In Star Trek (2009) there is a scene in which Kirk is accused of academic misconduct by Spock. After Spock's speech, Kirk remarks quietly to McCoy something about that "pointy eared bastard". Now, consider the context of the Star Trek Universe. The whole of Earth has come together in a peace under a single world Government. This presumes that our present day prejudices and racial tensions have been eradicated. Likewise, through the Federation, Humanity has united in peace with a whole range of other races [feel free to substitute 'species' for 'race' wherever applicable.]. It would seem to me that derogatory racial epithets would be strongly frowned upon, not just within Starfleet but within the general Earth population of the time.

Consider how Kirk's "pointy eared bastard" comment echoes an offensive slur used against people of Asian descent (in our present time). It seems to me that in the context of a unified Federation, Kirk's comment would be no less offensive than we would consider the slur against Asian people to be.

If this is true, should Kirk's comment be taken to show that he, at that time in the movie, is not just an impetuous, arrogant young man, but also a racist who hasn't yet grasped some fundamentally important concepts underpinning the Federation and hence Starfleet? Was this line in the movie supposed to convey this, or was it just a throwaway line put in there without the writers realizing the racial slur they were echoing?

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    Also, "spoon head" was used in DS9 as a slur for Cardassians.
    – Izkata
    May 1, 2013 at 0:33
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    McCoy called Spock a "Green-blooded hobgoblin" and other variants on a regular basis during the original series. May 1, 2013 at 6:04
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    You might like to consider that it shows the Star Trek universe has got beyond the point where racism is about what names you call other people, and about how you actually treat them. In TOS Abraham Lincoln is beamed aboard the Enterprise and remarks of Uhura "What a charming negress". He instantly apologizes for calling her that, realizing she is the equal of all the others, but Uhura says "We've learned to be proud of what we are". So "pointy eared" isn't really an insult to Spock. Bastard presumably is - though you have to wonder why the marital state of your parents is still an issue. May 1, 2013 at 18:17
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    I think the whole thing of Star Trek is that mankind has become a culture which deludes itself into thinking that it is perfected and lives in paradise...Sisko has a good monologue on that in one of the DS9 episodes. Humans will always be racist, sexist, self-ist. Oct 18, 2013 at 13:47
  • I don't know why you'd assume one world government = eradication of prejudices and racial tensions. Does that mean we have eradicated prejudices and racial tensions within any particular country where multiple races live now? Racism still exists under unified governments. Hate crimes and violence still exist. It may imply (but not necessitate) a great reduction in large-scale organized racial/religious/tribal violence, but on the individual level, many people will still have prejudice. Maybe the "utopia" angle precludes racism, but not unification under a world government.
    – PeterL
    Oct 18, 2013 at 16:04

5 Answers 5


Probably is just a line put in there to show the initial disliking of Kirk to Spock. However I think is worth mentioning "pointy eared" is not a racist description per se, but a simple pretty accurate description.

We consider some terms or expressions to be racist given the social environment we live in, in our time, and from that point of view, if I say that "black" bastard, the phrase is considered a racist insult instead of just a simple insult to the black guy... That's a factor of the presence of racism in our society and how it is perceived, if you remove that perception the phrase itself carries no racism in it. For example if I went to say that "blue eyed" bastard or that "blonde" bastard, there's no way anyone would find that comment racist.

That way, when racism is no longer a problem in the society (as in within the federation and especially in federation officers) the phrase itself stops being racist. Insulting for sure but one can and should argue that neither Kirk nor McCoy even notice anything strange about the term "pointy eared", it's just a description.

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    I dunno about your example; "Blue-eyed, blonde-haired bastard", taken together, would mean Aryan to many, and depending on their age, would often be negatively referring to a certain historical racial group. (Trying NOT to Godwin this question.) I suppose this just shifts the question, as you say, to asking if the racism in the society or the speaker.
    – K-H-W
    May 1, 2013 at 2:45
  • Again, Aryan is on the eye of the beholder that, in this case, is associated with the Nazis due to our social environment. Some terms have racist connotations based on social environment. Probably there were some racist terms on 10 B.C from romans to germans that would make absolutely no sense to us nowadays. Maybe something like "pale face" was considered racist those days but I wouldn't stop to think about it today. May 1, 2013 at 13:52
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    @JorgeCórdoba - Greeks called just about everybody else 'barbarians' - would that count? May 1, 2013 at 15:44
  • In DS9 season 3 "The Die Is Cast" Garak refers to some Romulans as "pointed eared". Enabran Tain calls this a racial slur.
    – Boelabaal
    Feb 27, 2015 at 21:21

That is a very tough one to answer cleanly.

A racist is generally someone who feels that his own race is superior to anyone elses and goes out of his way to prove it and generally will not allow himself to work or play alongside another race. There is no way that Kirk would be able to make himself place Spock as his second in command and Science officer if he was a true racist. I also somewhat doubt that a real racist could work so closely alongside so many other races in such a confined (yet very large) Starship. He would self destruct or turn into "Kirk the terrorist".

A bigot is someone who shows a intolerance to the differences between races(species) gender and the other things that make us different except the ones that he accepts.

I feel that the statement had a bit of bigotry in it but I (personally) feel it was a slur and insult along the lines of what someone might say about anyone in authority doing something that pushes buttons and you cant do much about it.

Think along the lines of the things said about a boss that you never liked or what a friend might have said about a police officer after he got a ticket for speeding. He sped, got caught, but the "cop" was in the wrong and he made it seem so.

I dont think Kirks statement rise to the level of a racist in the startrek universe, he just got caught by the cop on duty and voiced his displeasure about being caught.

Some type of blame shifting, not taking responsibility for your actions and insulting the authority at large for it. I dont know what that is called, but I feel that, thats whats going on.

I believe that the phrase was put in the movie to convey this frequently seen human characteristic of insulting authority for our own misdeeds. The kind of thing that you may see in the people who are nice when they are sober but get into fights when drunk.

It was meant to be offensive and offend but not racist to me.


I think it's worth recalling the TOS episode where Kirk mumbles the specieist phrase "I'm sick of your half-breed interference!" while being cloned so that his clone would repeat the phrase after having infiltrated the Enterprise.

Spock immediately knows something is wrong because the real Kirk would not say (or even think) such a thing.

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    it's not racist, it's specieist :)
    – jwenting
    May 1, 2013 at 6:35
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    This right here is proof that JJ Abrams changed the Kirk character for the new movies. The original Kirk character would NEVER utter any xenophobic comment, especially towards Spock. It was always Dr. McCoy who would make those sorts of comments, but it was understood to be good-natured teasing and his way of showing affection. But Jim Kirk is NOT xenophobic in any way, or he could have never made the rank of Starfleet Captain. (Now in the new movies, he never passed all the Academy training. If he had been found to be xenophobic in the Academy, they would not have let him graduate) May 8, 2013 at 23:52
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    Shatner's movie Kirk had an ever evident hatred of Klingons refusing to tolerate the peace overtures Starfleet proposed in ST TUC. He did follow orders though. Personal matters did enflame his perception of Klingons, but the foundation was there based on the conflict between the Federation and the Empire.
    – Ihor Sypko
    Oct 18, 2013 at 17:00

If I may pull a bit of English Lit & Semiotics. A phrase is only racist if it is considered racist. We say calling a black male by the n-word is racist because we say it is racist, the word by itself has no meaning. It is the connotation that makes it racist; it is only our cultural, historic, and personal prospectives that say one phrase is racist and another isn't.

Think about something similar like a joke, a rape joke. If you tell a rape joke to a typical college-aged male, they will likely laugh about it. If you tell it to a rape victim, like saying some girls enjoy getting raped, chances are they won't laugh.

So whether the comment is racist is as hard to answer as if a joke is funny. Take an earlier scene in the movie. We see a council 'insult' Spock for being half-human. Were they being derogatory against humans or were they being logical in saying Spock had a disadvantage growing up because he had less control over his emotions and other students picked on him? (I forget the exact scene)

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    Generally, I agree with you, but there is one aspect I feel you're missing: intention. While a particular slur or type of joke may not actually offend me, the intentions of the person saying it should be taken into consideration. I may not be upset by the term/phrase used, but by the fact that they want to upset me. This figures into the real question posed here - which you didn't address: was Kirk really racist? Did he actually harbor problems with bastards or those with pointy ears?
    – phantom42
    Oct 18, 2013 at 15:32
  • @phantom42 You make a very good point that made me think. If Abhrams used Enterprise as a source, I think the statement could be racist. The humans on that show show disdain for the Vulcan female, one or two criticizing the Vulcans for making the humans work hard for every technological development when the Vulcans could have just given it to them and saved them decades of development.
    – Lan
    Oct 19, 2013 at 0:58

I think the statement(s) is/are meant for something simple. Quite possibley they just want to project to the audience that although the earth and species of the future feel they may have over come racism, in reality unfortunately they haven't and are showing just how difficult a topic it is and how difficult it is to eliminate. Even when different species are involved.

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