Life as a Black person can be difficult.
As a descendent of slaves, I am constantly reminded of the ways that history manifests itself in my daily life. Police, poverty, and pain are always nearby. It is an evil that haunts the daily lives of Black people today. We can see the way that slavery, though hundreds of years in the past, still impact the existential reality of people whose skin has been kissed by the sun.
For years, television shows and movies that centered the Black experience, often did it by centering narratives around these historical ills. ‘Very special episodes’ of network shows like Golden Girls and Family Matters discussed race in this myopic way. These episodes would feature narratives that highlighted the way that racial injustice still shapes the lives of Black people, but showed little else.
After a while, it gets to be tiresome. One can only take so much pathology — that’s why I found DS9 to be so refreshing. The show was honest about the existence of racial inequality (as evidenced by episodes like “Far Beyond The Stars”); yet, what made this iteration of Star Trek so notable was the way that it was intentional to highlight and showcase Black love.
Up to this point, few mainstream TV shows and movies had been so intentional. Often, portrayals of Black characters in love were relegated to a male and female character who were together because they were the only people from that demographic on the screen, so it was a given that they would be in a relationship together. Rarely was time taken to examine why they were together and, more importantly, how they made their love work in the face of systemic and interpersonal conditions that tried to pull them apart. Deep Space Nine did just this.
When we first meet Benjamin Sisko, he is coming to terms with being a single father who has just lost Jennifer, the love of his life, in Battle of Wolf 359. This is not something that is resolved quickly.
I have seen other shows too eager to move the narrative forward. Too many times I have seen showrunners ensnare their protagonist in other romantic entanglements far before it made sense to do so. If the person who was lost was the love of their lives, it makes sense for there to be an extended time of grief — especially when kids are involved.
What made DS9 so unique was how seriously its writers treated the love that Sisko had for his wife. In “Emissary” Sisko is barely able to contain his distaste for Captain Picard, the man he holds responsible for his wife’s death. The rest of the first season finds Sisko focusing on his job so intently because the pain of the loss of his wife lies just beneath the surface.
In the second season, Sisko had a very brief, and very doomed romantic interest in Fenna, the psychoprojective telepathic projection of the unconscious mind of Nidell. However, it was not until season three that Jake introduced his father to the woman he would eventually marry: Kasidy Yates. This stood out to me. It made sense: DS9 allowed for Sisko to grieve, to mourn the loss of his wife, and to, slowly, find love again.
Watching Sisko fall in love with Kasidy remains one of my favorite parts of the show. His playful and caring demeanor with her is part of what makes season four so rewarding to watch — and why we are devastated for him when she is sent to prison in “For The Cause.” When she’s released, Sisko wastes no time picking up where they left off — even more evidence that his feelings for her are real. We see the highs and lows of romantic love in the relationship shared by Sisko and Kasidy, and it is further evidence of how smart the show is when it comes to black love.
After seeing him so saddened by the loss of his wife early in the series, watching Sisko find love again was a joy to behold. He eventually came to love Kasidy deeply and passionately, again reminding us that he, a Black man, embodied the fullness of his humanity. In a world where black life is treated with such frivolity, this is notable.
I’ve been Black my whole life—all 38 years. And there is more to living in this skin than a constant struggle with white supremacy. There are so many moments of joy. Raising a son; falling in love; enjoying great music (so much of it that we helped create and refine); savoring a well-cooked (and seasoned) meal; and, yes, remembering those we have lost along the way. These, too, are parts of Black life—and DS9 fully understood that.
I will forever be grateful to the writers, actors, and producers of this show for not only showing what Black people are forced to deal with, but also being intentional in showing that we are capable of love.
Lawrence Ware (he/him) is a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University and co-director of the Center for Africana Studies. Tweet him at @law_writes.