Originally written for and published by Roaring Gold.
Get Out is a horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele which centers around the interracial relationship of a Black man named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and a White woman named Rose (Allison Williams). If you haven’t yet watched film and are averse to spoilers, it’s best you stop reading now. This thesis contains all of the spoilers imaginable.
I was massively interested in Get Out from the moment I first saw the trailer because for quite some time, it’s been obvious to me that, for the Black/White interracial relationship (IR) to work, one of two things must be occurring: In the first scenario, the White partner (regardless of gender) is cognizant of their White privilege, and is constantly making an effort to check their privilege, self-correct, defer to the insight of their Black partner, and do their best to dismantle their own internalized racism. (All White people have internalized racism; it is taught to them from a young age both overtly and covertly, and reinforced both passively and aggressively.) In the second scenario, the Black person has socialized the “Blackness” out of themselves to the point that they are essentially a White person in Black skin. Adopting everything from various White conservative and/or neo-liberal talking points (i.e. “I don’t see colour”, “Reverse racism is real”, and #AllLivesMatter), no longer speaking their native tongue (if they are of another nationality than their partner), and in extreme cases, even going so far as to no longer season their food. This scenario is indeed horrifying.
We can say that such relationships are a blending of culture but in Black/White interracial relationships, specifically the sort depicted here, between two Americans, there can be no such thing. Here’s why: It’s the same culture. The only difference is, Black people grow up knowing everything about what it means to be White in America. All-White television shows and movies, White pop stars, White politicians- they all saturate our screens and our lives, as well as White schoolmates, teachers, and employers who will fill in the gaps. Surviving in the United States as a Black person requires that we have an intimate knowledge of how Whiteness operates, while the reverse is never a requirement for White people. This is why so many can have Black classmates, Black co-workers, etc, and still have questions about or marvel at any social differences they see. As such, the only person in a position to have to learn, understand, and grow, will always be the White partner. This is why when Rose pulls that “colourblind” bullshit in the beginning of the film and tells Chris that she didn’t tell her parents that he was Black because she “didn’t think it mattered”, it’s a huge red flag, one that he brushed off because he is in the early stages of relationship scenario number two, where he exists as the token partner of a White woman and would rather place himself in a potentially awkward situation than have her do something so “uncomfortable” as reveal an essential part of his identity to her family beforehand.
The film’s credits begin and end with a Swahili song whose lyrics, roughly translated, mean “Something bad is coming, get out.” The placement of this song in a film about a Black American man’s relationship doesn’t just foreshadow what’s to come but sadly points out how many diaspora, due first to forced assimilation to the languages of our oppressors, and later the choice to not learn any African tongues, have distanced ourselves from our ancestry. By distancing ourselves, we are thereby unable to understand and heed their warnings, something which could have unforeseen, horrific consequences. This highlights that, although Chris and Rose share a nationality, they do not share a heritage. Reverting to the predicament of his enslaved ancestors and literally picking cotton to drown out the noise of the oppressor is how Chris manages to survive.
Rose seems nice enough at first: all smiles, kisses, and feathered hair. But one of the most foolproof ways to gauge a person’s character is to monitor their reaction to the suffering of animals. Most of us are socialized to view some animals as meat, as food (with vegans or vegetarians actively working against that conditioning), but in American culture, almost no one actually kills their food. Because of this, many of us often have vivid, visceral reactions to seeing animals, even the ones we eat, but especially the ones we don’t, be killed. When Rose accidentally kills a deer with her car, her immediate and only concern is for her car, and the irritation she feels is audible as she calls out to Chris, who goes to check on the dying animal.
When Chris and Rose arrive at her family home, decorated with the trophies of her father’s violent nature, deer heads mounted all over the place, the reason for her lack of empathy becomes clearer. You see, even if Rose isn’t a hunter, she’s been exposed to it her entire life. Similarly, just as all White people are racist and must (if they are willing to self-correct) exist in a constant state of unpacking and unlearning racism, those raised in environments which actively or passively condone and even encourage violence will internalize said violence. It’s unavoidable. Please don’t think that your partner was able to put up a bubble or shield and that the racism, violence, etc. they internalized or even actively participated in had no effect on their character, or worse, that you, little ole you, had the power to change the most toxic aspects of their personality overnight. This is foolish and dangerous thinking.
Rose’s father, Dean (Bradley Whitford), is incredibly aggressive. Along with his very forced mannerisms, he has a self-professed hatred of deer. Does he hate their freedom? Their strength and agility? The fact that they’re not useful to him? Or is this a larger metaphor for how “wild” Black male slaves were often referred to as “bucks” who had to be put down? In scenes with Dean, Rose and her mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), act as the buffer “nice” White people who work to balance out his aggression. Both Rose and her father tell Chris, independently, that Dean would have voted for Obama a third time, if such a thing were possible. Were Rose and Dean both lying to Chris, or both telling the truth? Let’s explore both possibilities. In the first scenario, Rose and Dean were both lying to Chris. This has every likelihood of being the case. One way that many conservatives counteract being called racist is to insert the name of a Black icon (i.e. former President Barrack Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Ben Carson, etc.). Nine times of out ten, this person is either incredibly beloved by the Black community, or a token Black person themselves. Some will even use their own Black partners, mixed children, neighbours or co-workers as talking points in conversations about race. Either way, this name-dropping serves to effectively silence the person calling them racist, or at least deflect from their toxicity. In the second scenario, Rose and Dean were telling the truth, and her parents were avid Obama supporters. Like conservatives, toxic racism also exists in liberals, and even worse, because they are liberal, they feel that they have nothing more to learn, and are definitely one of the “good White people”. Both scenarios have the same intent: to lull the Black person into trusting them. The use of Black people as conversational props is a disgusting but tried and true method for getting Black people to let their guards down. Chris is an exception; we see his state of unease and tension throughout the film, before he even realizes the true breadth of the danger that he’s in, and yet he stays. I repeat: Chris stays, even though he is deeply uncomfortable, in order to make this White woman and her creepy parents feel comfortable. This speaks to a very long racial history of Black folks minimizing ourselves to fit into White spaces.
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