I started watching The Walking Dead last year after both my Netflix queue and best friend kept nagging me about it. A great story line, a zombie apocalypse…you will LOVE it, they both implied. And I did. I think I watched the entire six-episode first season in one day, and followed the show’s second season before diving into the third last month. But there are a few things off about the show and how it treats black folks — mainly that when one turns up, all he or she gets to do is be black.

First, it’s important to remember that this is a series set in and around Atlanta, Georgia after the spread of a virus that turns people into zombies, yet I can count on one hand the number of black characters that have been on that show. Of course there is no such thing as zombies (at least I hope not) and therefore the show is all fantasy, but in what world are there so few black folks to be found in Atlanta?

I couldn’t even find a cast photo with the black guy in it.

I was initially drawn in by a plot about a black man dealing with the zombification of his wife while trying to protect his child from the attacks, but once that story ended the only black characters turned rather one-dimensional. Pop culture writer Kyra Kyles of The Kyles Files describes the sole remaining black person on The Walking Dead perfectly in her post “WALKING DEAD: LESS COLOR THAN THE COMIC?“:

Oh wait, there is one black guy left.  He’s a somewhat cowardly, increasingly useless and unseen character by the name of T-Bone.

**blank stare**

Yes, T-Bone.  Some fellow Deadheads and I talked about this a week ago and I just can’t shake the questions that these casting and plot decisions raise. In the comic book, it almost seems 50/50 in terms of diversity and roles are richly, and interestingly crafted. Further, their actions weren’t defined by their Blackness, as it has been in T-Bone’s case.  He essentially existed, as one friend pointed out, as a foil to a racist character.

Like Kyra, I can’t get past the fact that the only black person on the show is named T-Bone and that he insists that the rest of the survivors of a zombie apocalypse continue to call him that when I’m pretty sure a real person would take that opportunity to just go ahead and let folks call him Terence. Furthermore, as she points out, the shallowness of this character is not a match with the richness found in the original text, a claim that many have also made about the shows True Blood (a show I love but has extremely upsetting black people) and Game of Thrones.

So what gives? Is diversity in television a lost cause in spite of the use of source material that actually has three-dimensional characters of color? Do we need all-black shows to appear on scripted television as anything but footnotes?

Speak on it!

  • Jen

    I am moreso curious about what happens to the family that saves Rick in Season 1 (they were a black father and his son). My bf has asked that question out loud to me several times. If what you say is true and the comic book had lots of black characters then the TV show should at least accurately reflect the comic book.

    Having said that, we can’t say that diversity is completely missing from the show when an Asian dude is sitting there as one of the main characters. If anyone is hurting in media more than black people, it’s Asians.

  • B

    I never realized the show lacked in diversity until you mentioned it and now i can;t get it out my head! I forgot all about t-bone (i mean, who hasnt?)

    The black lady decided to die in season 1 and yes, what ever happened to the black guy and his son?

  • Greengreen

    I think this raises an interesting point but the article does forget the Hispanic characters that have also had brief stints on the show( a Hispanic family is with the group but leaves in season 2). Then there where the Hispanic gangsters that turn out to be caregivers at a nursing home. I think these characters being notably written off is interesting to with the south in general haven a high number of black/Hispanic populations.

    Also, it seems to be a common them in the show to make minority characters cowardly or weak willed Glen is affectionately a guinea pig, he is constantly asked to go see check out run here…ect. T-bone is more interested in self preservation than anything else and the one black woman commits suicide at the CDC cause she just “can’t handle it”.

  • Reason

    The most interesting thing about your article is the concept of not liking these shows because of a lack of diversity…

    …yet continuing to watch (“…True Blood (a show I love but has extremely upsetting black people”). How “upset” could you possibly be?

    You asked if diversity a lost cause. Well, if people like you keep watching it, I guess it is.

  • http://www.djsacfly.biz dj sac fly

    * T-Dog

  • Alexandra

    So focused on the race of characters, that you didn’t realize his name is actually T-Dog, not T-bone.

    Anyhow, I agree that the show is not reflecting the comics. However there are other comics and books, that didn’t have Blacks or minorities in them, but are present on the shows. The Black family that saved Rick on the premiere episode are supposed to reappear sometime later. It’s also rumored the new character ‘Michonne’ will be Black, not quite sure though.

    I’m also glad to see an Asian male character not reduced to a geeky role.

    Games of Thrones? I love that too. But it’s pretty accurate.

  • CurlySue

    As a lover of both the comic and the show, I will say that most of the black characters didn’t show up until they arrived at the prison, which hasn’t happened in the show yet. This is a show that will have a lot of characters coming and going, as is the nature of the world the show is set in. People getting eaten all the time and whatnot. I’m going to wait and see how the show plays out. The second season isn’t even over yet.

  • Natalie

    SPOILER ALERT. Dammit. I need to stop reading anything that’s related to The Walking Dead. I found out major spoilers due to people not alerting anyone. I haven’t read the comics and I wish I could, but I feel like it’s too late. *sigh*

  • Jess

    Yeah I watch the show too and can’t even remember the last time the Black guy had a line. What I did notice is that the Redneck is missing from the above photo too, he is a central character so why isn’t he in the pic?

  • http://www.womanist-musings.com/ womanistmusings

    It’s clear that there is a definite race problem on The Walking Dead. Glenn has been treated as disposable by the other characters. Readers of the comics know that at this point, Tyresse should be a part of the story, however we know that an actor has been cast and that should make a definite change in how people of colour are portrayed if they go with the Tyrese from the comics. It’s also to early in the story for Michonne to make an appearance in the story. I am unwilling to completely write off the series until I see how they choose to portray these two characters but at this point year, The Walking Dead has been terrible as far as its portrayals of both women and POC.

  • ashanti

    I didn’t read the comics, but this: “most of the black characters didn’t show up until they arrived at the prison” doesn’t make me feel much better about it. Are the black characters all prisoners? I hope not.

  • 2cents

    I love this show but it’s clearly all about Rick and Shane. All of the other characters are just there to push the story along. The woman who lost her daughter is useless now and we haven’t heard much about Daryl the redneck or Carl the old man (until they killed him off last Sunday). I think the problem is that they are trying to juggle too many characters to come up with storylines for all of them.

    But you’re right about this being set near Atlanta. It would be very possible (and probable) that the sheriff would be black. So why isn’t he? Because as blacks we have learned to look past race if the story is interesting, but for many white people, if there is a black main character, then it is a black show and they somehow can’t relate.

    The writers are no better because they think if there is a black character he/she has to do something “black” whatever that is.

  • LN

    I thought I had missed a few episodes. I just watched the latest episode Sunday night….Where was T-Dog. Never really realized a lack of diversity in the show and I really don;t care if there is. This is an awesome show. Do we really have to have blacks, latinos, and asian, scattered in every show to make it a decent show. ” So tired of this where are the minorities?” argument. What gives. If there is one black character people complain….and don;t let it be a black person of mixed race…cause then they are not black enough. WTF. People need to relax. It’s okay if it’s an all white cast.

  • Tiffy

    Give it a brake its a good show and its actually only in it’s second season (I noticed the author said third). I can see what the author is saying but “T-Dog” (not T-Bone) had a bit of a story line in the beginning of the season and Jackie from last season died in the CDC explosion. I’m very sure by next october or november when the third season start they will introduce Tyreese and his family and Michonne. and Im pretty sure Morgan and his son will show up too.

  • bekah

    and no one was fighting for her when she “decided to die.” but blonde hair and blue eyes chick had the old guy ready to die with her smh

  • Just Me

    I thought the same thing about T-Dog in the last episode. They flashed to him real quick when they were voting on the fate of the prisoner and I said “Wow… I almost forgot the black guy was on the show!” I hope they bring in more black characters, because I love seeing black characters in my shows, but I’ll keep watching either way. I don’t need a black character in every show I watch.

  • Clara

    True True, however its been the case a lot.

    Remember 300? If you read Frank Millers original comic all the characters look black, some even have dreadlocks.

    As for true blood, in the books, Tara is a white business woman. And Lafayette is only in the first book (then he dies)

    Honestly, I’m glad true blood gave Lafayette longer screen time and changed Tara. At least they gave black actors work. (Because usually they change the black character to a white character, not the other way around)

    I’m waiting for how they portray Michonne. There is no going around that one. She bas to be full black, have dreadlocks or braids, and be a badass. Plus she is too important of a character not to put in,so we shall see.

  • Kacey

    I am also a fan of this show, though, I must admit, I’ve been disappointed with both the pace and storyline of the second season (note – the current episodes are considered part of Season 2, not Season 3.)

    Long ago I was struck by the fact that black people are almost nonexistent, despite the fact that the story takes place in Atlanta. It started out really promising with the black father and son in the first season and they seem to have just been written out of the show without a resolution on what happened to them (I keeping hoping they run into them or something). Also, for a second I thought they were going to get rid of T-Bone. Remember when he got injured and had that really bad infection and fever? I thought that would be the end of him but I guess keeping him alive was the one concession to diversity.

  • chanela

    Well i just asked my boyfriend about that since i saw this post and he saw the comics last night and it mentions that the man with the son joins them for a while…the son is a zombie though then the father gets bit -_-. not sure if they’ll make it into an episode though.

  • chanela

    I honestly think we should just give up on diversity and trying to get into mainstream tv shows and movies. they’ve already hinted that they only want us when they Need baby mamas and thugs so why do we keep pushing the issue? why force someone to do something they dont wanna do? we should just do our own thing. latinos have like 8 channels and are successful as hell. they also have a great movie industry and so do indians with their bollywood,the asian community has tons of shows and movies of their own. just forget it in this racist ass country. its obvious that they only want blonde bimbos in everything.

  • LemonNLime

    I have never seen the show but if it is about zomies then I’m not surprised there are no black people. What sane black person is going out to fight zombies with white people? Please, as soon as they said zombies were out and about I bet you all the black folks in the ATL got the hell out of dodge! I know I would have.

  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    Ha! I know I would!

  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    I concur. ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’, and all that jazz, because clearly waiting for MSM to get a clue isn’t working out very well.

  • CurlySue

    @Ashanti Haha no! the black characters weren’t prisoners. But I’ll stop revealing anything before people start coming after me with e-pitch forks and e-torches.

  • CurlySue

    the sheriff isn’t black because A) The comic book creators wrote him as a white sheriff B) He’s not from Atlanta. He just ends up there. He’s from a small, rural town.

  • johnson

    three things..
    it’s T-dogs
    its in the second season not third
    the show’s main character is Rick his wife and son
    everyone else is zombie bate
    the first character Rick encounter “Morgan” was black but the story was never about him
    they will be future black characters as the show progress (check the comics).. at this day in age i don’t care about who’s in front of the screen; i mostly care about the behind the scene folks because those are the only people that can affect change… you can’t wait for someone else to write your story we got to do it ourselves.

  • Freebee33

    Lack of diversity on TV is the norm unfortunately, nothing new to have an all white cast. At least they throw in a few faces of color here and there on this show. The comic does a bit better with diversity though.

    But one of the most anticipated and popular characters from the comic, happens to be a black woman, and she is rumored to be making an appearance on the show soon…

  • Tonton Michel

    Very good points.

  • chanela

    asian people are SO happy and proud of the asian character in the walking dead. mainly because its finally an asian man getting a white girl (he had sex with her). asian men have complained for years that not only are they never shown with women in movies but its most definitely never a white woman. you know how that goes….every man in the world considers white women to be #1 so this show now has a huge asian male fan base.lol

  • chanela

    @leo the yardie chick EXACTLY! same with the fashion industry. why don’t we just move on? we look stupid as hell being butthurt and sad that americans don’t want black people on their tv screens and runways.

    i’ve stopped caring. its obviously never going to change

  • LuckBALady

    Carl is Rick’s ( & Laurie’s) son. Dale was the older (voice of reason) man killed is this past weeks episode. Darryl finished the zombie that got Dale. Darryl’s brother hasn’t been seen other than a hallucination since the first season.

  • Kacey

    Wow. smh.

  • http://www.thekylesfiles.com Kyra Kyles

    Hey there, Thembi! Thanks for the shout in your post and I have linked to your insights as well. Hopefully, by drawing attention to this issue, we can make these showrunners think. I’m patient, so I haven’t given up on “The Walking Dead,” but that throwaway T-Bone is too much. I saw a glimpse of him next episode. Maybe he’ll get to utter a sentence.

  • binks

    I love the walking dead, my parents and I watch every Sunday but we always note, not so much the lack if diversity, but the lack of material for the nonwhite cast members except for Glen. Let’s be honest I preferred if T-dog die then Dale! I agree he is basically a filler now, maybe that will change soon or they get more people I do think they are trying though but one must remember the nature of the show outside of the core characters everyone else is dispensable

  • johnson

    i think you ladies might like the show even more… the most anticipated character ofthe show
    is a samuri welding bad ass black woman name Michonne, she makes Shane look like a house bunny

  • rocknrollsista

    I like this show alot and unfortunately T-Dog ( aka Tyrone Douglass) seems to fade into the background. He makes some interesting points when he does speak. Yet, the only Asian character Glenn seems to be the crash test dummy of the group. He was lowered down a well with a zombie who was so full of water that his eyes were all puffy. In season one he was forced to go down into the sewers by himself…etc.

    I do see your point though there are not enough characters of color as lead roles. There are a whole lot of black zombies though which is crazy. I am looking forward to Michonne.

  • mamareese

    I watch the show and could care less that there is not a lot of us. This may even indicate that we escaped the wrath of it all. LOL. Dang cant you all just sit and watch TV without turning it into a race war? FYI T-Dawg acting aint steller no wonder he fades to a zombie grey…….wasnt he the gangsta kat in the Blind Side?

  • NOitALL

    @ mamareese I think the point is that the source material, the comic books, have people of color, then why can’t they script them into the TV show. And the show is set in Georgia for goodness sake. Down South, near Atlanta? So few Black people? Come on.

    With that said, I watch the show like a religion. I can’t wait to see how this Rick-Shane-Lori/Carl/baby thing is going to play itself out. Is Rick going to have to kill Shane? Eeeeeee, It’s so exciting.


    Ok I don’t really watch Walking Dead, I saw the first few episodes and really liked the Black dad and son, but around episode 5 they lost me. But to speak on Game of Thrones, I’ve read all the books and the reason there’s no diversity is because its set in Westeros which is like Medieval Europe, the only group of people in the books described as being Black are the Summer Islanders, which is sovereign and far from Westeros. Jalabar Xho has a relatively regular role at court, but he’s really the only one until Arya gets to Braavos.

    Personally I don’t mind, many of my favorite shows are predominantly white – Mad Men, Game of Thrones, True Blood – but it’s just a matter of enjoying the story line and actors.

  • Alexandra

    I read last year that Rutina Wesly (Tara from ‘True Blood’) would be cast as Michonne. I also read some rumors that she might not be Black; it is possible and they’ve done that a few times. But I’m looking forward to her appearance & most of the comic fans who watch this show are expecting a Black actress to appear. I don’t want to speak to soon, but I’m sure they’ll follow through.

  • Cara

    I don’t think that you are that big a fan of “The Walking Dead” Its only in season two not season three as you wrote above. His name is T-Dogg not T-bone. Please read the graphic novels there are several black characters there.

  • Misty_Moonsilver

    Wow…. good article…but….
    FIRST: His nickname is T-Dog.
    Secondly, his real name is Theodore.

  • nappyandhappy

    @LN you would have a valid point except 1)they are in a predominately black city and 2) there are black people in the comic book and this is based on that comic book.
    so yes we can be pissed about the lack of characters of color on this show and yes we can be angry with how the majority of black characters on television are one dimensional

  • http://blog.shopdirtylaundry.com/ Jeanee

    To my surprise I had forgotten about black dude until they showed him briefly last episode. And why don’t we know his name?

    And I was expecting black father and his son to show up by now :(

  • http://www.funkgumbo.com Money Train of Funk Gumbo Radio

    I am a big fan of “The Walking Dead”, but the producers and writers missed a huge opportunity to discuss diversity or even race issues if they had made the recent addition to the main group Black. Last week’s episode to decide to kill the new guy would have been way more interesting and highly dramatic if the majority of white characters had wanted Rick to kill a young Brotha and T-Dog thought he should live because he was worried how many minorities are now alive since the global zombie outbreak. A lot of past and future racial issues could have been greatly explored by just with that simple deliberate and thoughtful diverse casting of the latest character on the show. Even making a young Brotha be locked up at the farm could have created great dramatic tension if the Brotha escaped and everyone suspected T-Dog helped him because they were both Black.

  • You guys are crazy

    First thing first there has only been two seasons so you haven’t dove into the third yet, they merely had a mid season break as many shows do. Secondly everyone in the state fled to Atlanta the biggest city at the governments request so the could “keep them safe”. So thus of course there are plenty of people of all colors and races however the city was over run and obviously few or none survived or migrated somewhere else. Also if you read the comics they changed the show dramatically from it, many people were left out of all races they only kept characters they thought they could develop tv drama with. Why does everything gotta be about race? And his name is T-DAWG not T-Bone

  • You guys are crazy

    Also on the season finale michonne was introduced a badass black female with a ninja sword and zombies in collars

  • watcher

    Disappointing article. Makes vague racism accusations with nothing really there to back it up. Why start something just for the sake of sensationalism. Drama not wanted or needed here.

  • Kaylin

    Hear hear. Why cant people turn the blind eye and forget race. I don’t judge you on race. I judge you on how you handle yourself. And if your a fool I am predujice.

    @noitall. changing of ones race is a part of holywood. Many moives have been modified to include ethnic diversity in them that did not exsist the orginal story but you most like didnt care when the included race but only when you feel its been excluded from the modified source. its kind of like the pot callign the kettle black.

  • Steve

    I can’t disagree with this article enough.

    Firstly, the first people Rick meets after waking from his coma are a black man and his son. Not only do these two save Rick’s life, the father also shows amazing compassion to his ‘turned’ wife and is a sterling role model to his son.

    Next is T-Dog, not T-Bone as you repeatedly call him. T-Dog suffers racist abuse on the roof of the mall and is the bigger man in standing up to the bully. He then tries to save the racist ‘white-trash’, although eventually fails by dropping the key to the handcuffs. Even then though, he returns to the mall in search of the locked up bully. Risking his life for a bigoted man. I fail to see how he has been portrayed badly.

    Finally, you say you have started watching series 3. Well, as it’s not available yet, this is untrue. If you had seen it you would know about Michone a black lady who is a heroin in the saga. She saves Andrea at the end of season 2.

    I maybe agree that there aren’t enough characters of colour but the ones that are there are shown in the best possible light.

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  • wayfastwhitey713

    Good lord, “Thembi”. Take your racial dissection on somwhere. Petty folk like you, who live in the past, constantly searching for racial overtones IN EVERYTHING…has played a huge part, in the downfall of this country. I feel bad for you…must suck to have some much useless hate pent up inside you.

  • wayfastwhitey713

    PS yeah, its a story set in GA. If we learned anything from Katrina, chances are, if this was a real world situation, No doubt there would be few black folk left. They would have been attacked, and turned by “walkers” because they were too busy looting. There. There’s some racial overtones you were so obviously seeking.

  • JJ

    And Now T-Bone is dead…..-_-

  • Thurgood Marshall

    You’re so caught up on race you can’t remember the names of the black characters. T-Dog is his name. Secondly, whites outnumber blacks in this country 11:2, Asians 14:1, and hispanics at about 4:1. Where’s the Hispanic dude? Oh wait, they made a settlement of their own at a senior center. You seem to have no problem that an average of 1 white person dies every episode, and the black guy survives every onslaught, but it’s gotta be quantity over quality. The story is about a white sheriff and his white family, but aside from them the world seems pretty accurately divided amongst the races. Lastly, you probably should have noticed that people in cities left them and rural people fled to them, making your comment about blacks in Atlanta irrelevant, unless you meant the black walker population, which was sorely lacking.

  • clutchsucks

    I’m white as a snowman.
    I think the show lacks black people.
    There were 2 black prisoners + T-dog in an episode or two.
    Then we go back to one token black guy.

  • Dthomasm

    HIS NAME WAS T-DOGG! Get all the facts straight before discussing something you clearly know nothing about.

  • http://gravatar.com/goldenboy62 goldenboy62

    Forget the name mistake and deal with the real issue. He knows exactly what he’s talking about, because other people have noticed the same thing and spoken on it.

  • http://gravatar.com/goldenboy62 goldenboy62

    Easy comments to make when you’re in the group that is predominantly portrayed heroically in most genre shows, and are almost certain to be the most fleshed out character in a show with a large ensemble cast. Even a character that starts out as a stereotypical redneck character was given more substance than any of the Black characters in the first two seasons of Walking Dead. The fact that so many mainstream viewers seem to turn a blind eye to this really does cast a light on how American as a whole looks at race. Sweep it under the rug and wonder why we have to keep peering at that strange lump under the carpet.

  • Noble47

    Also, why are you complaining about Game of Thrones? It was set in Medieval Europe. How many black people were there, in that place, at that time?

    Next, why don’t we complain about how Akira Kurosawa MUST have been a racist, because there were no black dudes in the Seven Samurai!

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