Did he have to be black AND a criminal?

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I was beyond excited to start playing The Walking Dead. I love the TV show. I love the comics. And I had only heard good things about the video game (but I’m as biased as my memory). But no one told me about Lee’s, the main character, past. Not the learning he is a convicted murder changed how I felt about Lee (not that I noticed anyway), but imagine my surprise when the game starts, and I see the lead character, a black man, in the back of a police car, accused of murder.

I couldn’t handle it. Not at this time. Not in this political climate. I was irate. I closed the game and decided to come back to it later. What could this possibly add to the story? Why did he have to be black?

In the game, Lee’s conviction does seem to be of some import to the game. Well, at least, it is this big secret we constantly have to hide or decide between revealing throughout the game. But then, when we tell everyone about our past, in, I believe, episode 3, everyone seems to accept it (because we’ve proved ourselves a decent human being up until the revelation) and it doesn’t matter anymore. So, why include it in the first place?

I know people will want to respond that “it’s not a race thing” and that his acceptance in the group somehow proves that. And sure, maybe that’s true, for you. But for me, a black woman, who often sees herself and her people degraded to nothing but thugs, hoes, and criminals both in fictional media and news media, the image of another black man in handcuffs in the back of a police car (even as a cartoon), is much to poignant, and all to present across media. Let alone that soon after we have to fight the cop (zombie or not) for our survival, at a time like this in our nation, it hurts. It hurts to be reminded in what’s supposed to be my entertainment, of my status in society and of the very real danger, I and my people are experiencing in real life.

So, yeah, it’s just a video game. And yeah, he turns out to be a great character with a large character development throughout the season. But continued representations of black people as criminals (redeemable or not) has real world negative effects. And, it just didn’t seem so necessary.

One thought on “Did he have to be black AND a criminal?

  1. Hi. Thanks for your post. I’m sorry that this experience was painful for you. How to portray disadvantaged or underprivileged groups in media is a difficult question. In this instance, I’m remembering the fact that he was a college professor, which there is no mention of in this post. After all, if the player’s entire opinion of Lee is based around the fact that he’s in the back of a police car, it says more about the player than anything else.

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