Monday, March 4, 2013

Saturday Night Live: The Walking Dead and Race

Saturday Night live decided to do a spoof on The Walking Dead and so of course we had to share it with you. For quite sometime we have been saying that The Walking Dead has a race problem.  We are now in season three and even though they have included Michonne and Tyreese, the representation has not gotten any better. 

What is rather ironic - but very typical, is that this 3 minute video contains more commentary on race, than The Walking Dead has managed with multiple dead Black people, a near non-existent Oscar, a silent T-Dog, a servile Tyrese and a very very very angry-eyed Michone in 3 seasons.

It is a common thread in dystopias - in fact, in speculative fiction in general - that race (and other marginalisations) suddenly stop becoming relevant once the woo-woo begins. But that makes little sense - and even less sense when you have the overtly racist Merle walking round. We can talk about different priorities and the need to come together in a crisis, but that doesn’t mean magically reprogramming a lifetime’s worth of experience and learning in a White privileged society.

What makes the skit work is that it shows Rick et al, are concerned with being perceived as racist which is something the White cast of The Walking Dead has yet to consider. Such postulations in fact have been left solely to the characters of colour. Even then,  race has actively been discussed twice. Once with T-Dog being told that his concerns about being the only Black man in th group is ridiculous and Darryl asserting that Glenn is Korean, which is more about redeeming Darryl than making any kind of commentary. And the racism we see? Merle, the violent racist and, therefore, the safe depiction of racism. This will always be the most comfortable depiction for White people to see because it’s so easy to point to it and say “that’s not me.”
Covert racism, which is far more ubiquitously practiced, has continually been erased in order to comfort the sensibilities of Whiteness.

The Walking Dead continues to have a race problem and it seems that while many can see this, the writers and producers are content to continue along a vein that actively oppresses and reinforces negative tropes in terms of race.  What does it say that even some of the zombies which have been featured over the last three years in mini webisodes have been given far more characterization than the characters of colour?