The Walking Dead's most recent episode "Clear" was one of the best installments of the series to date. In keeping with its established, and now repetitively obvious themes, Clear continued The Walking Dead TV show's problematic representations of race and gender.
In Clear, Carl, as the stand-in and inheritor of his father's white masculine authority is so independent and headstrong that he risks his life for the purpose of sentimentality.
Moreover, Carl imperils Michonne, the show's only black female character--and she continues to serve her duty as a protector and aide to the white characters. As I alluded to here, once more, a white child has more authority than a black adult on The Walking Dead.
As we have repeatedly seen on The Walking Dead, Michonne, despite her best intentions, acts of assistance, and invaluable skills, is an object of distrust. In Clear, Michonne has finally "earned" her acceptance from Rick and Carl.
Interestingly, Michonne has been held to a uniquely high test of trustworthiness by Rick and the group. Why? Because Michonne is a symbolic "problem." She is black and female. In the white racial frame and America's collective racial subconscious, women of color are burdens on the State, what are non-productive citizens despite their labor.
Morgan, who saved Rick's life during the series' first episodes, has finally returned. The Walking Dead has a black man "problem" as well. The show's emphasis on white masculine authority cannot tolerate or accept black men as either rivals or peers for Rick. Consequently, an informal rule of two has been adopted. As such, when one new black male character appears his predecessor must be removed from the narrative. T-Dog was killed. Tyrese was driven off by Rick. As a replacement for Tyrese, Morgan was (re)introduced in Clear.
He too fits the problematic tropes of race and gender that drive The Walking Dead TV series. T-Dog was a mute black manservant butler. Michonne is the mysterious and almost feral "strong black woman" warrior negress who cannot be trusted. Tyrese was "sensible" and "reasonable." He is was/is also non-threatening.
Morgan, Rick's savior, is now mentally unbalanced, fragile, and unpredictable. Morgan also wants Rick to free him of this world by shooting him. The former is such a "weak" man that he does not even have the courage to commit suicide. He is emasculated in a second way as well: Morgan does not even have the resolve of Jacqui, the show's only other black female character (she too was peripheral, mute, and underdeveloped) who committed suicide at the end of Season One.
Morgan's mental state is a mirror for Rick. Morgan is what Rick could perhaps easily become if he surrenders to despair. This juxtaposition is a classic one. The humanity of white folks, and whiteness, more generally, is highlighted in the literary imagination by comparing its traits and qualities to those of non-whites.
In the early 20th century, notions of "racial character" and "manhood" were central to America's (and the West's) public discourse. There, race men and race women, white elites, and others debated the essential character of the "black race" as compared to that of "the white race."
A racial logic and ideology was reproduced where white men of a certain economic and social class were naturally heroic, intelligent, survivors, warriors, and noble. White men of a lower class, and not quite "whites" like the Jews, as well as Southern and Eastern Europeans, were also not of the right "racial stock." Blacks and non-whites most certainly had to prove their race's fitness for full citizenship and masculine respect if they were to be judged the "equals" of white men.
These ideas are also present in classic science fiction and dystopian literature. White men can explore the stars and outer space. They can master technology with ease. White men can conquer alien species.
In worlds like The Walking Dead TV show, white men have the character, ability, and strength to both endure and survive. While they may bend, white men will not break under the pressures of this new reality.
In the dystopian imaginary of speculative fiction, black men, if they are present at all, are depicted as weak, unfit, and often mentally ill. Schizophrenia was once described as "the freedom disease." In science fiction and speculative fiction, black folks are apparently very susceptible to such conditions.
Morgan is a character in keeping with an ideology which suggests that black and brown Americans are contingent citizens who do not really belong in the polity. They are weak. Black men are also marked by a duality, where historically in the American racial imagination, they are depicted as both the black beast rapist and a civic child who is not self-sufficient.
Even in hopeful and "progressive" science fiction, these narratives about black men, insanity, and mental instability are present. Star Trek, has many such examples.
In classic Trek, Dr. Daystrum, the creator of the M5 computer has a mental breakdown and is sent to an insane asylum. Tuvok, the half-human half-Vulcan on Voyager, falls deep into a state of psychosis. Captain Sisko on Deep Space Nine is literally taken out of his body by a spiritual connection with an alien race, has visions, and is actually committed to a mental hospital when his consciousness travels to Harlem, New York in an alternate reality.
The Walking Dead TV show is part of a long tradition of storytelling in which black men are marginalized. Consequently, its problematic relationship to race and gender is not new. Dead people can rise from the grave in The Walking Dead TV show; but, fully evolved black characters who are not two-dimensional tropes which reflect the white racial frame are not allowed to exist.