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Zombie Racism

June 21, 2012

“The ‘Summer of Zombies’ continues” says Philip Caulfield in the NY Daily News “Another Florida ‘zombie’ attack? Naked man storms girlfriend’s house, bites chunk out of man’s arm :

Drug-addled man takes off all of his clothes in his lover’s home and then bites another man on the bicep. Police had to taser him twice to subdue him.

Charles Baker of Palmetto, Fla., was arrested after sheriff’s deputies say he barged into his girlfriend’s home, stripped off his clothes and took a bite out of another man’s arm.

Let’s first discuss Florida. It’s not every state that let’s its media have so much access to mug shots so quickly. These Florida zombies definitely have an advantage in reaching the market. Because let’s face it, bite attacks happen all the time. The stripping naked might be a bit weirder, although drunk or angry men stripping off clothes doesn’t seem that unusual either. Maybe there are some tainted drugs (bath salts or synthetics) going around Florida. Or maybe zombies are infected with rabies.

But on second look, examine the particularities of this mug shot gone viral: a dark-skinned black man, wide eyes, sharp eyebrows, bad teeth and thick purple lips. If he were green-grey, he would be the very model of a zombie cartoon face and if his curly hair were turned pink it could be brains. Ok maybe that’s a stretch but the point remains: this guy just looks like a zombie. Look what happens if we just manipulate some simple color adjustments:

zombie florida

But it’s too simple to say he looks like a zombie, the question is why do I think zombies look like that. Answer: Because zombies are metaphor for the proletariat masses, aka “former” slaves, aka “minority” classes. Zombies project fear of the masses. Recall the word “zombi” originally from Haiti. English professor James F. Broderick claims the first real zombie was Clairvius Narcisse who seemed to die but was really drugged and forced to work on a Haitian sugar plantation. As Broderick reminds: “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

So it is perhaps also interesting to remind of the role Caribbean sugar played in the hundreds of years of American slavery. The “triangular trade” involving the financing of American slavery through molasses and rum, where New England “beantown” bankers financed the exchange of sugar for slaves between Africa and the West Indies. Presumably it is this trade system that originally brought a lot of black people to Florida.

The Haitian origin also explains a sort of French connection. In fact the whole zombie summer storyline reads better in French – See Le HuffPost: “Charles Baker, le nouveau cas de cannibale en Floride” with zombie photos and links to:

– Le cannibale de Miami
– Le cannibale de Baltimore
– Les “sels de bain”, la drogue qui pousse au cannibalisme
– Des fausses attaques de zombies

Similarly, continental philosophy theories of mind often sound better in French (because the German is so harsh sounding). And so Zombies, like French Theory and French Fries, like Democratic Revolution itself, is this sort of American construction of this thing that is the Other but is really our own creation but we call it theirs. Which is a very Austrian School, Hegelian kind of reflection and without any need for Absolute Mind on either side.

As we keep reflecting on zombies, these bite attacks seem a sort of diversion. 2012 was going to be the Summer of Zombies long before the media realized that criminal assailants use their teeth. In our time of post-911 security theater it is a humorous reminder that we are all, ourselves, biological weaponry. As technology is rapidly changing the very means of our social production, the words keep failing. Zombies is a fascinating word because right now it can be used to describe almost anything that is potentially returning to haunt – and from a psychoanalytic perspective on guilt, that is everything. The past is rapidly confronted by a new and unexpected future but the old expectations remain.

The coming presidential election is unavoidably a referendum on our first black president. I’ve seen Obama campaign use the slogan “Forward” which sounds awfully German but also rings of “once you go black you never go back”. But no one really wants to talk about it like that. We are still not all that comfortable talking directly about race. But worse, we really don’t want to talk about the war, or how much it’s cost, or the crazy apocalyptic budget cuts we all know we have to make. So it’s just out there in the national subconscious and building up national anxieties in ways none of us understand but lots of people are trying to manipulate.

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From → Academics, obama, politics

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