Sometimes It Sucks To Be Right, Another Letter On Race, Racism and Modern Fiction. Now With Extra Sexism!
Again, this post contains spoilers for AMC’s The Walking Dead show as well as the comics. Continue to not bitch.
Hey remember last week when I predicted this:
Now you watch, next week that whiny walking millstone Carol is going to show up again, alive and the happy, happy music will start indicating that someone who matters survived.
So that happened. American television has a pretty well known one negro per gender per show rule. No really, think about the most popular modern TV shows. Unless it is a primarily black show, how many black people are in the main cast? One negro, per gender per show.
And in raging about it on every social media outlet I subscribe to, because I had a lot of anger and needed multiple platforms to get it out, I was posed a question.
Why is it always about race to you people.
Let’s move past the unfortunate word choice, More than one of my friends took the questioner out to the woodshed for a very abrupt chat about it. The question itself is interesting and I was glad to get it because it because it makes obvious a void in knowledge that I would like to attempt to fill.
Imma pause here while my internal voice screams “I AM IN UR BRAIN FILLIN’ UP UR VOID!” because sometimes my internal voice is a 12-year-old boy.
Why is it always about race to People of Color? Because it’s always fucking about race. Because every moment of every day of our lives is informed and defined by the fact that we are PoC.
Being not white in America is something like walking across hot coals. It feels like walking across hot coals every day, all day long and sometimes you step down wrong or one of the coals is just hotter than the others, or someone throws one at your head. That hurts over and above the normal everyday pain. But it’s not just that.
The pain? That’s something that you just get used to, like the ache of the shoulder that you wrenched when you were in high school. It still hurts but you don’t notice unless something happens to irritate it. Sometimes though, sometimes you look up from your journey and you see that your road isn’t the only one. There are other roads and one of them is smooth and clear and covered in soft cool grass. The people on that road are moving so fast and so easily and no matter what you do you cannot catch them. You try and you try and the people on that road just keep passing you. And then you look back at your own path and it hurts even worse.
That’s what it’s like to be non-Caucasian in America. As someone of mixed race, the pain is even more insidious because we see the other road. People we know, people who share our last name and at least half of our DNA walk that road, but we aren’t allowed on it.
There’s a point, when you’re a child before you realize that your path is different, when you believe the “all you have to do is try hard and you’ll succeed,” story that is a part of our national mythology, when you are innocent and not jaded and wary. Then one day, someone points out the path you have to walk for the rest of your life and you slowly realize there’s no way to detour.
What does that have to do with fiction in general or this show specifically? It’s about value; who is has value and why. In modern society value is indicated, in large measure, by being noticed and being allowed a voice.
So let’s examine this in terms of The Walking Dead. Atlanta is 35% black. How many black people were in the original quarry survivor group? (Note: I’m not discounting Morgan and Duane in the first episode but it’s not like they matter to the story so much after that. They are simply the Magical Negros with all the answers who send our hero, the white man who matters, on his way to find the other people who matter.) If you said two, Jacqui and T-Dog, you are wrong. There are two other black people in camp who get almost no screen time and do not speak. You can see them in the group when the important members of the party go to confront Jim as he is on his crazy digging spree. I presume that they are killed off during the camp attack at the end of Vatos because they are never seen nor heard from again. 35 percent of the roughly 25 survivors would be 8. By the way, Atlanta is 25% Latino. How many Latinos are currently on the show? Zero. There used to be four but they were put on a bus in the stupidest possible way ASAP.
So by the end of the third episode of the first season there are, as far as the survivors are aware, two black people left in the entire world.
Speaking of alive, go back and check out the walkers. Count the PoC. It’s easy. There aren’t that many. They stand out like a raisin in the porridge. That is a mighty white crowd of hungry undead for a city that is so racially diverse.
OK, fine. It’s annoying but not inexcusable in the face of good enough story telling. I mean, it’s not like the show was blatantly saying, “X type of person matters and Y type of person does not.”
Then we get tot he last episode of Season 1, TS-19 and oh, I spoke too soon. Jacqui, who is black and Andrea, who is white both decide to stay at the CDC and die. T-Dog, who is black, tries to urge Jacqui to leave but he fails. Dale, who is white, tries to convince Andrea to leave. He succeeds and he does so by offering to sacrifice himself with her and by telling her that she is not allowed to make someone care about her and then leave.
In other words, he tells Andrea that she matters so much that he is willing to die rather than go on without her. All this happens while Jacqui is sitting in his line of sight. And then they leave, with Andrea and without Jacqui.
So by the end of Season 1 we are down to one negro in the known universe and for the next entire fucking season he is barely seen and almost never speaks. Recall previously wherein I pointed out that value in television is indicated by being seen and having a voice? Are you getting it?
This is also the place where where we reach the confluence of racism and sexism. Because the whole point of Dale’s reaction is that he is better able to make a decision about her life than Andrea is. This is a theme that will carry through the next season. The women are infantalized and forced into 1950’s fictionalized gender roles.
No one is a better example of this than Carol. She is a mother who, when her child goes missing, takes on the mothering role to Daryl, the breakout star. Otherwise she serves no purpose, until she needs to be rescued. She is wan and chaste and useless. Basically, she is the Bella Swan of TWD.
At the same time, Andrea grows more and more out of her assigned gender role. In 18 Miles Out she is called on it and makes an informed choice to continue to participate in the work that has come to be considered the male arena, guarding the camp and defending the group. She also slept with Season 2’s primary villain. So of course, she gets left behind during the farm attack and gets left behind altogether without much thought altogether. Carol was left behind as well, actually she was rescued from certain death by Andrea, but when Daryl goes back to the farm which is supposed overrun by walkers, he inexplicably finds Carol aliive and unharmed.
Does it appear to anyone else that the writers are setting up a remarkably trite Madonna Whore situation here? Because they are.
Now, in Season 3 we have the most glaring examples. T-Dog dies after having fewer lines than pretty much anyone and bringing less to storyline or character development than Sofia’s damn doll in the previous season. He actually got to speak and do things in the early episodes of 3 so I had some hope. Because sometimes I am stupidly optimistic and I forget that bad writing will be rewarded
Carol finally shoots a gun and then pretty much promptly reverts to needing to be rescued again, while Andrea gets some from the worst possible human to fuck in an apocalypse and promptly betrays her friends. Good/Bad. Madonna/Whore. BAD. WRITING.
Graves are dug, comrades mourned but Carol gets mourned the most, because she really matters. Having sacrificed that black man we can all rejoice in the next episode when The Load returns.
The response I get to this, admittedly long winded, explanation is generally some variation of “well you’re reading too much into this. we’re all the same,” or “don’t you think you’re taking this too seriously?” No. Also, stop doing that.
Color blindness is the new racism. it is, in fact, the primary problem exemplified in the bad writing of The Walking Dead. Ignoring something is not the same as respecting that thing and treating in equally. Neither is showing both sides of a crappy trope without nuance the same as addressing the problem.
This is a failure of writing, and it is a shame because this could have been a great show.