White People and Black Art, Part 1: How Jordan Peele Taught White People Voting for Obama Doesn’t Make Them Less Racist (Or: Why White People Need to Watch Get Out)

For Black History Month, I’ll be doing a series about films, comics, books, and other forms of media which predominantly feature people of color in the cast and/or are created by people of color. Since I am one of the whitest people to ever be white, I will not be writing as an “expert” on black culture or art. I also acknowledge that black art is not made with white people in mind, because everything else is catered to our desires anyways. Instead, I share these musings as one seeking to educate her fellow white people on why black lives and black representation matter, and what we as white people can learn about racial tensions and interactions from these art forms.

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains major spoilers for Get Out.

*****

Film Title: Get Out

CDN.Collider

After Get Out received four Academy Award nominations, I took out the Amazon gift card we received for our wedding and finally bought the movie.

I hadn’t seen it since the weekend after it came out, all the way back in late February of 2017. The first time I saw the film, I went in not knowing what to expect. Why were all the white people acting so weird around Chris? Why were all the people of color acting so strangely? What would happen to Chris? What did this family have to do with all of it?

In true white feminist form, I even had the audacity to think Rose would be an innocent in all of this. Watching the film a second time, I wondered why the hell I ever thought this to begin with.

What I remember most from that first movie-going experience was how uncomfortable I felt. I recounted my past interactions with people of color and all of the microaggressions I had committed. I remembered my “I would have voted for Obama for a third term” quips, my awkward attempts at “blackcent,” and even my “I’m a middle class white woman with an Arabic father whose struggles I have never dealt with, but I STILL know and understand oppression!” attitude.

I also left better informed not only as to how people of color feel when I and other white people make those blunders, but how those microaggressions can quickly shift from small to full-scale attempts to whitewash people of color.

Some of the microaggressions we see in the film are pretty obvious once they are displayed to us in all of their awkwardness. When we hear Mr. Armitage say “I would have voted for Obama for a third term” and call Chris “my man,” we see how he demeans Chris’ blackness by acting on stereotypes. When we see the woman feeling up Chris’ arms and the Japanese man asking Chris to speak on behalf of all black people about the African-American experience, we understand how wrong it is to make one person a spokesperson for their race and to remember to respect people’s boundaries.

Jordan Peele also uses this film to show white people how these microaggressions can very easily become something more malevolent.

The whole plot of Get Out revolves around a science that’s meant to create black bodies without blackness, black minds devoid of black consciousness. The Armitages literally round up black people via their daughter Rose, and then auction off their bodies to their white friends and family. They do this with no sense of irony or shame. They do this not caring about the fact that they are ripping black people from their bodies and planting their white friends and family in them. Because of this operation, the white people get all the “benefits” of blackness without living any of the experiences. They get to put it on like it’s the latest fashion accessory and not the lived experiences of another people.

In Get Out, we see not only how we humiliate and discomfort people of color, but how we rob them of control over their bodies and culture.

Let’s look at the guy who “buys” Chris: Jim Hudson. Jim explains how he will control Chris’ body while Chris himself is confined to becoming a passenger in his own body in the Sunken Place. As he explains himself, Jim tells Chris how it was his photography skills that captured the attention of the art dealer who is blind, and he even goes so far as to tell Chris, “I could give a shit what color you are…I want your eye, man.”

In this moment, Jim tells Chris, “I want your physical eye, but I don’t want the embodied experiences that made this eye possible.” After all, physical vision is not the only thing necessary to make thought-provoking and emotion-inducing art. What makes Chris’ photography so fantastic is how it reflects his experiences, joys, sorrows, and whole human story, from the absence of his father and his mother’s loss all the way to where he is when the story starts. To remove Chris from his body is to take away from the story he tells with his photographs.

Therefore, not only is Jim robbing Chris of his body; he is robbing him of his story and his authority to tell it. Even if Jim could see through Chris’ physical eyes, he would not be able to capture images as Chris once did, because he would not feel the beauty and pain Chris experienced. Chris and his stories would be trapped in the Sunken Place, safely out of the way of white people like Jim and their own desires.

This desire to whitewash the black experience causes us to turn a blind eye to the plights of people of color. It’s why we chant “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter.” It’s why we complain about “reverse racism” when people of color call out systemic racism. It’s why white feminists accuse other women of being divisive when they bring up issues women of color, trans and queer women, and women with disabilities encounter. We fear dealing with the experiences of people of color, because we fear dealing with our own racism. As such, in these seemingly insignificant everyday actions, we attempt to confine people of color to our own Sunken Places.

And we need to stop.

White people can understand that black people and other people of color not only have different skin colors but different experiences as well. This is not only allowed but necessary if we are to do the work of dismantling white supremacy. Once we acknowledge that people of color experience America in a very different way than we do, we can actually work on making change happen in our own interactions and in the systems with which we engage daily.

As uncomfortable as this movie may make us, it is good for white people to realize our racist tendencies, regardless of how “colorblind” we claim to be. When we see other white people acting out our own patterns and feel Chris’ discomfort and witness attempts on his life, we might be inspired to think more before we speak and act when interacting with those of different races.

If you’re a white person who hasn’t seen Get Out, I highly recommend it. Jordan Peele is a master storyteller, the pacing is solid, and the scares can be endured by those adverse to the horror genre.

But more than that, it’s a story about how our good intentions can become harmful actions if left unchecked, and we owe it to our siblings of color to wrestle with and understand our own selves so we can work to dismantle white supremacy forever.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “White People and Black Art, Part 1: How Jordan Peele Taught White People Voting for Obama Doesn’t Make Them Less Racist (Or: Why White People Need to Watch Get Out)

  1. Beautifully written and I agree with you 100 percent! I watched Get Out soon after it came out and it was actually in the same boat with you, I thought Rose was going to be innocent. She played her role too well. She was character as an actress in the film and Rose was also a facade to entrap Chris. Her and her whole family were hollow shells. When she found the keys and was “you know I can’t do that babe.” My heart stopped.

    On a side note, micro aggressions are very really and they do more harm to the psyche over a period of time. As a Black woman there are times when I find myself wondering how I’m presenting myself so I don’t get treated a certain. It’s something Black people have to make a conscious effort to not worry about how we’re being perceived!

    Happy Black History Month by the way lol 😀

    1. Happy Black History Month to you, too!

      Thank you so much for commenting. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to deal with microaggressions and major aggressions on a regular basis. I hope white people continue to learn more about how to interact with people of color and how to use their privilege for good instead of ill.

      BTW Congrats on the new website!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s