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Thursday 28 September 2023 Dublin: 14°C
'Racism isn't always malicious. It can be a white person asking me to “twerk like Beyoncé”'
Be aware of how you practice unconscious racism through harmful words, attitudes, and interactions, writes Angela O.

Get Out recently made history as the highest grossing debut for a film ever, and for good reason. While the blockbuster is a satirical thriller, for many, the story is eerily familiar.

Though the United States has a unique and sordid racial history and Get Out is a commentary on white American liberalism, you don’t have to be American to understand its message.

It’s told through the eyes of Chris, an African American man who spends a few days away with his white girlfriend and her liberal, well-to-do family. Soon, he confronts the same racist tropes and stereotypical remarks he expects, but hopes he won’t encounter, from some of the friendliest white people he’s ever met.

Interracial love

From classics like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner to A Bronx Tale, most interracial love stories depict the obvious and covert experiences of bigotry.

Aside from a horrifying plot twist, Get Out differs because it highlights microaggressions, revealing how seemingly innocuous behaviours stem from insidious, deep-rooted biases that black people and other groups of colour know all too well.

But there’s a catch: racism doesn’t always function in the way one would think.

Dark periods of history

Even though Get Out is a fictional story, it evokes darker periods in history, in particular, when European doctors attempted to prove black people and other groups of colour were inferior through pseudoscientific practices like eugenics and craniology.

One of the most well-known examples is of Sarah Baartman, the South African woman who was paraded in circuses and subjected to crude medical studies by European doctors who were fascinated with her African features and large backside, in the early 1800s.

Those days are long gone, but the subtle racism in Get Out illustrates how the white liberal idealism of a post-racial society is just that, an ideal. In reality, it does not exist, even though many Americans wanted to believe so after the election of President Barack Obama.

Racism isn’t always malicious

Whether it’s the fear of asking your white partner if their family knows you’re black, because you know the pain of rejection due to your ethnic background, or being questioned by police or hearing comments about your skin colour and body shape, racism is not always malicious.

Even those with the best intentions can alienate, humiliate, and “other” a person.

While a white person may express genuine interest in my curly-kinky hair and attempt to touch it, or assume that asking me to “twerk like Beyoncé” is meant to be an olive branch of sorts, it’s isolating precisely because of the racial overtones.

Racism is embedded in the human psyche

As Get Out so accurately depicts, racism is embedded into the human psyche – a disease of sorts that’s always festering beneath the surface. And the danger lies in the gradual shift toward objectifying black people, in seeing only their shell and forgetting their humanity. Racism does not have to be violent or obvious, and that’s what’s horrifying.

Whether it’s a hate crime or an off-handed remark, Get Out highlights the nuances of racism and what that looks like from a person of colour’s perspective. It reveals how something invisible to one person, can cause a great deal of harm and distress to others.

So, what’s the solution? As director Jordan Peele says, “be woke”.

Be aware of how you practice unconscious racism through harmful words, attitudes, and interactions. And more importantly, do what the characters in the film could not – be willing to self-correct, be informed, and have those difficult, but necessary conversations so society can continue to progress and not bury, but kill the monster that is racism, before it’s too late.

Angela O is a writer from San Francisco covering race, culture, and identity.  

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