What Shipping Richonne Taught Me About Racism

 

So if you haven’t watched last night’s 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 last night?

No, the last five minutes weren’t a shared hallucination – it really did happen. Last night on The Walking Dead, 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?

god is real

I’m happy as hell, and have been living in shipper paradise ever since the Richonne spoilers first leaked ’bout a week ago. 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.

oprah side eye

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.

smh

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.

annoyed

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; hell, 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.

whitney side eye

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.

zoe side eye

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.

rme

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.

you mad

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 as hell and 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 go ahead and stay mad, huh?

actual goddess michonne

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24 thoughts on “What Shipping Richonne Taught Me About Racism

  1. Excellent post! I started shipping Richonne in 4B. Before I was shipping her with Daryl (And started shipping them the moment she appeared on screen at the end of season 2) There was a lot of flack for shipping her with Daryl back then. Same arguments (No they’re like brother and sister” and “Can’t a man and a woman just be friends!”) Now I ship Daryl with Carol, Jesus, and Sasha. (multishipper pride!) Imagine if Daryl and Sasha became canon and the outcry that both leading men fell in love with black women!

    I was thrilled when it happened Sunday night. And my God, Andy and Danai’s chemistry!

    There is also a lot of ridiculous racism when people talk about Glenn and Maggie. People don’t believe that a white woman would ever find an Asian man attractive. (Excuse me Glenn is the hottest guy on the show! I was honestly a little jealous of Maggie in season 2.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly, I could see Daryl with any of the characters you mentioned!

      Andy and Danai’s chemistry has always been off the charts, so I was super excited when I heard they were finally going to do something with it.

      I always hated the idea that Glenn was somehow “punching above his weight” by pursuing Maggie. Like, have you seen Steven Yeun? That is one handsome man. FOH.

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  2. I LOVE this post. ‘Rick would never go for someone who looks like her’ — Oh, I’m sorry, he wouldn’t go for someone who is drop-dead gorgeous??? Those people need to take ALL OF THE SEATS. UGH I have shipped them for seasons as well and I honestly thought that I would never get my wish, for exactly the reasons you list. When I saw Porch Dick’s wife I was like HELL. NO. ARE THEY REALLY GOING TO FORCE THIS SHIT ON US. I am so pleasantly surprised and I literally screamed when they actually got together. They compliment each other PERFECTLY. Both of them are beautiful, badass warriors, and so loyal. After she really bonded with Carl especially, it became SO CLEAR that those were HER BOYS and she would protect them at any cost. Meanwhile every time he needed advice, or even needed to be put in check, besides Daryl, Michonne was the one whose judgement he trusted 100%. So much mutual respect and tender moments between them. Like you said- if she’d been a white girl them getting together never would have been in question, and that is so much bullshit. Either way, my shipper-trash heart is over the moon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What makes Richonne so interesting to me is that they’re both equals. Michonne isn’t weak and Rick doesn’t want her to be, and at the same time, she’s still allowed to be emotionally vulnerable. I feel like that’s not something you see in a lot of on-screen relationships.

      Basically, I am also Richonne trash and am over the moon right there with you, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s why I’m not afraid Michonne will die the way Lori and Jessie did. Those two were weak, so they had to die. Michonne is strong so she will live. I can see them killing off Daryl before they kill of Michonne tbh.

        Great article by the way.

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    2. Yeah, I started imagining the possibilities when Michonne started bonding with Carl so well. She and Carl have great chemistry too and get along so well. In fact, I thought she and Rick were already together, just not officially and that we just hadn’t seen it yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I would have loved this – and my celebration at the black woman getting what is almost always the primary female lead’s due would be much less mixed – if the show had made Michonne either a leader or an equal co-leader *that everyone acknowledged as such much as they have Rick* before they added this relationship arc. I feel like “love interest” is a female lead’s due, but “leader” is Michonne’s due so I think giving one without the other is still robbing Michonne of something this show has set her up to deserve.
    Instead, the show writers are constantly using other competent characters, especially women, in order to reinforce Rick’s role as Leader. I’ve hated Rick’s character fairly consistently because authority is such a central element of his character development and it’s used to justify some really problematic behavior.
    It bothers me that I can’t have any faith that Richonne isn’t going to be just a convenient way to use Michonne as another prop for developing that theme in Rick’s character – that he’s so very masculine that even this woman’s extreme independence and competence bows to the power of his boners – and to put her in a position to be more publicly submissive.

    If the show writers don’t handle this right, the racial element here is only going to exacerbate the terrible dynamics of the gender roles TV writers are so fond of in romantic relationships. It annoys me that TV writers have done so poorly in terms of interracial couples that we have no choice but to celebrate this development, even if it’s problematic and (I think, because f**k Rick Grimes) wrong for this specific show because at least it happened.

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    1. Hmm, interesting point… I feel like the show has done a fairly good job at setting up Michonne as a leader in her own right though. The episode I’m thinking of specifically is in season 5, when they’re all camped out in the barn debating whether or not to go with Aaron. Rick is dead set against it, but Michonne addresses the rest of the group, telling them that they’re going. No one questions her right to direct the group – they look to her and agree, and Rick does as well, without much of a fight. There’s also the more recent scenes with Jesus, where he addresses the Alexandria group during negotiations, and Michonne speaks on their behalf without hesitation. I also think the story is setting Michonne up to be even more of a leader in her own right (based on her arc with Diana, and the whole ‘passing of the torch’ thing).

      ichonne may be a supporting figure for Rick, but I always got the impression that it was a matter of choice. She trusts Rick and typically agrees with him, but when she thinks they should go a different route, she doesn’t hesitate to take over. I’ve never gotten an overly submissive vibe from Michonne, which is the reason I like the Richonne pairing – it never felt like they were dumbing down her character to make the romance work, which is I see happen often to female characters. If love is on the table, then suddenly there’s no room for strength and independence anymore, but I just don’t see that here. But of course, YMMV. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

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  4. I agree 100% with this post. I’m a black girl gamer and man yes racism exists in that realm too but anyway lets talk about richonne! I was so happy that the writers took a jump 🙂 I was waiting for it like many others I didn’t know they were going to pull it of this season but they did; I didn’t really like the akward scene though it could’ve been a little less weird but it doesn’t matter how it happens I’m just glad it did. It’s nice to see a dark chocolate sista be a romantic lead for a change 🙂 . Oh btw I love that Glenn (which is hot btw) is in an interracial relationship as well. This show is progressive 🙂 .

    Like

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