Beyond the Sunken Place: Get Out and the Realities Regarding the Black Body

 

 

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Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) in the Sunken Place

 

When I heard about Jordon Peele’s Get Out in 2016, I seriously thought it was a satire.

It was natural for me to go there, considering that Peele is known for his comedy work on shows like Mad TV and the hit television series Key and Peele.  But then I begin seeing the think pieces about the film funnel through my News Feed, thought-provoking commentary dissecting every moment, character, and the symbolism interwoven throughout the storyline.  On top of being hailed as a cinematic masterpiece, Get Out seemed to have the majority of my squad shook. Its authentic illustration of Black life exacerbates a deep-seeded resentment many of us have towards White Liberalism and the colorblindness that it accompanies.

But when I finally see Get Out, I am not only shaken, but triggered by the manipulation and trauma the Armitage clan inflict upon Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya).   For nearly a week, my mind ruminates on the film’s symbolism regarding slavery and the treatment of Black people.  But I especially pay attention to how the bodies of the Black characters are treated and utilized by the White people in this unidentified neighborhood. Human trafficking, organ harvesting, and even the sexualization of the Black body is evident throughout the entire film.  In fact, I notice that:

  • Black bodies are categorized as superhuman.

Throughout the entire film, the bodies of the Black folks are characterized as superhuman.  For instance, Rose’s father Dean and brother Jeremy comment on Chris’s physical strength by not only asking about his supposed involvement in sports, but refer to him as a beast.  Jeremy actually challenges the main character to a wrestling match during dinner before attempting to place him in a head lock.  At the family’s annual gathering, the White attendees touch Chris without his consent while asking invasive questions regarding his physical state.

This behavior towards Chris is reflective of the reality Black men and women have experienced historically.  Black men and women—particularly dark-skinned ones—have been described as subhuman, animalistic, violent, uneducated, unattractive.  At the same time, their bodies are deemed physically superior to that of Whites to the point of possessing a high pain tolerance and supernatural strength.   Perhaps this is sole reason why, during the Slave era, Black Africans are considered suitable for chattel slavery by White plantation owners due to the belief that they could withstand the back-breaking labor. Even in the 21st Century, the body of Black men and women are utilized to generate profit for White capitalists. Whether it be through the sports industry or human services profession, the bodies of Black people are deemed stronger than that of White folks (“hired help” Walter and Georgina are prime examples of this).  Perhaps this is why Rose and her family target people with a darker complexion.

  • The sexualization/fetishization of Black bodies.

More than once, the bodies of the Black characters are sexualized and fetishized in some manner. Towards of the end of Get Out, viewers discover that Rose Armitage use sex and the idea of intimacy to lure her victims to her parents’ home.  As mentioned previously, Chris is inundated with inappropriate questions about his body and strength as complete strangers touch him without consent.  In one scene, an older White woman squeezes and caresses his bicep while asking him “Is it true what they say about Black men?”  She was obviously referring to his size of his genitals, insinuating that he’s “big,” so to speak.

In the real world, they not only perpetuate the stereotype that all Black men have big dicks, but that is this the main reason why many White women would even consider being intimate with them.  I don’t have enough limbs to count the many memes and comments made about that particular physical attribute on Black men—as if their worth is tucked inside their pants. This ideology is nothing new as Black men are categorized as animalistic—one of many stereotypes introduced through scientific racism. The unfortunate part is that many Black men internalized those messages about their bodies over time. At one point, Chris jokes with Rose about being regarded as a beast by her father—referring to being pleasurable in bed.

Logan King (formally known as Andre Hayworth), the young Black man who is abducted during the opening scene of Get Out, is another example of the sexualization of the Black male body.  He appears as a guest of an older White woman whose behavior towards him suggests that she is utilizing him as a sex slave.  Rod Williams, Chris’s best friend and comic relief, mentions the possibility a few times to Chris while warning him of imminent danger. The suspicion regarding Logan is nowhere near surprising:  Human trafficking of Black people—women especially—has often been a problem in the United States and internationally.  Many are either taken from their homes or leave voluntarily in hopes of obtaining better opportunities.  Unfortunately, these folks are often forced into sex, domestic, or other variations of labor.

Speaking of bodies, those belonging of Black women are often fetishized/sexualized by many White men as their perceptions of us are also skewed.  Sex with a Black woman (a dark-skinned woman especially) is considered exotic and erotic, a phenomenon that is deemed impious, yet intriguing as if our vaginas are somehow dissimilar to that of White women.  This type of mentality is steeped in the racism and colorism that tends to go unchecked even among our own people.

  • The mistreatment of the Black body/mind among many medical and mental health professionals.

Get Out highlights how the mental health and medical profession either disregards the emotional wellbeing of Black people or utilize parts of our bodies for profit.  Though there is an increasing number of us seeking professional help, there are still many of us who refuse to deal with therapists and medical doctors.  The distrust from the Black community is extremely real and stems from a history of nonconsensual medical experimentations on impoverished Black people.

In the case of Get Out, organ harvesting is the purpose behind the Armitage family’s annual gathering. Jeremy and Dean remove certain organs of Black bodies to either implant them into White bodies or steal the Black body to insert into it the brain of an Armitage family member. This again reflects reality as Black people are often abducted and murdered for organs that are then sold through the black market.  In 2014, for instance, the body of 24-year-old Ryan Singleton was found in a California desert with his organs removed.  The death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson is hauntingly similar—his demise gruesome.  Many of these cases involving organ harvesting become cold cases that receive minimal media coverage. The entire concept of people being kidnapped and murdered for their organs is dismissed as a conspiracy theory concocted by hoteps.  However, the stories of Black bodies being violated by medical facilities is historical fact (i.e. The Tuskegee experiment, Henrietta Lacks, the creation of gynecology).  So it would not be surprising if these so-called conspiracy theories are revealed to be true.

In regards to the mental health profession, there are various reasons why the majority of Black folks decline assistance from those in the field.  Besides the stigma associated with a having a diagnosis, there is the fear of disclosing their deepest fears to a complete stranger—especially if that person is White.  Missy is a psychiatrist who uses her skill as a hypnotist to control Chris, Georgina, Walter, and Logan, robbing all four of them of their emotional/physical autonomy and ability to consent. Though Chris denies her services initially (I’m assuming it’s because he does not trust this White women with whom he has no connection), she deceives him anyway by hypnotizing him under the guise of wanting to converse with him.  Just based on his reaction to what is called the Sunken Place, however, the main character rarely discloses his deepest trauma.  Many of us do not in real life, in fear of having those same devastating experiences used to emotionally and mentally control us. Chris’s trauma is utilized as a weapon against him, his body paralyzed and controlled whenever Missy taps her spoon against a tea cup.

Yet there is the difference between Chris and the other Black characters trapped by the Armitages. While Georgina, Logan, and Walter represent the ones who remain controlled by White supremacy, Chris represents every Black person who resists it and regains regaining his physical autonomy.  Chris speaks up and is in-tuned to the racism surrounding him, taking note of the strangeness of the people.  And though bamboozled to a certain extent, he eventually regains control of his own body and mind, thus reclaiming his overall freedom.

 

 

What Black Lives Matter Means:  Rochester’s Black Lives Matter at School and The Importance of Education

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Courtesy of WHEC Rochester

 

 

Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.
—George Washington Carver

 

On February 17, 2017, history unfolded in schools throughout the Rochester City School District when students were introduced to Black Lives Matter at School, an educational initiative dedicated to generating discussions about Black lives.

BLM at School was the social justice brainchild of parent/activist Mahreen Mustafa George, local organizer Afro-Latinx Queen, Rochester city activists, and teachers.  “I got involved after our varsity boys’ soccer team took a knee during the playing of the national anthem during one of their games,” explained George, whose children are RCSD students. “A few weeks later, schools and educators in Seattle Public schools took steps to affirm and understand that Black Lives Matter and they garnered national news coverage. Myself and the other founding members talked about this action and it led to us saying that we needed to sit down together and see if we could do something similar here in the RCSD, given that our community was already taking part in actions supporting racial justice.”

“BLM at School,” stated Afro Latinx Queen, “is about having the opportunity to have difficult conversations in the classroom and guiding the dialogue for it to be more productive and not traumatizing for either party and learning about restorative practice.”

The organizers reached out to schools such as World of Inquiry School to introduce BLM at School into the classrooms.  Teachers, parents, community members, and even former students participated in this initiative, using peace circles to connect with pupils about a wide range of topics pertaining to Black empowerment. Those involved also had the opportunity to discuss oppression, how it affects people of color, and solutions to eradicate it.   In the Black Lives Matter at School Facebook group, participants proudly uploaded footage of students actively listening, engaging with one another and the volunteers while discussing the politics affecting Black people regularly.

The BLM at School committee studied various resources and curriculums, including the BLM at School Week in Philadelphia.  In early 2017, many teachers in the city’s schools incorporated activities into their lessons throughout the week, introducing everything from “science lessons about the biology of skin color for high schoolers” to “The Revolution Is Always Now” coloring pages for very young students.”  Unlike the initiative here in Rochester, the one in Philly was neither sponsored by the school district.  However, it opened the door for a much-needed discussion about the importance of Black liberation.

As groundbreaking (and well meaning) as BLM at School is, it was also considered controversial.  Like any incentive focused on social justice, BLM at School experienced some resistance from some educators, administrators, and even the members of the Rochester community.  Many White parents expressed their concerns or overall distain about BLM at School, arguing that 1) it was associated with the national movement and 2) that the event itself would promote violence—particularly against law enforcement.  It was furthermore considered divisive by alienating White people, who proposed an “All Lives Matter at School” Day.

And while a cluster of city schools openly embraced BLM at School, there were some who did not.  In fact, one school was so resistant to the activity that threatened the educational future of its students.  Brenda Pacheco, principal of Rochester’s School of the Arts, issued a statement threatening to suspend students who participated in a planned walk-out.  When the notification reached social media, members of the community inundated the school’s administration with emails, phone calls, and resistance.  Meanwhile, SOTA students exercised their right to peacefully protest by walking out minutes before dismissal, chanting alongside supportive community organizers.

As I watch the protest live on social media, I realized that the crux of the Black Lives Matter at School was to emphasize the importance of education.  The majority of schools in the United States do not properly teach the history of Black people or non-Black people of color.  In fact, students will more likely read some skewed version of how Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation.  Black students are rarely exposed to their own history, identity, and culture in the classroom, this exclusion of information deliberate on the part of the administration.

And the authority figures in urban school further play a significant role in how Black children view themselves.  It is no coincidence that most of the educators in city schools are White and uneducated about the systematic oppression inflicted upon the Black students they teach.  Many of these students reside in impoverished neighborhoods and live in unhealthy environments, not learning the coping skills necessary to overcome adversity—let alone their own history.  While struggling with adversity in their immediate environment, these students enter the classroom to consume information about people dissimilar to them.

Contributing to the disconnect is that these White educators often dismiss the intellect of their Black students.  White educators who do so compare these children to that of their White counterparts—possibly due to scientific racism.  Conversely, studies have shown that Black students benefit from engaging with Black teachers because the latter understands them and will more likely recognize their potential.

“A lot of our children of color are misunderstood,” explained Afro Latinx Queen, “mostly due to staff not knowing how to deal with our kids because they are uneducated about trauma within our communities. Instead they turn to feelings such as intimidation or fear.”

This is why I firmly believe that personal/political and even spiritual empowerment is the crux of systematic change.  When members of a disenfranchised group acknowledge their worth, they will employ every source within themselves to resist anyone, anything that states otherwise.  The SOTA students were educated enough to acknowledge the bullshit Pacheco tried to pull on them.  By studying on their own, researching Black Lives Matter and the incident that spearheaded the movement to begin with—on top of internalizing their own significance, they practiced their right to state that they mattered by engaging in civil disobedience.  But most importantly, these students also need supporters in the community to validate their efforts in regards to achieving empowerment.  It is paramount for educators, community members, parents, and even former students to collaborate with one another to ensure that BLM at School continues to thrive in the RCSD.

Black Lives Matter at School, to me, is an initiative that was a long time coming.  Black children need to know the accomplishments of their elders and contemporaries.  Because if our children knew their history, they will then become educated.  They would then inquire about the structure of their surroundings and who truly benefits.  And, once realizing the truth, the pupils become empowered to the point of wanting to challenge the various industrial complexes that oppress them.