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 GWN.com 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.