What Shipping Richonne Taught Me About Racism

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Title: What Shipping Richonne Taught Me About Racism
Creator: Sharon
Date(s): February 22, 2016
Medium: online
Fandom: The Walking Dead
Topic: Race and Fandom
External Links: blog post at blackgirlnerds
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

What Shipping Richonne Taught Me About Racism is a blog post by Sharon, posted on BlackGirlNerds, about her experience of racism in The Walking Dead fandom concerning the pairing of Rick Grimes/Michonne, also known as Richonne.

It covers issues of race and fandom, fan attitudes towards black women as potential love interests (particularly of white characters), representation in media, hostility towards interracial ships, and more.

It was posted on February 22, 2016, and as of July 2018 had more than 15,000 views and 176 comments.

Points Discussed

  • A lot of people really just don’t view black women as possible love interests, no matter who they’re being paired with
  • People really like to believe that they’re color blind
  • Benevolent racism is common and it’s just as annoying as any other kind
  • People really, really hate it when you “bring race” into fandom
  • Sometimes, it’s not “just” a TV show
  • There are people out here who really think that shipping Michonne with a white man makes you somehow less pro-black
  • When you ship an interracial couple, especially a black women and a white man, it tends to bring out the worst in people

Excerpts

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 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?[1]
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]
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.[1]

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.)[1]

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...

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.[1]

Reactions & Fan Commentary

I don’t watch the show, but it’s impossible to miss the ugly racism in regard to this ship. Being both a fan of Person of Interest and Sleepy Hollow I’ve seen the same thing. “Can’t we have one show where the male and female leads don’t get together?” Hmmm, the only time that question EVER gets asked is when the female lead is black. It’s so blatant and really pathetic.[2]
Interestingly enough, I asked my ex, who I also happen to work with, what he thought of Richonne. We are still close friends and he is now married. He does not watch TWD and has never seen an episode... I showed him pictures of the actress without the wig, dressed to kill. He shrugged and said 'She's straight. Not my cup of tea.' I showed him the rest of the cast, sure enough he picks out Sasha and Maggie and declares the lead actor should've ended up w/either one of them. I don't really have a point here other than the idea of what's acceptable beauty has been drilled into Americans' heads so long, it's nice to finally see a popular show deviate from what's been considered the norm for too long. It doesn't mean Sasha and Maggie aren't beautiful, but so is Michonne.[3]
It shocks me how few people realize that this "canonization" is just as significant as an lgbtqa ship becoming canon (but of course, in its own unique way with unique social implications; particularly regarding how portraying a white man with a black woman is so revolutionary).[4]
Call me innattentive or a bad fan, but Richonne just never occured to me. Even as a black female, I just didn't think of it as a possibility and as the writer of this article pointed out in #1, I think from a young age many of us were primed to believe those things. The media have taught us that typically the black female character which has any depth to her, "can't" be in love or interested in sex, like her counterparts can (this is mostly in regards to mainstream media). But luckily characters like Viola Davis' in How to Get Away with Murder, work to combat that. I feel such shame for having thought this way myself and want to break out of this terrible mindset. But boy was I excited when I saw Rick and Michonne kiss. That episode has a lot more meaning for me than any other.[5]
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.[6]
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!”)[7]
I would just like to highlight point number three from the article above because it is so relevant to quite a few of the complaints against Richonne I have seen coming from select groups of people on Tumblr couched in pseudo-feminist and disingenuous social justice terms. I find it one of the more insidious ways that people who are bitter/angry about Richonne becoming a canon couple have sought to invalidate it, as they strive to avoid criticism with an affectation of “concern” that just drips with false sincerity.[8]

Related Reading

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 What Shipping Richonne Taught Me About Racism
  2. Comment by Roslyn Holcomb, February 22, 2016 (Accessed August 12, 2018).
  3. Comment by ..., February 23, 2016 (Accessed August 12, 2018).
  4. Comment by Queen_Boudicca, February 22, 2016 (Accessed August 12, 2018).
  5. Comment by NeverAgain, February 23, 2016 (Accessed August 12, 2018).
  6. Comment by ERose on The Black Feminist Geek: What Shipping Richonne Taught Me About Racism, February 24, 2016 (Accessed August 12, 2018).
  7. Comment by Rin on The Black Feminist Geek: What Shipping Richonne Taught Me About Racism, February 23, 2016 (Accessed August 12, 2018).
  8. Feb 26, 2016 Tumblr post
✪ This article was previously featured on the Fanlore main page in 2018