if you have a particular dietary requirement or a food allergy, people need to know about this if they may be preparing food for you, or around you; if you have a medical condition that may affect your day-to-day business, those around you may need to know for a variety of reasons.

In Star Trek, many alien races are humanoid in appearance, yet may have significant biological differences. Others have cultural differences that go beyond the usual differences in human cultures - Vulcans being a prime example.

Spock points out his own Vulcan heritage on many occasions, usually to highlight a difference in his logic and behaviour that his crewmates should know about.

"You proceed from a false assumption. I am a Vulcan. I have no ego to bruise."

Evidently, Spock was happy to draw attention to his species and wished others to know about his strict adherence to logic, reason, and stoicism. It is reasonable then to assume that he would be happy to have his species announced to others, and perhaps even welcome it.

Vulcans also have different physiology to humans - their heart is where a human's liver would normally be. You can imagine how important it would be for crewmates to be aware of physiological differences in the event of a medical emergency. Other humanoids in the Star Trek universe are not as easily distinguished from humans as Vulcans are, yet they may also have different internal physiology.

It would seem that, in the Star Trek universe, they are far more interested in acknowledging and celebrating each other's differences than making them a taboo subject.

That said, some of the examples you gave may indicate that, while "racism" is not institutionalised in the Federation, it may exist in some individuals, and at various times creep into Federation business under the wrong leadership.


Starfleet uses a different model of integration than the one to which you are accustomed in the current year.

(For some reason this old question is on the front page of Science Fiction & Fantasy, so I am answering it. I apologize if this is a necropost.)

Starfleet's integration strategy appears to be similar to that of the US military from 1948 to 1980.

This strategy required integrated services with no racial (or in this case, species) discrimination in the chain of command, but did not seek to police or even inform the personal attitudes of individual personnel to anywhere near the degree that you might see in a diverse organization today. It took for granted that many individuals would enter the service with hostile attitudes towards other groups, but counted on the shared struggles and experiences of duty to dissolve and erase those attitudes. Esprit de corps is a powerful thing.

The famous (or infamous) and open species tension between Spock and McCoy would be an example of this. McCoy is often blatantly anti-Vulcan in his viewpoints and statements, and faces no organizational or career ramifications for this whatsoever. But there can be little doubt, after their long association and shared service, that McCoy loves Spock, and would happily risk his life for him. In this case, requiring McCoy and Spock to serve together and face incredible danger together was an effective method of achieving Starfleet's aim of an integrated service. It is up to the viewer to decide whether a more effective method could have been found that would have erased, suppressed, or trained away McCoy's attitudes up front.


I think that especially in STOS, they wanted to show racism against alien species as a metaphor for real racism -- they were pretty heavy-handed in OS and perhaps continued the toned-down version in later series.

  1. Starfleet is a primarily Human organisation. Emphasising Spock's half-vulcan heritige actually strenghtens the order - this is not a case of "humans should not visit", it's "no one should visit". That said, I agree that the wording is unusual: why is it not "Human Captain Christopher Pike" and "Half-Vulcan/Half-Human Science Officer Spock"? Again, I belive this ties back to how Starfleet was the human fleet of the United Federation of Planets, much like how current Countries maintain seperate naval forces under NATO, and only form short-lived Joint Taskforces for special operations
  2. The Romulan Empire were not allies of The United Federation of Planets. They have, in fact, been in a state of cold war since the Romulans reemerged onto the galactic scene. Crewman Tarses's grandparents thus either met after this point, or his Romulan grandparent was already pretending to be Vulcan. Having a Romulan grandparent provided him with a potential cause for sympathy with the Romulan government, and possible accusations that his grandparent was a long-term sleeper agent preparing a family of spies. True or not, the mere investigation could leave a black mark on his record - and unlike the internment of Japanese citizens by the USA during WWII, there was no chance for the grandparent to have moved across during peacetime and alliance.
  3. Mr O'Brien was a soldier, fighting against the Cardassians. Soldiers often build up insults such as these to help them 'dehumanise' (should that be 'desophontise'?) the enemy, as a coping mechanism for the fighting and killing. Even once the fighting is over, this behaviour will be quite deeply ingrained and hard to overcome - especially due to the potential for it to exacerbate PTSD or similar. This is quite explictly stated in TNG S04E12 "The Wounded": "It's not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you" ~ Mile O'Brien
  4. You appear to be rather happy with the answer for Dr McCoy. However, it's also worth noting that as one of very few Human/Vulcan hybrids known, Mr Spock may have potential for unusual medical complications that would make his job more difficult than it needs be, and frustration/exasperation from that might 'spill over' into their interactions. (Not that there is particular cause for concern in that regard)
  5. Starfleet does not exactly have the best track record with high-order Artificial Intelligence-based lifeforms. Beyond all of the out-of-control alien computers that the NCC-1701 (No bloody A, B, C or D) had to deal with, there was also the disastrous M-5 Multitronic Computer - which name suggests is a predecessor to Data's Positronic net. While certainly prejudice, I would suggest that this is not exactly racism, but rather caution derived from logical analysis of past trends. It also doesn't take Riker particularly long to decide that Data isn't about to follow in the footsteps of his forebearers
  6. The Vulcan Command Fleet is not part of Starfleet. This is akin to asking "Why do the Canadian Mounted Police allow racism" because citizens from the United States of America keep talking about how the USA is "the best country". Your real question should then be why do Vulcan High Command allow speciesism, or why does the Federation allow speciesism
  7. Very similar to point 3: Kirk and Cartwright had spent much of their career fighting against the Klingon Empire. Kirk had also recently had his son killed by Klingons seeking to strengthen the Empire and destroy Starfleet - events which also precipitated the death of his best friend. Even so, Kirk is able to recognise a difference between the the Klingon people, and the culture / regime against which he had fought. He recognised that the people were capable of change, and that the Khitomer accords represented the best way to peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire

Because the series were written by human beings in the 20th century who sometimes didn't have a clue about racism or sexism. It often amazes me what kind of old-fashioned, prejudiced opinions a lot of Starfleet personnel has.


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