March 18, 2017 by Kyle
I love the movies. I love a good narrative. Last Thursday I took the rare open afternoon to venture to a theater located about 20 mins from home. I heard bits and pieces of the plot of Get Out and those that know me could easily assume that it would be a matter of time before I saw this flick. Prior to heading to see the movie I anticipated being troubled or unsettled and I was, but my post-flick reaction was more solemn than I could ever imagine. I walked out of the theater suspicious and annoyed. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was great. The subtleties of the film pressed deep into an open wound. The metaphors were all over the place and irrefutable to anyone living as a minority within majority culture.
Did I need to be further unsettled about the state of race in America? No, but there is nothing like a good parable to collectively teach a cross section of America about its racist proclivities. In this movie there were no ‘good ole boys’ or Confederate flags–too easy. I will not give away the movie, but I will say that there are some lessons to be learned. First, let’s consider that those who exist as minorities within majority culture give up too much of themselves and often times receive nothing in return. What do I mean, well, consider the amount of micro-aggression that Chris Washington experiences without protest. The social makeup of the environment is stifling and ultimately renders him silent. I know the feeling, especially as a black man in white circles. The storyline is a descent into the abyss.
My theater seating was weird. I arrived early and sat next to a couple and because seats were assigned I could not just move over a seat. I even attempted to connect with my neighbors, but they wanted none of it. I was alone, squirming at the kind of weird statements that I’ve heard before. Statements about the black physique or assumed athleticism…it was a movie, but I didn’t have my armor up, I was there to relax but…
No doubt, this was a horror movie. I mean not a horror movie in the way that Friday the 13th is a horror movie, but a horror movie in the way that 12 Years a Slave is a horror movie. It contained the kind of scary stuff that you could observe at an office party where you are the obvious half baked diversity initiative that the company set out to do around the time of your hiring. By far the scariest plot tool is this ‘sunken place’. For those who saw Get Out, this was by far the most insidious weapon. Think of the ‘sunken place’ as the condition of absolute compliance or control. Our protagonist, Chris Washington, is trapped in a kind of purgatory. I struggled with this piece of the storyline because it is hard for me to observe brothers and sisters who have ignored the struggle in exchange for comfort.
The lure to disappear into compliant spheres of whiteness can be alluring for some. There have been many examples of individuals who no longer struggle in their sunken places–they just fall deeper. For example, when we blame black folks for getting beat or shot or we may casually reassign slaves to the category of immigrants–this is an illustration of exchanging identity for whiteness. We understand whiteness to be a social category that describes dominant Euro-cultural uniformity. There is nothing wrong with being white, the problem is when ‘whiteness’ becomes the accepted standard of all that is right.
There is a comedic presence in the movie, it would be more accurate to describe Chris Washington’s friend as the rescue or redemptive element in this piece. Proverbs 18:24 says, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” I pray that we all have friends who seek to go the extra mile as Rod Williams does for Chris Washington. It is so easy to find ourselves in a place of acquiescing under the control of dominance. We are the better because of good friends–people who will tell us the truth about the unnecessary exchanges we make to fit in with some people who only see how they can benefit from us.
I left stunned. I sat between two brothas and I must admit that I wanted to say something about our mutual struggle several times during the film, but decided not. No, I didn’t leave the theater suspicious of all white folk. I know a lot of white people and I’m friends with a lot of white folk and so I did not broadly label. However, I do consider what lies deeper beneath the micro-aggression that I hear so often.