This blog post originally appeared on Black Girl Nerds, and it is being cross-posted here with permission. (And some slight edits when referring to the show, since it ran a week ago and we don’t want to make things confusing.)
So if you haven’t watched the February 21 episode of The Walking Dead and don’t want to be spoiled, consider this your warning. SPOILERS. SPOILERS EVERYWHERE.
Now that that’s out of the way…
Can we talk about what happened in that episode?
No, the last five minutes weren’t a shared hallucination – it really did happen. Rick and Michonne finally got together, and I can barely believe it myself. Is this real life? Where did that choir of angels come from and why are they singing?
I’m happy as hell, and have been living in shipper paradise ever since the Richonne spoilers first leaked. That being said, I thought I’d take a break from celebrating and “in your face-ing” to finally finish organizing my thoughts on all the nasty, complicated ways I’ve had to grapple with racism as a Richonne shipper.
I, like many others, started shipping Richonne back in season 3, when Michonne and Rick first started eye-f***ing each other and the chemistry between the two became, in my opinion, pretty apparent. Still, I didn’t hold out much hope that it would actually happen anywhere outside of fanfiction. A hugely popular show on a major network, making the dark-skinned black character the love interest of the (white) protagonist? Honestly, I didn’t think AMC had the balls to do anything as out-of-the-box as that – and how sad it is that making the dark-skinned black woman a love interest can be considered out-of-the-box thinking?
When Jessie came along, I felt like Richonne was even less likely to ever happen. Not because Jessie/Rick was ever going to last (I’ve read the comics so I was waiting for the Big Chop just like everyone else), but because it reminded me that you can throw a blonde girl on screen with any white guy and the general audience will not question the eventuality of a romantic relationship, but when the woman the (white) male lead is sharing intimate moments with is black, then suddenly it’s up for debate.
Outside of Richonne-loving corners of the internet, the suggestion of a Rick/Michonne power couple has been met with confusion and incredulity, not to mention outright animosity at times. And during all these years of shipping Richonne, I’ve learned an awful lot about racism as it manifests itself in fandom.
1. A lot of people really just don’t view black women as possible love interests, no matter who they’re being paired with.
Here’s what it comes down to: if Michonne weren’t a dark-skinned black woman, many of the people who were so surprised by Richonne would have expected it a long time ago. Were it a white actress (the kind we’re used to seeing as love interests on TV and in movies) playing the role of Michonne, sharing intimate scenes with Rick, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have been a case of if Rick and Michonne get together, but when.
The introduction of Jessie being regarded by so many as “finally, a possible love interest” has rubbed me the wrong way since she first showed up. “Finally, a love interest” really just meant, “finally, a woman we think is/looks worthy of being the love interest,” and that’s all kinds of wrong. Because a black woman can hold the protagonist’s hand, be a mother figure to his children, and be his partner in every other way, and people would still be like ‘lol nah don’t see it.’ And yet, let the same white male protagonist share even just one scene with a white person in his general age group (they don’t even have to speak or like each other) and there’s already 5 thousand fics written about their undeniable true love.
2. People really like to believe that they’re color blind.
Everyone likes to think that they make their decisions independently, but nothing – not even shipping – exists in a vacuum. What you’re used to seeing, how you’ve been conditioned to view certain groups of people, matters. People really hate having to consider that race factors into how they view they view the world – even in small ways, like affecting how they consume entertainment – but it does.
3. Benevolent racism is common and it’s just as annoying as any other kind.
Ok, consider this: how often have you seen black female characters ignored by fandom with the excuse of ‘Oh, she’s too good for him’ and ‘She doesn’t need a relationship’? Why is it that when it comes to women of color, relationships – you know, being loved and being vulnerable with someone else – somehow ruin the character? Because you’re no longer a strong female character once you find love – or is that only for WOC?
Because I see it over and over again and it’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth. (Not to mention this viewpoint completely ignores the fact that embracing vulnerability and traditional femininity in a world that views you as anything but can be a very powerful act of self-love for WOC.)
This doesn’t apply to everyone who thinks Michonne is too good for Rick; shoot, you could probably make a decent case there. But if the first thing you say is “they just don’t look right to me” and the second thing is “Michonne doesn’t need a relationship anyway” and then the third thing you do is go back to ignoring POC characters in favor of literally everyone else, I’m gonna look at you sideways.
4. People really, really hate it when you “bring race” into fandom.
I’m not going to erase race from the conversation of where so much anti-Richonne sentiment stems from so that other people can pretend that fandom is a place where the shitty parts of the “real world” can’t get in. Fandom may be a happy place for you where you don’t ever have to think about social issues, but it’s not like that for some of us. We have to think about it every time our POC faves are written off as ‘not looking right’ with the person we ship them with, or ignored by the fandom at large, or hated on for things that white characters get away with and are even applauded for.
I’m not saying being a POC fan sucks, but sometimes? Yeah, it does. Nerds can be racist jerks too, believe me. And as a black woman in nerdy spaces, I end up reminded of race whether I want to think about it or not, so I might as well talk openly about it.
5. Sometimes, it’s not “just” a TV show.
What some people refuse to see is that everything is connected. There’s not a facet of this world that racism (and all the other ugly parts of society) hasn’t touched, simply by virtue of being a product of human hands. The media that we create and put out into the world, and alternately consume, not only affects the ideas that we form about the world, but reflects what we already believe.
So the way black female characters are perceived says a lot about how we’re perceived in real life, too. But when you talk about it and take it there, then suddenly you’re taking things too far, you need to get over it, you’re overthinking it, blah blah blah.
Interesting how fans can invest all kinds of time and energy to fandom-related activities but when you start talking about uncomfortable topics like race and gender then suddenly it’s not that serious. Funny how that works, huh?
6. There are people out here who really think that shipping Michonne with a white man makes you somehow less pro-black.
This happens every time a black woman is paired up with a non-black man on screen. I don’t even watch Scandal like that, and even I got sick of all those salty ‘bed wench’ comments that were going around. For some reason, nothing pisses off the Ashy Larrys of the world more than seeing a black woman and a white male character have a romantic relationship on screen, and to see black women support it and be happy about it.
Shipping a black female character with a white male character (or any non-black character, for that matter) does not mean that you don’t support black love, either in real life or on screen. We are not happy about Richonne being canon because we view white male attention as the ultimate source of validation for black women. We’re happy because these are two characters who have had chemistry for 3 seasons, and race was the only possible reason for them not to eventually happen, but AMC had bigger balls than anyone expected and so they happened anyway.
If Rick was non-white people would still be rooting for Richonne. Sadly though, I l think a lot of others would have still fought against seeing a dark skinned black woman as a love interest. Even in shows with black people, dark-skinned women are underrepresented, especially when it comes to being shown as desirable and vulnerable. Colorism is real and it is ugly, ya’ll.
7. When you ship an interracial couple, especially a black women and a white man, it tends to bring out the worst in people.
At the end of the day, there are people who just don’t want to see BW/WM pairings, and they don’t care who knows it. They are hateful and they are vocal about it. Michonne and the amazing Danai Gurira have both received ridiculous amounts of hate, and I dare you to read comments about how ‘Rick would never go for someone who looks like her’ and tell me race doesn’t matter in fandom.
With Richonne being official now, it’s probably only going to get worse before it gets better, but I honestly think that the people who love it outnumber the haters. Gleggie (Glen/Maggie) made people mad too, because it may be the zombie apocalypse but some people are just really invested in making sure fictional characters don’t date across racial lines.
Because that’s just it – it’s not just a show. There are people who didn’t want these ships to happen because they want the show to reflect their (racist) world view. How people react to fictional things can say an awful lot about how they think things should look in the world they actually do live in.
I’m not saying that if you don’t ship Richonne you’re racist, because that would be overgeneralizing things a bit too much. But here’s what I am saying: race has an awful lot to do with how the idea of Rick and Michonne as a couple has been met by fans since people first started suggesting it three seasons ago.
But the Richonne ship has officially set sail, so I guess they can just go ahead and stay mad, huh?