Hi Valerie and Glenn,
I really enjoyed your episode on the first half of the Discovery pilot. I have some thoughts about Michael Burnham's phrase, "Don't mistake culture for race." Valerie was confused (as was I) that Burnham should say this phrase directly after making racist comments about the Klingons. But upon further reflection, I think that's exactly the point. I think Burnham sees two categories: race, which she sees as the innate, "natural" characteristics of a person, and culture, which she sees as the veneer of learned behavior and values atop that natural core. I don't think we're supposed to agree with her—this is an incredibly superficial and inaccurate conception of what culture is. I think we are supposed to be confused and frustrated by her insistence that what she has is Vulcan "culture" but that Klingons are violent because of their race. I think she would say, my race is human, which is why I'm irrational and impulsive and laugh when I see beautiful stars, but I have this superficial veneer of Vulcan logic and values that I've learned, but that can never really overcome my human "race." And by implication, even if you taught the Klingons some other "culture," and raised them on Vulcan or Earth, they would still at heart be nasty, violent creatures. She is, in short, a racist, who appeals to the facile distinction of "race vs. culture" when it benefits her, but without interrogating it deeply. I hope it's setting her up for some kind of redemption narrative. What do you think? Are we supposed to be frustrated by her self-serving appeal to race vs. culture? And thus, to be frustrated by our own society's often incomplete and self-serving understanding of what these terms mean and how they should be deployed?