The Scariest Thing About Get Out is Black Trauma

by Reagan Jackson

I hate horror movies.  They linger. Long after the screen goes black I am reliving every cringe-worthy moment. So when I saw the preview for Get Out, I was like wait: Is this a horror movie or is this racism? Is this a horror movie about racism? Oh hell no.  I definitely don’t want to see that.

Eventually, I succumbed to curiosity and peer pressure. True to the genre, Get Out is a movie that lingers, but in a very different way than most. It’s the subtle violence that gets under your skin. Writer and director Jordan Peele does a masterful job of creating scene after scene filled with micro-aggressions, white privilege run amok and downright awkward racist interactions. 

The movie begins with Rose (Allison Williams) and Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) making googly eyes at one another, establishing themselves as a couple in love. All the black women sitting in my row (myself included) gave a collective eye roll.

Becky meets a Brother. Okay. That’s only the plot of like 900 other movies (#savethelastdance #guesswhosecomingtodinner #Othello).  And Rose is the quintessential Becky, perky and progressive, the daughter of parents who would have “voted for Obama a third time” if they could.

They discuss their plans for Chris to meet Rose’s family. Chris asks if they know he’s black. Rose says no, because she is entirely too post-racial to have really noticed that he is black, let alone mentioned that to her equally post-racial family. She also lets it slip that he is the first black man she’s ever dated (yeah right) which so perfectly frames the paradox of white people wanting to be both color blind and congratulated on their sophisticated race relations at the same time.

Chris calls his friend Rod (played by comedian Lil Rel Howry) who tells him pretty much everything everyone in the audience is thinking. Don’t go. This is a bad idea. Something isn’t right!

But of course, Chris goes anyway, because white people inviting you to white spaces with other white people that may or may not be cool is actually an everyday kind of thing. What follows is a montage of way too true shit that happens when you are black in white spaces, beginning with a slightly new twist on an old classic, the D.W.B. (Driving While Black).

While on the way to the countryside, they hit a deer. It’s jarring.  They are both stunned. When the police officer arrives, though Rose was the one actually driving, he asks to see Chris’ driver’s license. One of them is stunned by this. One of them is not. You can guess who.

So Rose pulls out her white feminist crusader cape. After a short and snarky assertion of her white privilege, they are back in the car and on their way. Here you see that first crack in the lovey dovey “we are a couple” façade. It’s that moment where two people realize they were raised differently and have completely different understandings of what just happened and why. 

Read: that moment when Chris remembers that Rose’s whiteness can be dangerous (#EmmitTill) and Rose realizes for .5 seconds that the post-racial bubble she likes to live in might not have room enough for two.

Throughout the movie we watch Chris rationalize his relationship, again and again, bestowing unsolicited silent forgiveness for all this bullshit simply being with Rose requires of him, and all the lies and mental gymnastics it takes to keep believing “it’s not that bad”.  Except it is that bad.

When they get to the house, Chris can’t wait to call Rod. This is a thing. When that crazy and or crazy making racist thing happens, no matter how cool your white friend, colleague or partner is, you have to call your black friends or family members to debrief because they actually understand how you feel and can make you laugh about it. Unsurprisingly, the humor in this movie is a big part of what makes it work. It’s what kept me watching as the storyline drew us into worst case scenario after worst case scenario.

I promise not to drop any more spoilers. Everything you previously read takes place in the first 15 minutes of the movie. And come on it’s a horror movie, so you kind of know what’s coming, twists and turns, bloodshed, and general scariness.  But I will say this, it was funny, it was scary, it was honest, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

As I left the theater I was inundated with memories of my first boyfriend, a white boy from Two Rivers Wisconsin that I met at church camp.  He came to Madison to take me to my homecoming dance, so when he invited me to be his date to his school formal, I begged my parents to let me go.

Lengthy conversations ensued. You want to go where? With who? Stay where? Really? My parents were very hesitant to let me go and told me flat out that they didn’t think I would have a good experience, but true to their parenting style they decided that they would let me make my own mistake, but not without support. My dad drove me to Two Rivers. He met the boy and his parents (gave the boy the stare down that black fathers are famous for) and then left me there to endure one of the most awkward and humiliating experiences I have ever had.

There were times during the movie where I wondered if Jordan Peele had secretly followed me around Two Rivers to write down the things white kids and their parents said to me. Then I realized, no, this is actually a universal black American experience, but one that for the most part goes unsaid.

We watch documentaries about slavery or the civil rights movement. Racism is depicted as fire hoses and dogs, confederate flags and white sheets, all open and obvious. It’s rare to watch a movie that openly addresses the intimate injustices, the small ways in which your white friends fail you, not by saying the fucked up thing themselves, but by putting you in a situation where that trauma can and does occur.  Sometimes it happens so quickly or it’s so subtle that they don’t even notice. You go home feeling terrible and needing to process and for them it’s like it never even happened. This movie lives at the intersection of this disconnect. It takes a long festering wound and picks at the scab until you’re left bleeding and raw.

Get Out puts white people on blast in an intense and at times entertaining way, but it also spills the tea on black folks. We have been enduring racial trauma for so long that we have normalized it to a certain extent, learned to laugh about it, learned to side eye, suck it up and drink about it. It’s a survival tactic. But what happens when you just can’t anymore? What happens when your worst fears are realized and there is no turning back? When you can’t keep pretending over and over again that whiteness isn’t a psychopathic disease systematically trying to silence, dominate, infect, subdue, and kill you?

Chris shows so much compassion. You can tell he really wants to make it work. He wants to believe that his girlfriend is genuinely a good person. He wants to believe that he just has to endure the unpleasantness and that this will just be a fucked up story to laugh about at the bar. But whiteness is coming for him and the choice is clear: stay and submit, or stand up and get out. 

img_1478Reagan Jackson is a writer, artist, activist, international educator and award-winning journalist. She is a regular contributor to both the South Seattle Emerald and the Seattle Globalist. Her self-published works include two children’s books (Coco LaSwish: A Fish from a Different Rainbow and Coco LaSwish: When Rainbows Go Blue) and three collections of poetry (God, Hair, Love, and America, Love and Guatemala, and Summoning Unicorns). To find out more check her out at http://www.rejjarts.com.

Featured image courtesy of Universal Pictures 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “The Scariest Thing About Get Out is Black Trauma”

  1. I so wanted you to spoil it for me just so I could get your keen analysis of each incident along the way. Thank you for the little bit you did di. I’ll go to Wikipedia to get the rest as I am not inclined to go. Likely because I don’t want to engage in the conversation with whites about it. Likely because their engagement with me about it will end there as they will not take it to their communities thinking that talking about it with me is enough….for them. Funny how that is, how that’s enough. But you and I know that it is not, don’t we…

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  2. Pretty biased article, but correct in some of its insights. Every person, no matter skin color, can have the problem of being seen as different and having to bear the awkward conversations that follow. I’m not sure if the author realizes this – if she does, how could she be so critical to say her “white friends are failing her?” Whiteness a psychopathic disease? That’s as virulent a blanket statement as you’d hear from a white supremacist group about blacks. The dominant culture in an area is always going to be seen as.. at least annoying at times, because it gets in the way of your wants. But that doesn’t mean they’re evil. You’re of the same nature.

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