Leonard Nimoy: Why Spock the outsider was a hero to me and my friends

Spock came from another place and was going to another place and nothing on earth could hold him down

Bonnie Greer
Sunday 01 March 2015 15:30
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Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock, whose expression was coveted by Alex Salmond as a young man (Paramount Pictures)
Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock, whose expression was coveted by Alex Salmond as a young man (Paramount Pictures)

One of the consequences of lumping people into groups and talking about “diversity” (diverse to what, exactly?) is that it’s easy to miss subtlety, nuance, surprise. One of the surprises is how many African Americans who came of age in the late 1960s/early 1970s related to Spock from Star Trek.

With the death of Spock actor Leonard Nimoy, I’ve canvassed a few friends - some of whom are grandparents now - and they replied with things like: “He was a brother”. And “Loved Uhura, but Spock was the blackest person on the ‘Enterprise’”.

Now this may seem strange, and indeed, on the “ethnic minority” scale it is. Spock was not played by a black man, but by a man who once said: “As an Orthodox Jew growing up in Catholic Boston, I knew what to meant to be an outsider.” Maybe this is one answer.

Spock stood outside; never a part of it, not really. Yes, he was onboard ship, but he knew things that no one else did. Captain Kirk was America as it saw itself, as it wanted to be. Spock - like all “ethnic minorities” – was in the picture because of his speciality, what he could contribute. Never a part of it all. Not really.

So that when Captain Kirk spoke and Spock contradicted him - and was right - we all would punch the air in a power salute. First of all, Spock was cool. Cool like the best jazz musicians. He never let “the man” see his emotion. Never. But there was plenty there and it existed in the music of his mind - how he could scope the world and the universe in a new way. He had a language and the language was ultimately not penetrable. Spock came from another place and was going to another place and nothing on earth could hold him down. No one on the “Enterprise” actually got it.

We, then, weren’t interested in knowing Leonard Nimoy’s behind-the-scenes life. There was no social media, no gossip columns that we paid attention to that would break the veneer of who he was. He grew in stature simply because he was a jazz man, a blues king.

On the days when it gets hard and frankly boring to be seen as an “ethnic minority”, with its attached limits and assumptions, all made before you open your mouth - I can see Spock. He stands there and is content in his knowledge of himself.

I never explored Nimoy’s life. I didn’t even know he was ill. But I can still see that day he first came on the screen and how my brother and sisters and I leaned in to our big, box TV amid the ubiquitous Vietnam War coverage, and the uprisings in the streets, and all of it faded away. This alien who was us. And he was good.

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