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Michonne or Maggie? Race, Gender, and Rape on The Walking Dead TV Series


Suffering and loss are often part of an iconic character's arc and (eventual) greatness. To allow these moments is to respect both the character and the reader.

Michonne, who was brutally raped by The Governor in The Walking Dead comic book series, has to suffer in order to have her revenge and triumph over him. Michonne is made by pain; it tempers and refines her like an alloy or fine blade of steel.

If you remove her personal challenges, tragedies, and triumphs, you remove Michonne's power in The Walking Dead. This is disrespectful to the character. Considering that Michonne is one of the most  compelling characters in any recent comic book, and who also happens to be a person of color (a group marginalized in graphic novels), the insult is very much magnified.

The centuries of sexual exploitation, rape, and violence suffered by black women in the United States as human chattel, also as free people, and later as full citizens, are socially and politically combustible elements in our public discourse. This history and present are not be treated lightly. The racialized and gendered body--to be both female and black--occupies a very potent, and in many ways precarious location in the body politic.

I am unsure if the writers of The Walking Dead TV series are either cowards, or if they are just afraid of controversy.  Perhaps, they are both? The White Gaze can do wrong even as it explains itself by an appeal to "kindness."

Michonne has to suffer at the hands of The Governor so that she can evolve and grow into an even more essential character who is (at least) as important and capable a leader as Rick. Michonne's role is doubly important because Tyrese, who in The Walking Dead comic book is every bit the leader and masculine authority figure as Rick (if not more so), is not present in the story.

[This will finally be corrected.  Tyrese, has been cast. He will be portrayed by Chad Coleman, who played Cutty on The Wire, in the next episode.]

There is a deep fear of  black justice and righteous revenge in America's collective subconscious. Is Michonne's character hamstrung and neutered by this anxiety? Or alternatively, are the writers, directors, and producers of The Walking Dead TV series (where at least one of them is African-American) afraid that characters such as Michonne and Tyrese will discourage white viewership? Are white audiences really that fickle? Are strong and dignified black characters that off putting?

In all, The Walking Dead TV series is operating under a logic that I am unable to fully comprehend.

A white female character such as Maggie can be threatened with rape, and quite likely allowed her revenge. Michonne, a black female character, in a society which systematically devalues people of color, and black women in particular, is not raped by The Governor.

Is this progress? Political correctness run amok? Lazy writing?  Is the suffering of a white female character noteworthy, and the rape and abuse of a black female character anticlimactic and uninteresting? Are matters really that (ironically) retrograde?

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