“So how long has this been going on?”
Get Out is written and directed by Jordan Peele
and has gained a lot of attention and praisefor its portrayal of racial relations in America.
In this brief discussion,I want to focus on one issue in particular
and that is the issue of white fragility
and the role of movies like Get Out in challenging it.
White fragility was going in 2011in an academic paper by Robin DiAngelo
to bring attention to American white people
living in social environmentsthat protect and insulate them from race-based stress,
providing them with racial comfortbut also lowering their tolerance for racial pressure,
leading to what is now known as white fragility.
There’s a footnote to this which adds some nuance
about a mediating role of social class
with working-class whites being less racially insulated
than those living in the suburbs.
Nevertheless, the larger social environmentstill contributes to the racial insulation
and protection of whites as a group in many ways.
One of which is through movies.
A great source for understanding the relation between white fragility and movies
is a recent documentary I am not your Negro,based on the writings by James Baldwin.
Like Get Out,
I am not your Negro doesn’t just address the more well-known forms of racism and racial prejudice,
but also focuses onthe more progressive well-meaning liberal whites
and how they contribute tosilencing voices from people of color,
leaving them trapped in the sunken place as Jordan Peele explains.
The sunken place means we’re marginalized.
No matter how hard we scream,the system silences us.
Unlike classic examples of blatant racism in movies,
white fragility seems to be more insidious.
This is because black actorsand racial issues tend to be included,
but they are distorted,
wrapped in a comfort blanket
to lower the amount of racial stress for white people.
This is done by desexualizing black characters,
emphasizing how well-meaningthe leading white character is towards the racial issue,
and perhaps most importantlyby including a moment of reconciliation
to assure white people they have nothing to feel bad about.
A great example of this is The Defiant ones
about which James Baldmin writes.
When Seydeny jumped off the train,
the white liberal people downtown were much relieved and joyful.
But when black people saw him jump off the train,
They yelled “Get back on the train! You loo.”
The black man jumps off the trainin order to reassure white people,
to make them know that they are not hated.
And though they have made human errors,
they done nothing for which to be hated.
In Get Out, the fragility of white people does not receive this mercy.
Even in the final scenewhich hints at a possible moment of reconciliation.
“I love you.”
Jordan Peele stays relentless.
And I think that in his disregard of white fragility,
he actually gets an important message across.
An authentic perspective of black people in America
that doesn’t cater to the comfort of white people
and can actually contribute to the better understanding of racial issues,
even if it feels challenging at first.
For there’s exactlythis inclusion of authentic voices and movies,
not just in front of the camera,but behind it as well,
that can help us to better understand each other.
To conclude with the wordsof the great film critic Roger Ebert,
“When I go to a great movie,I can live somebody else’s life for a while.
“I can walk in somebody else’s shoes.
“I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender,
“a different race,a different economic class.
“To live in a different time.
“To have a different belief.
“This is a liberalization influence on me.
“It gives me a broaden mind.
“It helps me to join my familyof man and wemon on this planet.
“It helps me to identify with them.
“So I just stuck being myself day after day.
“The great movies enlarge us.They civilize us.
“They make us more decent people.”