Sunday, June 8, 2014

Race and Apocalypse: Two Scenarios

Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz and a still from Zombie Flesh Eater

The following is a excerpt from page 231 (of 259 total) of Colson Whitehead's book, Zone One. In this book a plague that turns humans into zombies has taken over the globe. The zombies are referred to in the book as stragglers (who are undead, but don't move) or skels/skeletons (zombies who move, bite, and spread the virus). The dialog here is between two characters (Mark Spitz and Gary) who are clearing any left-over skels or stragglers in a "Zone" of Manhattan. Gary has just been bitten and subsequently given a large dosage of pills and morphine. Mark Spitz is keeping him conscious by re-telling the story of his nickname.
... People were becoming less than people everywhere, he had thought: monsters, soup.
     Seven Gold metals? Eight? Here was one of the subordinate ironies in the nickname: He was anything but an Olympian. The medals awarded to Mark Spitz were stamped from discarded slang. Mark Spitz explained the reference of his sobriquet to Gary, adding, "Plus the black-people-can't-swim thing."
     "They can't? You can't?"
     "I can. A lot of us can. Could. It's a stereotype."
     "I hadn't heard that. But you have to learn how to swim some-time."
     "I tread water perfectly."
     He found it unlikely that Gary was not in ownership of a master list of racial, gender, and religious stereotypes, cross-indexed with corresponding punch lines as well as meta-textual dissection of those punch lines, but he did not press his friend. Chalk it up to morphine. There was a single Us now, reviling a single Them. Would the old bigotries be reborn as well, when they cleared out this Zone, and the next, and so on, and they were packed together again, tight and suffocating on top of each other? Or was that particular bramble of animosities, fears, and envies impossible to recreate? If they could bring back paperwork, Mark Spitz thought, they could certainly reanimate prejudice, parking tickets, and reruns.
     There were plenty of things in the world that deserved to stay dead, yet they walked.
This is the first mention of race, or racism, in the book.

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And, this text is lifted from a post (by user JIR) on It addresses the idea of the "unwashed masses", otherwise known as the Golden Hoard, who will flow from urban centers en-masse once the apocalypse strikes and modern amenities (food distribution, electricity, waste management, etc) are cut-off. "Originally the Golden Horde referred to the Mongol Armies of the 13th century that conquered territories from Northeast Asia to Eastern Europe to Siberia to the Black Sea. They eventually controlled over 2.3 million square miles. They were known for vicious raids and sometimes complete massacres of civilian populations." (
I agree completely with you on relocation to safer areas and stocking a remote retreat in the hinter-boonies. That’s the optimum solution and in worst case situations, it’s really the only solution likely to work long term. Any of your readers stuck in less than optimum situations are going to make a valiant effort to survive, but their odds are not as good. I am one of these folks. I worry about the golden hoard more than anything else. I would like to pass on some thoughts on the subject of what the unwashed masses will be doing after TEOTWAWKI [The End of the World as we Know It].
This quote doesn't overtly address race, but it does attend to prejudices of urban versus rural peoples. And, as Mark Dery (author of I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams) has pointed out, descriptive terms for people, such as hoard, "sheeple", unwashed masses, Mongols, and urban, used on these blogs by mostly white and male survivalists point in the direction of discrimination against the other.

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When I had my on-campus interview at Rollins College I met with a couple representatives from the Diversity Committee. The asked me about how diversity played into my pedagogy, which was no problem for me, but I didn't have any answer for how diversity was addressed in my research and artwork. To paraphrase, one of the interviewers said that not only white people are effected by climate change and/or the possible "EOTWAWKI". 

These two apocalyptic scenarios, one fictional and one anticipated, paint different pictures of what race dynamics post-disaster could mean for humanity. In one racial tensions seem to have subsided in the face of "the end". In the other, people seem to be planning an impending scourge of urban flight. This is a topic I will explore more for my work. 

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from page 72 of World War Z, by Max Brooks

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cursed crew from Pirates of the Caribbean, under water and moonlight

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underwater zombie from Shock Waves

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