The Zombie Effect

On Wednesday mornings, GBM’s staff meets to share our work, review our progress (or lack of it) and plan our activities for the days ahead. Each meeting begins our day with a staff reflection when staff members take turns in sharing a scriptural text, a poem, a reading from a favorite author or even a song. On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, it was Tari Williams’ turn. What Tari shared with us was an account of a mother-son dialogue held in the wake of the St. Louis County Grand Jury announcement. We are thankful that Tari is allowing us the privilege of sharing this conversation with others. – Scott Douglas, Executive Director

At 15 and 40ish, my son, Asa and I rarely watch the same TV shows. However, Dancing With The Stars is one of the few rare gems that we both enjoy (albeit for different reasons, I’m sure). Monday night was the first night of the two-night finale to find out who will win the coveted mirror ball. We are team “Witfonso” (Witney Carson and Alfonso Ribeiro) all the way!!! And, right in the middle of the show, as we were both hanging off the edge of my bed – the show was interrupted with the Ferguson press conference. I knew it was coming, but had pushed it to the back of my mind.

Less than two minutes into craftily worded statement – I knew the outcome. I didn’t say anything to Asa – his eyes were still glued to the screen as if we were still watching DWTS. I could tell that he was listening to every word. I wanted to turn the station, but decided to busy myself with Facebook while he watched. After the verdict was revealed, he looked at me and asked, “What does all of this mean?”. As I was giving him a very technical answer – “This means that the grand jury did not find enough evidence to yada, yada, yada…” – he interrupted and said, “This means that the officer did the right thing and was justified in killing the boy”. He was making a statement, not asking a question. I told him that I wouldn’t use the word “justified” to describe what happened because from my standpoint it wasn’t.

I told Asa when I see pictures of Michael Brown, I see him. When I think about Tamir Rice, the 12-year old fatally shot last weekend in Cleveland while clutching a BB gun and Trayvon Martin, I think of him. Asa said, “but Trayvon didn’t really do anything wrong and the other two boys did”. I told him that, in my opinion, Michael Brown died not because he did something wrong. He died because Officer Wilson did not see HIS son in Michael Brown – just like George Zimmerman did not see HIS son in Trayvon Martin and the officers in Cleveland did not see THEIR son in Tamir Rice. I explained to Asa that it is easy to assume the worse. It is easy to hurt and even kill something or someone you feel no attachment to, have no feelings for and see no value or meaning in. And, that’s what happened in these cases. For me, this wasn’t as much of a race issue as it was a human being/valued life issue.

He then said, “So, it is like we are living in the Zombie apocalypse”. I wasn’t sure if he was asking a question or making a statement. Either way, he had lost me… He said, “You know – kinda like in the Walking Dead”. I know that is one of his favorite TV shows. I have tried to watch it with him once or twice, but it never tickled my fancy. So, I am still not grasping his point.

He then goes into this long and rather drawn out Zombie apocalypse lesson for me. This is what I learned –

Apparently, in the apocalypse, both Zombies and Humans are trying to survive. Zombies are not considered human, they have lower level cognitive skills and motor functions. They don’t really understand logic or reason. They need to eat human brains to survive. Eating human brains do not necessarily make them smarter, but it apparently has all of the vitamins and nutrients a Zombie needs to stay alive – but dead (or is it dead, but alive? I am still a little confused on that point). But, as Asa explained, it’s ok to kill Zombies without reason. Humans fear Zombies. So, when you see a Zombie, you automatically assume the worse – that they are out to get your brains. Plus, they are not humans and add no real value to society – to the society of survivors, that is. In fact, the more Zombies you kill, the better off the humans are. So, when you see a Zombie, the assumption is that they are out to get you and it is better to go ahead and kill them before they kill you.

At this point, my brain was reeling from my zombie apocalypse lesson, the weight of the verdict was starting to sink in, and I was still a bit upset that we had missed the last half of DWTS. So, I ended our conversation with, “yeah, I guess”.

Tuesday night, as I thought more about our discussion (and did a little zombie research of my own), I realized my son’s teenaged brilliance in his metaphor. We do live in an “Us” versus “Them” society. For all too many, “We” African-Americans, are the Zombies, a.k.a walkers, (I learned that term from an episode of the Talking Dead – an after show for the Walking Dead) and “They”, White America, are the Survivors. We are human imposters and they are the real humans. You see, Zombies wander around ferocious and aggressive, in a constant state of hunger for what the Survivors have (their brains). Zombies’ actions are guided entirely by impulses. They seem to lack the complex cognition that is critical for most of the activities one consider worthwhile – social interactions, intellectual pursuits, etc. Isn’t that how “They” view us?

Survivors don’t see themselves in the Zombies. Zombies are ugly, dirty, tattered decomposed human shells. Zombies are subhuman – bestial, animal like, wicked. Survivors automatically assume the worse when they see a zombie. When a Survivor sees a Zombie – the assumption is that they are up to no good. Just think about it –A Zombie knocks on your door late at night looking for help after being in a car accident – you shoot through the door without asking any questions and blow its head off. (Renisha McBride) A Zombie is walking down the street in your neighborhood and you assume that he/she is casing the neighborhood – so, you don’t just call the police – follow, confront and kill. (Trayvon Martin) The list goes on. Zombies are guilty before being proven innocent. Survivors act as judge and jury. Survivors don’t care about Zombies, their Zombie families or their Zombie lives. They feel no attachment to and see no value or meaning in the life of a Zombie. Survivors fear Zombies. When a Survivor sees a Zombie, they are really reacting to their fear – not the actions of the zombie. Each Zombie represents the sum total of all fears, all prejudices and all stereotypes which would make any actions of a Zombie seem suspect. And, make Zombies seem bigger and “badder” than they actually are. Thus, leading to judgments, thinking and decisions without compassion and common sense.

So, much to my 15-year-old’s credit – it is like we are living in the Zombie apocalypse – where the death of one, secures the survival of the other. So, now my question is how do we make it through the apocalypse – where we both survive? That’s another lesson and another discussion for Asa and I – but, not tonight. I have had enough zombie talk to last me for a while. Plus, it’s time for the 3-hour star-studded finale of DWTS. Go team “Witfonso”!

Tari Williams is GBM’s Economic Justice/Systems Change Organizer. She is the proud mother of one son, Asa.