During the past few episodes of "Walking Dead," former antisocial hothead Daryl Dixon joins a team that is headed to a local veterinary college to scout for medications. That he joins a team at all is an impressive bit of evolution for the character; that he comfortably joins, and doesn't even try to lead, a group of African-Americans is even more striking.
Is this realistic? Would a zombie apocalypse be the ultimate Diversity Workshop?
"Walking Dead" isn't known for detailed character development, but an almost overnight change of heart around racism under the circumstances of the show is quite believable. The gold standard for getting two groups (in the case of "Walking Dead," Southern whites and blacks) to unite as one is to give them a chance to know each other while working toward a common goal. People need a chance to talk, but all the kumbayas and story circles in the world aren't sufficient. They also need to work together on some kind of project. The best projects are challenging, require coordination between individuals, and have real consequences for success or failure.
Fighting zombies is pretty excellent for that.
And of course, the zombies themselves provide the best possible outlet for aggression and fear. Talking and working together is a positive, upbeat way to think about reducing racial tensions. A nastier but also effective method is to provide two conflicting groups with a third enemy. Zombies really are aggressive, mindless, dangerous, subhuman, ugly, and disgusting. You can hate them without guilt, kill them without remorse. Which means no one is tasked with the hard psychic work of undoing their fears and rages in order to be a decent human being--they can simply transfer all that hatred onto the zombies.
A compelling and cooperative task. Time to talk, with no media or screens or outraged internet comments getting between two individuals. And a scapegoat.
Intergroup conflict solved.
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