Sometimes it's just racist...

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Seriously, I have no idea what the frack Capcom was thinking, when they went ahead with Resident Evil 5:

One of the first things you see in the game, seconds after taking control of Chris Redfield, is a gang of African men brutally beating something in a sack. Animal or human, it's never revealed, but these are not infected Majini. There are no red bloodshot eyes. These are ordinary Africans, who stop and stare at you menacingly as you approach. Since the Majini are not undead corpses, and are capable of driving vehicles, handling weapons and even using guns, it makes the line between the infected monsters and African civilians uncomfortably vague. Where Africans are concerned, the game seems to be suggesting, bloodthirsty savagery just comes with the territory.

Later on, there's a cut-scene of a white blonde woman being dragged off, screaming, by black men. When you attempt to rescue her, she's been turned and must be killed. If this has any relevance to the story it's not apparent in the first three chapters, and it plays so blatantly into the old clichés of the dangerous "dark continent" and the primitive lust of its inhabitants that you'd swear the game was written in the 1920s. That Sheva neatly fits the approved Hollywood model of the light-skinned black heroine, and talks more like Lara Croft than her thickly-accented foes, merely compounds the problem rather than easing it. There are even more outrageous and outdated images to be found later in the game, stuff that I was honestly surprised to see in 2009, but Capcom has specifically asked that details of these scenes remain under wraps for now, whether for these reasons we don't know.

There will be plenty of people who refuse to see anything untoward in this material. "It wasn't racist when the enemies were Spanish in Resident Evil 4," goes the argument, but then the Spanish don't have the baggage of being stereotyped as subhuman animals for the past two hundred years. It's perfectly possible to use Africa as the setting for a powerful and troubling horror story, but when you're applying the concept of people being turned into savage monsters onto an actual ethnic group that has long been misrepresented as savage monsters, it's hard to see how elements of race weren't going to be a factor.

All it will take is for one mainstream media outlet to show the heroic Chris Redfield stamping on the face of a black woman, splattering her skull, and the controversy over Manhunt 2 will seem quaint by comparison.

And with Ta-Nehisi's help get that clip of said black woman's skull being splattered!

Seriously though, the whole "it's only a game" defense--which people always raise--is so lame. It's usually raised by the same 35-year old dude who plays video-games, like other people watch TV, and swears that video games are just as legitimate as TV. As a guy who plays WoW, like other people watch TV, and swears that gaming is just as legit as TV, I can relate. But if we're going to allow video games to enter into the world of adults, if we don't want to looked upon as boys in the bodies of men, then we have to be serious. Either this shit is real, or it ain't. You can't ask people to at once respect the creativity of gaming, and then tell them they can't critique it.

One good thing about hip-hop is that the belief that the music is somehow magical (however mistaken that belief is) has empowered legions of fans to argue about its merits. We can be completely insufferable, arrogant, and dead-ass wrong. But if you say that misogyny taints the entire Biggie catalog--as you could maintain--you will get a debate. Some will say, "Meh, it's just music," but many more will actually engage the argument.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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