Get Out: Social Horror

I went in expecting a slavery metaphor, a veneer of white civility hiding something more sinister. Turns out, the veneer was sinister enough in of itself.

This is a general record of my experience of watching Jordan Peele's critically acclaimed film Get Out.
Get Out
Spoilers Ahoy

I went into this one hundred percent expecting a slavery metaphor, for the horror aspects to be remains of Racism Past ("racism past"). The opening scene shows Andre, a black man, getting shoved into a car playing a jaunty fifties tune. The veneer of white civility and "positive racism" must hide some sinister, antiquated belief system.

Turns out, the veneer is the sinister belief system, and it's not antiquated so much as ever-present.

Chris has to endure a montage of micro-aggressions from various white people who assume he knows Tiger Woods and that it's totally fine to touch him without permission. This painfully real, humorous scene is a joke on the white people involved. We're not supposed to sympathise with them, after all - they're probably secret slave owners.

Actually, it turns out that the veneer itself is harmful and sinister enough.

But for the white person who has a general understanding of why these seeming-compliments are actually exhausting and dehuminising for black people to experience on a day to day basis, there is representation still! There is Rose, who demonstrates a fairly good understanding of how the comments Chris is made to deal with, and his own enforced silence for the sake of civility, affects him - and there's Jim, the first of the guests to have a real, genuine conversation with Chris based on his actual interests.

Rose and Jim both clearly look down on the white people who are staging all these acts of micro-aggression. They treat Chris like a human being. Rose likes him (he's one of her favourites).

Jim pays other white people for Chris's body so that he can take control of his artistic talents. He pays to cannibalise and consume the life of a black man for his own personal gain.

Jim Hudson wants Chris to know doesn't care about his race. The others, they want to be black because they think it's 'cool'. They will literally implant themselves into black bodies while maintaining all their white privilege. So will Jim, but not because Chris is black.

Rose is, until the moment you realise she's in on it (which for me was before the movie even started thanks to some spoilers I ran into), a means for the white people watching to engage without feeling too uncomfortable. She is fully aware of racism and reacts to it with a disgust you (me. white people.) kind of want to hold up like a badge, present to people of colour who probably are tired enough of dealing with racism without having to hear about that Racist Thing I Totally Shut Down.

Not Racist White Person: A Good Ally.

Rose isn't just a psychopath, she's an opportunist who understands racism and, also, understands how to use it to her advantage. She expresses outrage at racial profiling at the beginning of the film and stretches out her hand to the approaching police car at the end - ready to take full advantage of appearances.

Then there's Jim.

Horror at its best takes reality to the extreme. Get Out explores a black man escaping from a place where his trauma is used to imprison him, where his brain will be cut out so that another person can use his body, his talents, to succeed, and where the people who exploit his social vulnerability for profit show him a video that ends by saying - hey, maybe you'll even like what we're doing to you.

He does escape, and returns to a society where racial profiling exists, micro-aggression exists, and where his personal success will always be contextualised by perceptions of his race.

But hey, at least Jim Hudson doesn't care about him being black. Jim laughs ironically at racism! He respects Chris. He understands that all the polite things people say at the garden party are actually ridiculous and harmful. He would never, ever, say anything that stupid.

Jim is just getting what he wants. Whiteness doesn't make him racist, it just provides him with the means to exploit people of colour, who are made vulnerable by racist systems and social values.

Racism functions on being impossible to navigate. It's easy for white people to want to adopt a person of colours coping mechanisms - to laugh at how stupid racism is as if it will stop us from ever being the one who's laughed at, or hurting people. It's impossible to navigate because so much of society is built on giving us the upper hand that we don't even need to be hateful, or prejudiced, to do and/or say racist things. We can be ignorant, or opportunistic, or just plain uncomfortable - and white privilege is there to fall back on with alarming simplicity.

I think that Get Out is worth watching as a white person. I think we can all stand to engage in some critical self reflection. It's well past time to be humble, listen.