If James Baldwin’s words in “I Am Not Your Negro” set the cinematic world on fire with it’s striking relevance to today’s Divided States of America, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” is a horror film rooted in what racism feels like.
It didn’t scare me because it was a scary movie. It was terrifying because it revealed the tragedy of what it is like for black people to live with what W.E.B Du Bois called the veil and a double-consciousness:
“…the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil and gifted with second sight in this American world, –– a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
Du Bois penned that over 100 years ago. But today, even black pre-schoolers recognize their otherness. They are suspended at a rate nearly four times higher than their white counterparts. A jury watched the life choked out of Eric Garner as he gasped “I can’t breathe” and still found no probable cause to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. Very few people accept The Washington Post’s findings that unarmed black Americans are five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer. Instead they deflect with comments about about black on black crime without acknowledging that white on white crime is about the same or the systemic injustices that nurture the state of the black communities Trump is threatening to fix via militarization.
And when you grow up constantly facing the fact that your very humanity is scrutinized and people see your existence as a threat, you live with a certain fear.
“Get Out” is a brilliant exaggeration of what that looks like as it follows Chris, a young, gifted and black photographer, on a weekend trip to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s rich family. She hasn’t told her family he’s black. She assures him they are liberal and couldn’t possibly be racist because, you know, her daddy voted for Obama. But as soon as they start their journey to her neighborhood they run into an overzealous cop, meet her family’s black servants and by the time they sit down for dinner, microaggressions (“with your build and genetic make-up”) begin to feed the beast that is racism and tries to eat the flesh of young Chris the way it dines on the soul of black folk.
I’ve heard people say they won’t see “Get Out” because they are too scared. Well being black in America is scary. And it doesn’t come with the added perks of being fiction. See the movie. Take comfort in it’s make-believe and be motivated to check the very real biases and systemic oppression that inspired the tragedy of the double-consciousness on and off screen.