Star Trek is rightly known as a pioneering franchise when it comes to representation and social justice. Still, according to LeVar Burton, Trek isn’t immune to racism. In a recent interview, Burton says that the racial bias of white writers working on Star Trek: The Next Generation made one of his character’s most well-remembered ongoing struggles an insulting joke.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone (via Trek Movie) LeVar Burton blamed the “unconscious bias” of the “white men who wrote the show” for something that remains an ongoing joke among Star Trek fans — that Geordi was so horrible at dating. Asked about what, if anything, he’d like to see changed about his TNG character, Burton said, “He’d get laid.” When the interviewer called it “weird” that Geordi failed so hard at romance even compared to the relatively modest romantic exploits of the android Data (Brent Spiner), Burton responded, “Weird? It’s insulting. Whether they are aware of it or not, those white men who wrote the show had an unconscious bias that was on display to me and to other people of color.” Burton noted how his wife uses the adage “there’s a lid for every pot,” and said the fact that Geordi never found his proverbial lid “ludicrous.”
There is no shortage of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes from which you can find examples of what LeVar Burton is talking about. There’s season 5’s “The Next Phase” in which a romantic connection is teased between Geordi and the recurring Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes) but never materializes. In season 6’s “Aquiel,” Geordi helps the titular officer prove her innocence in a murder investigation only to have her jump ship. And then there’s one of the most famous disappearing acts in Trek history — Sonya Gomez (Lycia Naff). In the opening moments of season 2’s “Q Who” — which famously introduces the Borg — she spills a drink on Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), flirts some with Geordi, and then never appears on another episode of TNG (though she resurfaces finally in Star Trek: Lower Decks).
In his interview with Rolling Stone, LeVar Burton referenced what’s clearly the most infamous example of this trope, which unfolds over the course of two Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes — season 3’s “Booby Trap,” and the following season’s “Galaxy’s Child.” In the earlier episode, Geordi is dumped by the recurring Christy Henshaw (Julie Warner) and soon after creates a holographic version of Dr. Leah Brahms (Susan Gibney) — who designed the Enterprise-D’s warp engines — to help save the ship. Predictably, La Forge falls in love with the faux Dr. Brahms in the process. When the actual, and very married, Dr. Brahms shows up in season 4, she’s understandably freaked out when she discovers Geordi’s holographic version of her, and Geordi comes off as a stalker. Speaking of the storyline, Burton said in the TNG writers’ “attempts to be cute, they inadvertently created an aspect of Geordi’s character that is very uncomfortable.”
Was this supposed mistreatment of Geordi La Forge’s character a result of racial bias? That’s not our place to say. However, LeVar Burton not only played Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation and reprised the role for an episode of Star Trek: Voyager as well as in four Trek films, but he also directed episodes of TNG, Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise. As a Black man with those kinds of credentials, you’re not likely to find a better authority on racism in the Trek franchise.