There's the fear factor of a genuinely great horror flick. And then there's the horror of having a mirror held up to reflect the racism of those who believe they are "woke."
Jordan Peele’s Get Out is quite the filmgoing experience. The movie, about a young Black man named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who goes home with Rose, his White girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her family, is masterfully written, edited, and crafted with twists, turns, and reveals that harken back to a Twilight Zone classic with a dash of 1980s slasher gore. As someone who considers herself a rather composed person in public, lawd-ham-mercy!, I was in the theater with everyone else, tossing popcorn at the screen and screaming at Chris to heed his friend’s warning (SEX SLAVE!) and get the hell out that house!
The theater I was sitting in was quite busy, especially around the exit, where I noticed a crowd circling in and out throughout the entire duration of movie. I turned to my friend and whispered, “What’s really going on?” Sure, Get Out remained at such a heightened intensity for a blistering two hours that grown-ass people must have had to mentally disengage just to breathe, but only in retrospect did it hit me that the majority of these busy bodies were white. Not white mothers taking their children on potty breaks, not white teenagers hustling out to text their friends about whatever had just popped up on Instagram. These were legitimate single adults who all seemed to have an exhausting case of the fidgets.
As reviews began to pop up in mainstream media, the prose was just as strange as the theater activity—not just strange, but delusional. Delusional in a way that—sorry, not sorry—white thinking could only warp it. The Washington Post wrote that “Get Out was a horror film that makes racism terrifying,” and say what now? Is racism not already fucking terrifying enough? The USA Today wrote that the antagonists weren’t “ghouls or devil babies” but white people—can’t you just hear the condescending “lol” in parenthesis?
By the time the “OMG Get Out is anti-white” accusations were afoot, I was forming an understanding of the psychological brilliance of Get Out. It wasn’t jump-scares that made this movie frightening nor the sounds of skulls cracking nor close ups of body fluids. What made Get Out frightening was the psychology of it, the relatability of it all, the fact that every single one of us could see ourselves in one of those characters—and for white people? That had to be unnerving as hell.
As viewers of color, and especially black viewers, watched Chris navigate the minefields of the white environment in which he was immersed. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could recount similar stories.
I know I could. Here are the Chris encounters that I’ve personally experienced (Warning: SPOILERS!):
1. Finding out that your close friend or lover had not bothered to tell their family they were bringing a Black friend home and when asked to accommodate, told that to do so would be divisive or a racist act in itself? CHECK!
2. Being harassed by the police and watching a white ally come to your defense with a level of aggressiveness that would have gotten you shot? CHECK!
3. Showing up in a completely white establishment where the only other Black people around are servants? CHECK!
4. Making an effort to humanize those Black servants and forge relationships with them and face sideways glances and strange quips from white counterparts while Black servants make an effort to further separate themselves from you in public for the sake of their own job? CHECKERONI!
5. Being told by a white person that they voted for Obama? OH HELL YES, CHECK!
6. Being physically felt up and thus objectified for your perceived athleticism? CHECK, HONEY!
7. Dealing with anti-blackness from Asians? CHECK!
8. Being repeatedly asked to speak for the Black community about our trials and tribulations despite the fact that it is quite clear there is only one acceptable answer and that answer is that racism is over and Black people are just trippin’? CHECK!
9. Being repeatedly gaslighted by your white “ally” and told that you’re “looking for a reason to be mad”? Calling a Black friend in private to vent and listen them tell you to get your Black ass out of there? Feeling obligated to soothe white ally’s feelings when they realize you’ve been right all along? The ultimate betrayal of white ally when shit gets real? Being told it’s not about race when it’s clearly fucking about race? CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!CHECK!CHECK! CHECK!
Now, for every Get Out encounter that Black folks could relate to, I’m sure white counterparts could just as well see themselves on camera, perpetuating these same actions on the very people they would consider their own friends and family. For every white viewer whose line of defense against their racism was “Yeah, I’m totally racist, lol, that’s why I have a Black son/daughter/wife/husband/best friend/cousin/mammy,” they could see themselves in Rose, Chris’s loving white girlfriend. For every white liberal who has claimed that racial politics is divisive and no better than Trump or the KKK, they could see themselves in Rose’s family or her friends.
The KO punch, however, is how the story is framed. So much of our perspective is from a white supremacist POV, and it has worked hard to be incredibly forgiving to racism. It has constrained its definition, relegating it to extremist acts like slavery, the KKK, but under a Black perspective, racism is shown for its spectrum, its acts, no matter how small, are both worth noting and being absolutely unforgiving of. Get Out demonstrated to the White Liberati that the “nuance” and “discussion” they are so keen to hide behind when it comes to racial politics is nothing more than their own security blanket. The poking and prodding at the spectacle of our Blackness actions will never be fun nor harmless. The delegitimizing our cultural differences will never be anything but infuriating. Living off our expense is every bit of insidious, abusive and slimy as Jordan Peele frames it to be. Racism is our devil babies and our ghouls. Racism is insidious, disarming, strange, infuriating, multi-generational, and unrelenting. Racism is more than enough to drive one insane, and it does. It leaves its victims of all colors dizzied. Its anti-blackness has forced Black folks into a hypnosis where our consciousnesses are shackled in deep space while neurosurgeons transfer the souls of nice white liberals into our bodies for white comfort.
So, go ahead and call Peele’s movie “anti-white.” Frankly, it is. Not in a, “we want white genocide” type of way. Jordan Peele himself is half-white and married to Chelsea Peretti, a white woman and comedian, although it’s worth noting that Peele claims to have written this before he’d met Peretti and that Peretti was supportive of its message. Get Out is anti-white because it exposes the hypocrisy of even the nicest white folks. The ones who fight for our rights, the ones who march next to us and love us every bit as much as we love them. White supremacy, anti-blackness, and racism is so meticulously ingrained into our culture that it’s now more of a runaway train filled with generations of passengers who no longer know what a brake looks like.
We have to find the brake and that includes stopping all this nonsense. Stop setting POCs up to enter intolerant white spaces. Stop invading and colonizing POC safe-spaces as if assimilation is erasure. And mostly, stop forgiving people for racism, no matter how small. For as the ending of Get Out demonstrated, we can’t choke it out of you. It’s up to you to choose to leave it, cold, alone, and dying, on the dark side of a road.
There’s never been a more important time for quality journalism. You can help by supporting DAME’s reporting, commentary, and cultural criticism. Because it matters who covers the news. And it matters who covers women’s issues in the news. As a member, you’ll receive Parlour, our members-only newsletter, plus DAME swag, and you’ll be automatically entered for a chance to win Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her and Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage. Become a supporter today.
AN INDEPENDENT FREE PRESS HAS
NEVER BEEN MORE IMPORTANT.
Your financial support helps DAME continue to cover the critical policies, politics and social changes impacting woman and their allies.