The Walking Dead From an African-American Perspective

Posted: December 23, 2010 in AMC, racial tension, the walking dead, walking dead, zombie
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“The Walking Dead From an African-American Perspective”


The Walking Dead is a new series on AMC about survivors of a zombie apocalypse set in the American South. The show is rife with racial tension. The first episode follows the story of a white police officer, Rick Grimes, who wakes up in Hospital recovering from a gunshot wound to discover the world has gone to hell. The streets are lined with corpses and zombies stumble around through the suburbs. Racial tension sparks when Rick crosses the path of black father and son Morgan and Duane.

Duane at first mistakes Rick for a “walker” (a zombie) and knocks him out with a shovel. Rick awakes to find himself handcuffed to a bed being questioned by Morgan. At this point the show seems to hint that Morgan’s mistrust is possibly more than a doubt of  whether or not Rick is a zombie but quite possibly also due to his race. This scene also presents a very interesting visual of a black male questioning  a white cop in handcuffs. This is something that appears just as out of “normal” order as many of the shows visuals and sets the tone for things to be different in this post-apocalyptic world. How will race play a role now that society no longer exists?

The distrust is mutual on Rick’s part as he questions why Morgan and his son are in the nice white suburban house, most likely of some he personally knew. Morgan is very defensive about Rick’s implications and insists that the house was empty when they arrived. Some of the most interesting racially toned interaction is between Morgan and his son Duane.  Throughout the episode Morgan continually corrects Duane’s grammar, despite his own  use of slang, and attempts to instill manners in his son.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. On the one hand  it may be a symbol of Morgan’s past pain due to discrimination and his desire for his son to avoid that by separating himself from the “ghetto” image. It may also simply be the attempt to show Morgan and Duane in the light of being normal, that is as being no different than a father and son of any ethicity. The show continually comes back to the theme of everyone really being the same and having the same struggles and values of family regardless of race. This is echoed again when Rick returns to his home with Morgan and Duane.

After looking around his house Rick insists that his wife and son must be alive because the family photo albums are gone. Morgan tells Rick that his wife also thought that family photos were something of principal importance to pack for survival. The final moment of particular racial interest in the first episode takes place at the police station where Rick worked. Rick, Morgan and Duane come to the station to collect guns but also to use the showers. The station is blessed with its own propane system providing the luxury of hot water. All three males enjoy the hot water and the color of their exposed skin means nothing as they shower free of any distrust or division.

Rick and Morgan part ways as allies with a plan to meet up again in Atlanta. Rick heads to Atlanta alone on a newly acquired horse. He soon finds himself swarmed by zombies and taking refuge inside a tank where he hears a transmission on the tanks radio which sets the stage for the next episode.

The second episode moves into a more heated racial confrontation. Rick escapes with the help of former pizza delivery boy Glenn and soon meets up with other survivors who are sneaking in and out of the city for supplies. The group is now trapped inside a department store because of the attention Rick has drawn to their location. Rick soon meets Andrea, Morales Jacqui and T-Dog (who are both black) and the series main racist antagonist Merle Dixon. Merle Dixon, a middle aged redneck is confronted by T-Dog for wasting bullets by sniping walkers on the streets below from the roof top.

Merle responds to the criticism by saying that he’ll never from someone like him. T-Dog naturally takes offense to this and asks what Merle meant, Merle clarifies calling T-Dog “Mr. Yo” that he’ll never take orders from a nigger. This begins a fist fight between  Merle and T-Dog in which RIck attempts intervene. Merle temporarily fends off Rick, quickly over powers T-Dog and pulls a gun to his face. At this point Rick recovers and steps back into the fight hitting Merle with the butt of his rifle and handcuffing him to the roof.

Rick has this moment to sum up the racial message of the show. He says that there are no more niggers, and no more dumb white trash, that the only groups that matter are us and the dead. He preaches the shows message that we’re only going to survive by sticking together not by pulling apart.

Because of these events power over Merle’s fate essentially moves in to T-Dog’s hands as he is given the keys to Merle’s handcuffs while the others set the escape plan in motion. Prior to this Merle shares some more of his racial mindset saying that what he said wasn’t personal and explaining that their kinds just aren’t meant to be together but that they can work out some sort of parlay as long as both groups benefit. Despite the continued racist attitude T-Dog still tries to turn the other cheek and do the just thing to free Merle at the crucial moment of the groups escape from the zombie surrounded building. Unfortunately he trips and drops the keys down the sewer drain. T-Dog still strives to protect Merle and padlocks the door leading the roof so that the zombies cannot access Merle, and insists in the next episode that they go back on a rescue mission. This sends a message of only being able to overcome evil and racism with good and always maintaing that justice and human life is important no matter what.

These first two episode set a strong tone for the season and deal very explicitly with the issue of race with a pertinent and timely message; if we’re all trying to just survive race doesn’t matter any more. So why should it matter now?

– Ben Andrews

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