On January 20, 2009, America made history by inaugurating its first black President, President Barack Obama. The fact that a person of color achieved the highest office in the country demonstrates that the U.S. has come a long way in its journey towards racial equality since the civil rights era. However, America has yet to complete this journey. In fact, Obama’s presidency has made way for a new type of racism. This racism is not as blatant as Jim Crow laws or racial slurs but instead takes the form of discriminatory off-handed comments and topics of conversation otherwise known as microaggressions. This racism, known as “post-Obama racism,” is centered around microaggressions, and although less malicious, has the same dehumanizing effects on minorities that previous forms of racism had. Many works nod to this post-Obama racism, but Jordan Peele’s horror movie, Get Out, puts it in center stage. In short, Get Out is about a young African American man, Chris, who visits his Caucasian girlfriend, Rose’s, parents for the weekend. Throughout the weekend, Chris becomes increasingly uneasy about the family and their friends due to their microaggressions and unusual behavior. Yet, he writes off their actions as ignorant racism. Eventually, it becomes clear that Rose’s family and their friends were all playing the part in order to trap Chris’s consciousness via hypnosis and sell his body as a vessel to the highest bidder to acquire Chris’s appealing physical traits. It was at that moment that Chris realized that he needed to get out. Get Out influences contemporary thought by showing that while racism is still prevalent and negatively affecting minorities in the form of microaggressions made by white, middle-class liberals, despite being no longer predominantly perpetuated by alt-right subscribers. While the intentions behind the comments are unclear, the adverse effects of this kind of racism are seen through the creation of a palpably uncomfortable environment for Chris when he is on the receiving end of comments made by the white guests about black culture. Bringing light to characteristics of this post-Obama racism is important because, if ignored, minorities will continue to be reduced to the color of their skin by degrading comments and never fully seen as people.
In post-Obama America, the chief proponents of racism are no longer alt-right subscribers; instead, they are white, middle-class liberals guilty of making microaggressions towards minorities. Of course, America has made meaningful progress towards solving the problem of racial inequality since the civil rights era. For example, the desegregation of institutions, housing, and other services across America all suggest that systematic racism is in the process of being solved on paper, however, there is still the issue of unintentional micro-aggressive racism perpetuated by middle-class white people. Get Out portrays this idea of ignorant racism through the constant reminder that Rose emphasizes that her parents are not racist to Chris. She expressed that her father would have “voted for Obama a third time if he could’ve” (Get Out). Yet it took Rose less than a day with a minority at her side to realize that her own parents fit the description of the racist white people who are “no different than the cop” who asked for Chris’s ID when Rose was driving in an accident (Get Out). Rose represents Americans, who are unaware of the discriminatory nature of the comments made by white people until they are put in a position where they must care about the victim of the microaggressions. Many white Americans are already in positions where they do not have to care about minorities due to America’s history of segregation. Yet, white middle-class Americans are kept in these same ignorant positions as they choose to live in a secluded or affluent area like Rose’s parents. I am not saying that all white people need a minority friend, significant other, or to live in a poor area to realize the racism around them, but rather that any white person may be a voluntary or involuntary proponent of racism no matter how much they claim to be against it.
Get Out clearly depicts the major proponents of the latest form of racism in America, however, the intentions behind this modern racism are not as obvious. Through further analysis of racist intentionality, a solution to this kind of racism can be pinpointed. In “Get Out: the Film That Dares to Reveal the Horror of Liberal Racism in America, “Lanre Bakare, a writer for The Guardian that has joined the conversation on post-Obama racism, which highlights its novelty when he points out that the villains of this racially charged movie are not “southern rednecks or neo-Nazi skinheads or the so-called ‘alt-right’… They’re good people. Nice people.” Bakare is supporting the idea that Americans expect the racists of modern-day America to be who they have always been throughout history, southern nationalists and white supremacists that are outspoken in their belief that minorities are inferior. However, now that the principal enemies of racial equality are “nice,” “good” white liberals, Bakare’s argument begs the question: Are these white people genuinely well-intended and unknowing of their racism or do they share views similar to their recent predecessors? Get Out addresses the legitimacy of this racial ignorance with the scene where the party guests are auctioning off Chris and in the last scenes when Chris realizes that everyone was solely there to inspect him as the newest vessel. These scenes prove that the “good” and “nice” racist white people looked at Chris as an object for their personal use. Although the intentions behind the microaggressions are still unclear, these scenes show that the white people’s disregard for Chris as a human, and that their intentions were clear from the beginning. While all white people, who make microaggressions are not conscious racists, Get Out displays that racist ignorance cannot be assumed of all white people. This can be shown with Rose’s anti-racist claims and her parents, who were all part of a plan to lure Chris into their trap.
In addition to showing who the leading proponents of post-Obama racism are and addressing the legitimacy of their ignorance, Get Out also depicts the negative effects that microaggressions have on minorities. The discriminatory comments, known as “microaggressions” were given this name because they are not as aggressive or violent as other forms of racism towards the receiving party. However, microaggressions still take the same mental toll on minorities by dehumanizing them into the color of their skin, and Get Out makes a point to show that microaggressions are at frequent fault for this dehumanization. In “Sinking into the Sunken Place: The Cultural Significance of GET OUT,” Robert Anderson, screenwriting and playwriting graduate, points out that Get Out makes sure to portray the presence of microaggressions to the audience through the escalation of the comments made towards Chris by Rose’s family and friends. First, a conversation about golf shifts towards Tiger Woods, next a couple tells Chris that black is “in style”, then a woman asks Rose how much better the sex is with a black man in front of Chris until finally the racism is manifested by the whole group when they collectively ask Chris about the “African American experience” (Get Out). By this point, Chris is so uncomfortable that he leaves Rose and the party to go to his room. Chris’s discomfort is apparent, but why would Chris be upset with white people talking about black culture to him? Emily Bourke, a writer for the Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, has analyzed the microaggressions in Get Out and explains that these comments make Chris uncomfortable because he has been made into “the black person” (Bourke 180-183). Bourke is addressing an issue that affects every minority and even white people sometimes: the narrowing of a conversation to things that only have to do with a person’s skin color because the victim is seen as a color rather than a person. It is not that Chris and other minorities feel that white people should not talk to them about things that have to do with their race, but the restriction of a conversation to only those topics restricts the victim into a position where only their race is considered when it comes to who they are, what they think about, and what they like. In other words, they are no longer seen as individuals and are defined by their race. Chris was already aware of the possible implications that would be made because of his black skin, but the microaggressions are what validated his main concern of the whole trip: being seen as a black person and nothing more. Although there are indeed much worse forms of racism compared to microaggressions in modern-day America, discomfort at a party is not the worst thing that results from this kind of racism.
In fact, ignoring this post-Obama racism causes complacency on social issues regarding race, which will prevent America from ever achieving true racial equality. The Obama presidency gave rise to the idea that America had solved its racial problems and become impartial to race or “colorblind” because a person of color was able to attain the highest office in the country. This “colorblind” ideology, though, has ironically made racial issues into a taboo topic of conversation out of the fear of being labeled a racist, overly sensitive, or, in other words, “not colorblind.” Luigi Esposito and Laura Finley, writers for the Western Journal of Black Studies, have examined this taboo and point out that this fear has also turned racism in America into a private issue that focuses on individual public figures that commit racial hate crimes (Esposito and Finley 164-175). This privatization has, in turn, equated guilty public figures, who pursue personal help with solving the racial issues of the country (Esposito 164-175). This shift in focus from systematic racism during the civil rights era to private racism today has distracted Americans from the widespread racial problems that have yet to be solved such as unemployment, college attendance, and incarceration rates that disproportionately affect minorities. This misplaced focus on and refusal to discuss racism is what leads to complacency on racial issues for white people and minorities alike. This complacency from minorities is portrayed in Get Out when Chris shrugs off Rose’s parents’ racial comments with an “I told you so,” and when Chris laughs off his best friend Rod’s warning to “never go to a white girl’s parents house” (Get Out). Chris has either heard about or experienced enough racism to know the possibilities of what could happen to a black person that meets older white people or their white significant other’s parents. Due to Chris’s complacency and fear of looking overly sensitive if he decided to leave Rose’s family’s house, he neglects to do or say anything about how he feels until it’s almost too late.
Furthermore, Get Out represents this feeling of forced complacency in minorities through the void Rose’s mother, Missy, puts Chris in via hypnotization, otherwise known as the “Sunken Place” (Get Out). The “Sunken Place” is a dark, bottomless, deep space-like plane where the victim is mute and helplessly watches their life pass them by through a small theater-like screen. Indeed, Missy’s hypnotism is what put Chris into this “Sunken Place,” however, pre-hypnosis, Chris was already in a “Sunken Place” state of mind. In other words, post-Obama racism had already put Chris into a similar “Sunken Place” before Missy had anything to do with him. This racism put Chris in a situation where he is continuously dehumanized by comments made by white people and risks being labeled a racist or too sensitive if he chooses to speak up or act against these microaggressions. In this way, Chris, along with minorities all over the country, have been silenced and rendered helpless against the discrimination they experience every day, as they are forced to experience life inside their head––society’s “Sunken Place.” Admittedly, Chris’s eventual fate due to entering the “Sunken Place” is rather unlikely for the average black man that meets their white girlfriend’s parents but Get Out’s message is that bad things result from racial complacency and minorities being put into the “Sunken Place” is clear.
Get Out shows the world one of the most prevalent struggles all minorities face in modern-day America. It is not lynching, fire hoses, or police dogs by southern rednecks and white supremacists, but it is the dehumanization and reduction to the color of their skin by off-handed comments, topics of conversation, and racially targeted questions made by middle-class white liberals. Racism in post-Obama America is arguably “better” than racism during the civil rights movement and the Jim Crow era, but the only difference between racism then and racism now is that one used sticks and stones, and the other uses words. Racism is still racism, and even if it does not cause the same physical damage, it causes the same amount of psychological damage. America’s mindset towards racism has come a long way since slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the civil rights movement with Obama’s ascension to a two-term presidency as proof. However, even a large number of minority presidents cannot rid every American of their voluntary or involuntary discriminatory tendencies and solve racism. How can we, as Americans, rid ourselves of our personal and societal foundations that support racism? I do not know. But what we can do is get rid of the taboo around race and create an environment where it is ok to be aware of race and talk about it. America must work as a team to solve its racial issues, and no team can make adequate progress without communication. We must understand the problem of racism from as many angles as possible to create a satisfactory solution which is going to take a lot more time, work, and conversation other than voting for Obama a third time if it were possible.
Anderson, Robert. “Sinking into the Sunken Place: The Cultural Significance of GET OUT.”
Storyscreenbeacon, Story Screen, 3 Jan. 2019, www.storyscreenbeacon.com/single- post/2017/10/14/Sinking-into-the-Sunken-Place-The-Cultural-Significance-of-GET- OUT.
Bakare, Lanre. “Get Out: the Film That Dares to Reveal the Horror of Liberal Racism in America.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 Feb. 2017, www.theguardian.com/film/2017/feb/28/get-out-box-office-jordan-peele.
Bourke, Emily. “Get Out.” The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, no. 16, 2017, pp. 180-183. ProQuest, Accessed 25 October 2019.
Esposito, Luigi, and Laura L. Finley. “Barack Obama, Racial Progress, and the Future of Race Relations in the United States.” Western Journal of Black Studies, vol. 33, no. 3, 2009, pp. 164-175. ProQuest, Accessed 25 October 2019.
Get Out. Directed by Jordan Peele, Universal Pictures, 2017.