Dracula as White Savior

By Matthew Chase

Race lives the life and paradox of a vampire. Just as the vampire has become a very common figure in our folklore and cinema culture, race is a taken-for-granted part of our everyday lives. As with the vampire, however, the idea of race has changed throughout the years. One of the problems with defining what we mean by race is that we cannot seem to separate it from our understanding of racial identity. They are one and the same, in other words. At least, that is what we are led to believe. It is because race is defined by and limited to skin color. As if we could not find enough similarities, the vampire is usually identified by its pale (i.e., white) skin.

Bela_lugosi_draculaRace is intricately tied to the physical body. It was not too long ago that race was considered essential to our biology. It was something that we inherited from our parents, our ancestors. It was a matter of science, history, and commonsense. Much of the U.S. public keeps to this kind of thinking even today, as we concern ourselves with something as trivial as melanin pigmentation and genetics. Skin color becomes somehow linked to our language, names, voices, and even personality traits. Race becomes the umbrella term for all of these individual and very human qualities, and gives them meaning that’s only skin deep.

So where does the vampire metaphor really come into this discussion exactly? Well, the vampire represents how racism has “infected” every sphere of public life. Perhaps colonized is a better word for it. Just as the vampire seeks out humans for sustenance and power, the colonist seeks out resources like territories and even fellow humans for the same agenda. The vampire is a symbol to the colonial system of dominance and oppression, the system that we live by and for even today.

What’s more, the typically pale skin of the vampire identifies who exactly is supposed to benefit from such a system. The vampire seeks to not only enslave victims, but to assimilate them; to make them become just like the master vampire. It is a whitening effect, making assimilation the equal to multiculturalism and diversity. But it is just a clever, very humanlike disguise so that we can feed our own colorblindness. This humanitarian cause for assimilation actually brings crisis to the “dehumanized,” as they struggle to fit in the white human universal. It is also privileging to those who are already like the master vampire, and they have the race card to prove it.

Angel_(Buffy_the_Vampire_Slayer)There is an irony to this whole monster metaphor as we consider the recent changes in how we see the vampire. Way back when, the vampire was a creature of darkness. It was something to be feared for its violence, inhumanity, and terror. Not quite unlike the image of colonial powers of old in history textbooks. The villains and tyrants calling for empire. Yet recent films and literature have re-represented the vampire as the “misunderstood” hero of the story. The vampire is the very white savior of humanity in a big bad world, to put it bluntly. The narratives of racial inequalities are being disconnected from history as if the days of old no longer matter, including the bloodshed and the enslavement of human lives under colonial power. Racism is dead and gone, isn’t it? Such representations give legitimacy to the current U.S. colonial systems in a supposedly post-colonial world. The vampire (that is, the United States) must commit necessary evils  to help the deprived and the marginalized become something more human. The marginalized and the deprived who have been dehumanized by those very same evils (e.g., restricted welfare services, zero-tolerance policing, anti-immigration policies, etc.). Just like the zombies with class, vampirism is quickly spreading across the globe as whole economies become dependent on the lifeblood of the United States.

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