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.

 

 

Speaking from Experience: A Black Woman’s Take on Boundaries

 

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About a couple of months ago, my friend Michelle proposed that I write a piece about how to establish boundaries for yourself and to respect that of others.

Honestly, I have no advice for my friend or my fellow readers as I can only speak from my perspective and personal experiences. As a Black female abuse survivor with mental illness and neurodivergence, the very concept of boundaries is dissimilar to that of the next individual.  For one, I had to find out and understand were boundaries were. The term itself is defined as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent,” meaning that a barrier (invisible or otherwise) is employed to preserve something significantly important.

But for countless Black women and young girls, boundaries within their immediate environment are nonexistent.  Writer Nneka M. Okona accurately describes the typical role of the Black woman within the family structure when she writes: “We do not belong to ourselves: our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our hearts, our spiritual state. Our emotional labor is prescribed and expected.”  I grew up in a household where healthy boundaries were not exactly established—let alone enforced. In addition to rarely having my own space in our little home on 19th Street (as I shared it with my brothers or visiting cousins), my body, ideologies, creative expression, and even my voice was under what seemed like constant scrutiny. My aspirations and need for self-identity were dismissed because they didn’t involve my mother’s Christian God.  When I attempted to defend myself, I was punished even further as I was not allowed express any emotion towards being mistreated.

So, by the time I stumbled into young adulthood, I’ve concluded that my very identity was spoken for by others.  Whenever I was asked to do something, I complied despite my misgivings about the people and situation at hand.  The main objective, I justified, was to keep everyone calm to avoid an altercation that would involve me being violated. It wasn’t until I moved to Rochester, New York in 2005 and began my personal journey towards sobriety that I gave myself the permission to feel.  While I was a newcomer in Alcoholics Anonymous, my first sponsor informed me that expressing anger was allowed—a foreign concept to me.  Nevertheless, that invitation stuck with me and, after years of taming it to some extent, my fury groomed me into the passionate, opinionated Radical creative I am today.

And who I am at this moment is one of the reasons I decided to not marginalize myself in regards to my capabilities.  Throughout the education system, Black children with learning disabilities are often labeled incompetent and unteachable while associated with negative stereotypes constructed by systematic racism.  Already branded as an “Other,” the result is that many of us place limitations on ourselves psychologically as adults, resigning to the false narrative that we’ll never make it. For more than a decade, I unknowingly struggled with Inattentive Attention Deficit Disorder or Inattentive ADD.  Because I was untreated the majority of the time, I literally navigated through this society believing that I was unintelligent (being called “stupid” by family members and bullies only seemed to solidify this perception).

But once I realized what I was struggling with, I had to learn to overcome the psychological, emotional, and intellectually boundaries I placed on myself and my capabilities. This White dominated society thrives on neurotypical induced ableism infused with supremacy.  Since it refuses to support me and my learning needs, my only alternative was to discover ways to manage my symptoms. I can’t retain information, so I write everything down—most of the time—and read aloud so I remember.  I’m a visual learner who loves to read, which is why I watch programs with closed captions to catch every word. I have “To Do” sticky notes on my computer to stay on track.  My doctor will reinstate the prescription for Adderal due to my high blood pressure, so strong coffee works as a substitute.

But above all, I refuse to allow intellectual elitists of any shade plant the seed that I am incapable. If anyone even attempts to take there, I exercise right to aggressively vocalize my disdain with exemption.   Too many people have crossed my boundaries because I did not have the courage to speak up in the past.  I even considered the feelings of the other person above my own believing that I’ve done something wrong. At this point in my life, however, I have neither patience for assholes nor for their aspiration to do the absolute most.

And I now expect a similar response from others when I myself become a line-stepper.  Until recently, I often thought that many people (particularly Radical Leftists) shared similar ideologies regarding sex. As a sexual abuse survivor, my views on relationships and intimacy are skewed for the most part. So I went through my early 20s/early 30s chasing partners, sexualizing friendships by only viewing them to as a means to an end—which involved getting into their bed.  If there was an “initial session,” I treated that person as if they owed me companionship and became infuriated when affection was not reciprocated. I’ve burned entire bridges due to my unhealthy conduct towards unhealthy people.

Though I’m gradually embracing my sexual expression, I had to understand that not all minds think alike in regards to sex and relationships.  In retrospect, my behavior was very similar to that of my perpetrator and those who’ve sexual assaulted me as an adult.  The power and control inflicted upon me throughout the years—the emotional manipulation, feigned compassion, intimidation, and infuriation—I’ve imposed onto potential partners.  Beneath the shield toxicity was the yearning for the unconditional love and respect I barely experienced as a child.  Unfortunately, my story is nothing new, considering that Black women and young girls are more likely raped and/or sexually abused before the age of eighteen.  And many of us, searching for validation, often use sex to obtain it by violating the borderlines of others.

That fact alone forced me to realize that not every individual I shake hands with is a friend for life.  I learned that I’ve no right to hold someone hostage simply because we had coffee a few times.  No one owes me eternal friendship.  People have the liberty to tell me “No,” “Not right now,” and multiple versions of that response.  My fear of rejection and loneliness is not an excuse to step over someone’s line in the sand.  If anything, I deserve to have my feelings hurt if the situation calls for it—especially if I’m not acquainted with the individual or group in question.

And yes, I naturally want to assist folks—especially friends and family members for when I care about deeply.  But not everyone needs me caping for them when they are more capable of defending themselves.  Besides being a Captain Saveaho causing me humiliation and stress on numerous occasions, it further perpetuates the Mammy stereotype associated with protective Black women.  I’m not insinuating that I’m going to cease supporting folks, but unless the situation is dire and the person is in imminent danger, I only intervene when asked.

As I said before, everyone has their own set of boundaries so there are many answers to this universal question of where to draw the line.  But by the end of the day, establishing one’s threshold includes constant self-reflection and learning from personal experiences.  It involves being mindful of how I am treated as a Black woman with a traumatic history, what I myself have allowed to occur, and why.  It’s understanding and respecting the limitations of others and their tolerance for my behavior—even though my bruised ego may not agree.  But most importantly, it’s about knowing what my boundaries are to begin with and living by those convictions to maintain a meaningful quality of life.