Can Capcom Make A Video Game Where A White Dude Murders A Bunch Of Black People And Get Away With It?

Take a look at this brother… with his budging eyes and twisted mouth, he is the very personification of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit. He is the new villain in Resident Evil 5 – the 7th installment of Capcom’s wildly successful zombie franchise. The game drops in stores nationally this Friday. For those of you who are not hip to the Resident Evil movement, take a look at this trailer:

If you’re anything like me, this trailer gave you goose bumps. Goose bumps stimulated on one hand by the intense high-definition graphics, glimpses of innovative game play, weapons and set design – and an entirely different set of goose bumps brought on by the disturbing, but all too familiar image of a white man busting a cap into Black ass. Take a good look at the trailer, then consider this poem written by Rudyard Kipling in 1899 entitled, The White Man’s Burden (I took the liberty of translating the poem into layman’s terms for the historically challenged. My translations are in italics and are not exaggerated):

Take up the White Man’s burden
it is the white man’s obligation
Send forth the best ye breed
to send our best young men
Go bind your sons to exile
to go off into the jungle
To serve your captives’ need
and “save” black people by enslaving them
To wait in heavy harness
to wear armor/protection
On fluttered folk and wild
among unintelligent barbarians
Your new-caught, sullen peoples
your new, miserable slaves
Half-devil and half-child
are sub-human devil children
Take up the White Man’s burden
this is your obligation, white man
The savage wars of peace
to commit genocide, for peace *Hitler, anybody!?
Fill full the mouth of Famine
after the war, we’ll feed the starving devil children
And bid the sickness cease
and cure them of disease
(read entire poem here)

In the trailer, we have a lone white solider (send forth the best ye breed) wearily peacekeeping in a rural African or Afro-Diasporic village (bind your sons to exile). Our artillery-laced protagonist Chris (to wait in heavy harness) contemplates: “casualties continue to mount over the long years I have struggled… more and more I find myself wondering if it’s all worth fighting for (the savage wars of peace)… who knows?” *Cut to various scenes of Chris murdering Black zombies, before he announces: “there’s one thing I do know. I have a job to do and I’m going to see it through!” (take up the white man’s burden, and bid the sickness cease).

“I have a job to do,” Chris exclaims – the job being, of course, to kill all the “half-devil” Black people in the village. Sound familiar? Chris’ “job” sounds chillingly similar to the burden described in Kipling’s poem. The poem, White Man’s Burden rationalized and justified the genocide that occurred during the trans Atlantic slave trade by explaining that it was the righteous duty of White men to civilize Black folk through “savage wars of peace.” Thanks, but no thanks, Kipling. This is the same demented ideology that currently has the United States in Iraq, “liberating” the Iraqi people by slaughtering more civilians than Saddam Hussein ever did – but I digress. The point is this: Resident Evil 5 looks like an exhilarating, frightening and entertaining video game. However, its use of Black zombies does resurrect a not too distant historical memory of white men murdering Black people (whom they considered to be devil children) for their benefit! I would not go so far as to say that this was the intention of Capcom and the Resident Evil game developers, but the relationship exists nonetheless.

So the short answer to my original question: “can Capcom make a video game where a white dude murders a bunch of black people and get away with it?” – is yes. As long as they’re zombies. But not without raising hell.

Bonnie Ruberg over at The Village Voice notes that, gunning down mobs of angry Africans could be “subtly racist.” She, too, found the trailer to be “strangely disturbing.”

“It’s not just that these zombies are black, but that the uninfected black villagers are zombie-like too,” Ruberg wrote. “See all those spooky shots of the villagers before they get infected? It’s as if race itself were a disease. The white protagonist has to fight back or be infected.” (read entire article here).

In contrast, Brian Allan over at adds:

Sometimes folks, a cigar is just a cigar and a semi-automatic to a zombie’s head is just a semi-automatic to a zombie’s head. The RE series journeys to exotic locales and this time they appear to be going to Africa or an African-like setting. I don’t think anyone at Capcom decided the next game in one of their flagship series should be converted into KKK: The Video Game… It’s a video game, people, nothing more or nothing less.


Some of the content from this article is a re-post of a Blackademics article written in August, 2007 on the same subject, entitled Resident Evil: Africa. This post has new relevance because the video game in question is about to be released on Friday, March 13th. Special thanks to Mitchell Tseng from Suriname for requesting that we reinvestigate the issue on the eve of the game’s release.

*UPDATE – this conversation has been updated with imported discussions from facebook.

14 Comments to ‘Can Capcom Make A Video Game Where A White Dude Murders A Bunch Of Black People And Get Away With It?’:

  1. Graeme on 13 Mar 2009 at 7:21 am: 1

    Good work on the Kipling poem, the man was an arse in the same vein that Ford was. Although they were both skilled in their field, they both shared another trait – Christianity. The White man’s burden wasn’t actually to enslave the back race was to Christianise them through enslavement. Again… look at Bush and his axis of evil, his own holy crusade.

    Zombies are the dead rising. Isn’t that prophesised in the bible as the Rapture?

    I digress…the best zombie stories point out the downfall in society, the collapse of all ethics, morals and values. It proves the frailty of the human condition and plays on those weaknesses and fears that we all harbour.

    Perhaps it could be seen that the white man killing is the anti-hero of the game? A man who is to be despised pitied even for his own false judgments in the face of things he doesn’t understand. You see a world through his frightened and confused eyes and do the best you can. Shoot zombies. It’s so wrong.

    Everyone knows the best weapon is an axe.

  2. Kumathree on 13 Mar 2009 at 4:03 pm: 2

    Great post as usual. ill be back to comment further when i’ve actually played it.

    but here are some short bullet points.

    -Its in Africa what where we expecting. My sense about the characterization of said black people in Africa will have to wait till i play it.

    -there is a black female protagonist named sheva and in the demo at least her pistol game is mighty

    -nobody was mad in RE4 when leon was taking out the spanish in spain.

    -other ethnicities(sp?) have been mixed in so its not exclusively black

    -its a zombification is progressive because its parasitic or viral depending on which RE game you play so that may explain some of the zombie like symptoms.

    -where were everybody when GTA San Andreas dropped?

  3. Terry Hsieh on 13 Mar 2009 at 5:00 pm: 3

    Hey Pierce,
    I hear you on all these things. For the black american public, this game carries some chilling overtones, in context of their history, and their current situation. Certainly, you’ve raised some good points. I agree with you, in the end, that this game was not intended to carry these racist overtones but just so happened that it did. Keep in mind, Capcom is a Japanese game developer, albeit with offices in the US, but the minds of the Company reside in Japan.

    The interesting question to me, is how come Capcom gets hell over making a game about black people, when Yahoo! news just posted an article saying “Most Asians Believe Tattooed Fish Will Bring Good Luck?”. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been but we’re so picky and careful about the way we tread around black americans that alot of times, the stereotypes, epithets, and jokes about other races get lost in the wake.

    Last summer, when you came around to teach, I was still getting a whole lot of “ching-chong-cha”.

    None of those kids were even aware that this was “racism”, that there was something wrong with this description of me. They were aware of the rules of not dropping F-bombs, N-bombs, or another other curse word or racial epithet that they knew of, but referring to me as “Mister Ching-Chong” was totally okay, by them. Just a thought to add on to your discourse.

  4. Pierce on 13 Mar 2009 at 5:44 pm: 4

    Wow, thanks for weighing in, Terry. I think because of the historical struggles and triumphs of African Americans in this country we have two strategic “advantages” over other ethnic/cultural groups, when it comes to public outrage over blatant racism. The first is institutional. Organizations like the NAACP create HELL – for individuals (Don Imus, Kramer) and companies/corporations (NY Post, Abercrombie & Fitch) if they do something that could be construed as racist. They hit you right where it hurts – your wallet. Boycotts, open letters to sponsors, celebrity condemnations, etc. Essentially, these organizations are like lobbyists – for respect. The anti-defamation league provides a similar service for Jewish people. The other “advantage” is more subtle. White people are just plain scared of being perceived of being racist -particularly against black people. Now, I put “advantage” in quotations, because these aren’t REALLY advantages.

    Just because the world is becoming more Politically Correct, some people are bamboozled into thinking that racism doesn’t exist, when in actuality, it’s as rampant as it’s ever been. And it’s that institutional racism that we should be worried about.

  5. Terry Hsieh on 13 Mar 2009 at 7:27 pm: 5

    Interesting. I have a question, that may or may not hit some kind of tender spot–

    at Oberlin, we have a program called Colors of Rhythm. It’s a dance program whose primary focus is to empower people of color and their cultural and ethnic dance traditions, but the one caviat on the program is that white people are absolutely not allowed to perform. With mixed races, entry to the festival depends on which side they identify with.

    Now, for me, this is an extremely problematic rule, which I construe as racism, just as much as the other way around. Even as a person of color, I still find this an overt act of segregation. What are your thoughts?

  6. John Strick on 14 Mar 2009 at 2:20 am: 6

    I am aware that racism is still around..nothing new to me.
    what about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas?
    is this excluded from conversation?
    i know it’s not necessarily black killing whites
    but it does have that action in within the game itself

    I’m not trying to down your note or anything

  7. Mitchell Artis on 14 Mar 2009 at 11:01 am: 7

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I think it is a perfect example of the the subtile racial tensions that will not subside in American culture. I’m not saying that racial tension is an inevitability in American society. I am, however, saying that the prevalence of examples like this video game make racial tension inevitable. Even though the designers of this game may have been from Japan. It’s offensive nature is proof positive that even the subtile may have devastating effects. They may not know African Americans personally, so their perception of them may be shaped by whatever images they get from the American media, thus making 50 cent the African American ambassador to Japan. Dehumanization has been a key factor in the racial divide. This game is a prime example.

  8. Julie on 14 Mar 2009 at 2:37 pm: 8

    ya I have to agree with Bonnie Ruberg. I wouldn’t have a problem with the game going to Africa and shooting zombies. but the way they portray the UNINFECTED Africans is kinda messed up. also from an artists perspective, it would have been more appropriate to portray the village as being full of lively and emotion feeling humans rather than beasts so that when the village DID become infected the player would see the stark contrast and damage that the virus does to the people.
    Not that resident evil games are known for being the most realistic and emotionally engaging games…I still think it would have enhanced the game if they could have shown the uninfected people of the village with more depth and relatable human characteristics…

    My thoughts on the program colors of rhythm is that white people are excluded because they might make everyone else feel uncomfortable and may distract everyone from the goal of celebrating minority cultures. I think programs like that come about because it can be hard to escape the white world and just appreciate your own culture while bonding with other people who are experiencing similar cultural struggles.
    With that said, I also agree that whites should be allowed to participate IF there was a way to keep them from disturbing the experience and environment. because we all know we are never going to get anywhere in this world if we stay segregated forever.

    ALSO….I commend you for speakin out about Asian racism. The reason it doesnt get press is because most people DONT speak out about it. I mean I try to put in my two cents every once and a while about Asian culture but what can I say to ppl? I’m not Asian, what do I know?? so if you want change, then keep speakin up…

  9. Terry Hsieh on 14 Mar 2009 at 2:51 pm: 9

    Hey Julie,
    Thanks for the words of wisdom. I totally agree with you that it’s necessary to preserve minority culture, but if it’s ethnic dance that white people are interested in, isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want people to be interested in taking up African Dance or Chinese Ribbon Dances? By keeping them out, isn’t that accomplishing the exact opposite of what we want in our world? In my opinion, if white people are interested in performing cultural dances of minorities, that’s an indication we’re doing something right!

    My other problem with this dance fest is that by decreeing that only minorities can perform implies that, by default, a person of minority, by nature of being colored, automatically knows more about their ethnicity than someone who’s not, which is definitely not always the case, in America, at least.

    Thanks for your comments on Asian racism, too. That’s one thing that I still get a lot of flak about. It’s a part of our society that really doesn’t reach too many ears, apart for the occasional word of mouth. People really started paying attention to Asian Americans right after the Virginia Tech Massacre and making all kinds of accusations about lifestyles, ways of raising children. It really made me think about the role of Asian Americans in American society and what we really represent. I did a big of digging, and it’s slightly frightening what kind of role we played in this country’s history– from slave labor on the Continental road, to the poster child of the US Census as a way to create a pecking order among other minorities, especially during desegregation.

    That all kind of gets lost behind Bruce Lee and Kung Fu Panda, though.

  10. Graeme on 14 Mar 2009 at 4:44 pm: 10

    Fat bastard in Austin Powers…anyone, anyone? Oh hell, okay.. we all have red hair, skirts and bad teeth.

  11. Julie on 14 Mar 2009 at 4:50 pm: 11

    I agree that we want to share our culture with Whites but one thing that at least I’m afraid of is that SOME (not all) White people can take things that are special to minority cultures and make them into gimicks and just entertainment when they should be more than that.
    Though your right, alot of minority people know almost nothing about their own cultures and its a damn shame really. but maybe having dance schools like the one u were talkin about can help educate people about their own cultures.
    but to be honest… I’m not sure what to make of it all either. It would be interesting to ask that dance studio why they choose to exclude whites and see what they say…

  12. Graeme on 14 Mar 2009 at 5:30 pm: 12

    seriously through, I’m currently working on a government project to welcome international students to Scotland. We’re performing a consultation with existing int. students to work out what information we provide…long and short, we have to perform a female only group for both chinese and muslim female groups because they will not disagree with anything male members of a group say.

    Now, who are we, as middle class educated natives of Scotland, to disagree with that culture? We’re no one… that’s their culture, ours is ours.. they’re equally worthy and have equally good, and bad, qualities.

    Great point that the games were manufactured and conceived in Japan… perhaps we should leave political arguments to the politicians. Or perhaps not, maybe putting it in games lights a fire beneath the masses and gets the issues discussed.

    Either way, no one cares that like to play a play on the Sith side when it comes to the Force Unleashed…

  13. Destromath on 16 Mar 2009 at 10:06 pm: 13

    Why raise Hell about this P? This is far to insignificant to bother with in my opinion. Stuff like this brings up a valid question in my world: Why do we as black people let crap like this video game bother us to the extent of writing an article about it? Its time we stopped giving power to the people that will use it against us. This series has always shot up zombies. They just happened to be black this time. Truth is we do more damage to one another then any video game could ever do. Im done ranting now.

  14. Chyna on 28 May 2009 at 9:46 pm: 14

    Maybe the unifected villagers are a little crazy because they see what has happened to everyone eles. Dont know how everyone eles would react in a zombie situation but i dont think i would be my normal jolly

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Published on March 11, 2009 at 2:39 am. 14 Comments.
Filed under enslavement,entertainment,violence.