Opinionista Siya Khumalo 29 June 2020

An overdue analysis of the movie ‘Get Out’

This isn’t a universal claim about ‘the black experience’ of white friends, but I’ve found my relationships with white people are a lot of work unless you’re comfortable overthinking everything.

Addicted to overthinking and susceptible to anxiety, I’m conflicted about these associations. During banter with Mr Gay South Africa contestants, one of them jokingly asked, “Did your mother struggle to see you with the lights off when you were a baby?” Two logically irreconcilable things happened: the first was my remembering that like everyone else, the guy who’d said that was complex. He could be catty, sarcastic, privileged and sharp-tongued until the chips were down.

The second was my “out-of-place-o-meter” was instantly recalibrated: the voice in my head tasked with asking, “Did I imagine it this time?” and, “Did I somehow contribute to it? Did my worrying about it contribute to it?” and even, “Am I a racial sell-out by not overreacting to who-knows-what?” went dead quiet, the anxiety half of my overthinking/anxious mind finally vindicated. For context, the group had nine white guys, three coloured guys and I as the black guy because — not enough black entrants. 

Two years later, Jordan Peele’s Get Out came out. 

Chris is dating a white girl. He visits her parents’ house where he experiences a series of microaggressions but doesn’t quite know where the line between well-meaning gaffes and racism lies. His girlfriend’s mother hypnotises him into quitting smoking. Then, the Kraken is released: we discover the family is part of a secret society that lobotomises, enslaves and depersonalises black bodies. 

Last week, I posted a video titled, Did He Actually “Get Out”? in which I unpacked the philosophical, spiritual and psycho-social dimensions of “benevolent” racism, starting at what appears a challenge with the plot. To be fair, the original ending rendered this less of an issue, but the problem is despite his escape from the house, Chris remains for the rest of his life potentially vulnerable to the hypnosis cue — the sound of a teaspoon stirring in a teacup. He’d be “triggered”.

In the original ending, Chris is caught escaping by the police and (appearing like a dangerous black man) is arrested, meaning he gets out of that house and goes to the big house, and therefore never gets out at all. Incarcerated, he consoles himself by saying he at least stopped the deranged family, but near him are rows of black male inmates suggesting he only stopped one instantiation of systemic racism.

In the known movie, Chris outwits his capturers at the physical and tactical levels, but to the best of my knowledge the mental trap is never addressed. And that’s important because Peele intuitively stumbled on racism’s true foundation when he had the hypnotherapist relegate Chris to a corner of his mind called “the Sunken Place”, which commentators unanimously call “purgatory”. Purgatory is hell’s holding cell, and its chains are your own guilt. 

The connection between this and the murders of black men like Eric Garner, George Floyd, Collins Khoza and Elijah McClain — many of whose last words were, “I can’t breathe” — has been explained by other analysts, but the important thing for me is that a secular moral framework is insufficient to explain why this manipulation is so successful.

Before she hypnotised him, the girlfriend’s mother played the world’s smallest violin about how Chris’ smoking could affect her daughter. In doing this, she positioned herself as good relative to his moral negligence. She then shifted the conversation (no doubt informed by her daughter) to the topic of how his mother died. It appears Chris had heard her being murdered outside their house one rainy night as a child, but had remained frozen before the TV. 

His guilt about his motionlessness then was to serve as the chains of his motionlessness, in a sense justifying him remaining docile up until lobotomy and enslavement. In effect, the guilt was transferred from being against one parent to another — “colonialism by paternalism” making the biblical doctrine called the imputation of sin the most powerful concept in psychology. 

I believe Peele is saying that systemic whiteness has expanded by spiritually gaslighting people of colour since it presented colonialism’s God as a white man. It doesn’t do that anymore, but when privileged people use words like “good” or “evil” they really mean “convenient for me” and “inconvenient” because they see their whims as the cosmic moral compass. When anyone else uses the words “good” and “evil” they unconsciously ascribe to a transcendent source of morality the binding power to tell good from evil. (In the book of Exodus, what ultimately breaks the philosophy of enslavement is the stronger principle that whoever makes or works on a thing ought to enjoy its economic value or be set free to pursue a new destiny. And that’s exactly the axiom missing from secular capitalism, in which the organisers and not the sources of labour and resources enjoy the biggest profits.)

The connection between this and the murders of black men like Eric Garner, George Floyd, Collins Khoza and Elijah McClain — many of whose last words were, “I can’t breathe” — has been explained by other analysts, but the important thing for me is that a secular moral framework is insufficient to explain why this manipulation is so successful.

Which is a long-winded way of saying the woman who hypnotised Chris merely played God. And whether we’re atheist or not, we must understand that the root of systemic whiteness, as well as liberalism’s desire to downplay racism’s historic legacy while clinging to innocence from its sins, is the God complex. DM

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