Things that bring me joy: Get out (leave! Right now)

Since the Orange Tangerine and his merry band of Hateful Nonsense™ has been added to the already daily dose of constant isms I face as a female member of team Black n’ Gay, the list of topics I’ve wanted to write about has gone through the roof. In an attempt to clear out my draft list, I created a rule for myself: I wouldn’t write new things unless I finished a few old posts.

And then, last Tuesday, I went out to see Get Out. A movie is so good, it currently has a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This, coupled with the fact that I have no discipline and I write what I want, is why we’re here.

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I have a sh*tton to say, and there will probably be spoilers. #sorrynotsorry

Before we get started, I want to acknowledge the joy of seeing this movie surrounded by my friends of color, and 50 other Black people in Tacoma. There is no greater bonding experience than a whole theatre full of POCs cheering on a Black man curbstomp a racist dude bro on his way out to survival. Jordan Peele and his incredible brain brought the community together.

Get Out is one of the most brilliant films of this year. There is no way around this fact. I hate horror films, yet I would go see Get Out again. And write a dissertation on it. But maybe not in Naperville, because I can’t go to my childhood hometown anymore. Or many of my friend’s homes. When I say I walked into work the next day suspicious as hell. I love my coworkers, but I’m going to need proof of safety exits and three references from Black women who made it out alive before I can go back to my boss’ house. (Ashleigh’s note: If you go to your boss’s house, TELL ME!)

The beauty of horror films is their ability to add some plausibility to the audience. We are scared not just because certain elements are terrifying, but because somewhere in the back of our mind, we can imagine pieces of the movie happening to us. And one of reasons Get Out is such a great horror film is because it is so stepped in realism: specifically for Black people and people of color, it accurately portrays the spectrum of racism that we experience on a daily basis. Literally the only fake thing was the psychosis+extreme sci-fi mind control. 89-96% of this scary movie is literally Black people’s experiences with White folks.

Example: If you haven’t had the privilege of being the only person of color at a function (while, in your identity development, woke enough to realize the racial tension that comes with being greatly outnumbered by White people), let me break it down for you: it is an uncomfortable feeling. At best, the majority of the White people you’re around are those you trust and somewhat vouch for their ability to engage in allyship, so you can at least enjoy your friends’ company as you stick out like a sore thumb.  At worst, you’re around multiple people you don’t know, and your only coping options are to finish your presentation/sit in the back and pray no one notices you/get so drunk you forget your own name, until you’re able to leave the speech/conference/wedding/shower.

The party scene in Get Out captured all this so eloquently, and brought me back to the times that, either by my own doing or out of my control, I was the only brown person in the room. A note to many of my White friends and exes: you have taken me to spaces like this. Multiple times. And even if you’ve tried to make as comforting as possible, it’s still weird. Especially if there’s 10,000 White eyes on me, and a lot of microaggressional-questions about my body/hair/upbringing/skin/name. I love you. But still.

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Yaaaaaaaay.

I have never had a horror movie speak so accurately into my soul. And that is just ONE SCENE with ONE THEME to unpack. Not to even talk about the prevalence of White woman tears and toxic White women feminism and fakeness.  And their obsession with thinking Black men are/need to be obsessed with them (*eHEM*). Or the analogy of cultural appropriation, and White folks wanting so bad to be us without wanting to be us. Or the assimilation to White culture, and ignoring other Black people.  Or the perfect analogies of the sunken place. Or or or or, or or, or. I haven’t even scratch the surface.

To me, Get Out feels iconic for a few different reasons. I think about the unapologetic way it captures White liberalism. Which is probably why the movie has a few White people mad: it holds the mirror up not only to the explicitly racist Neo-Nazis of our time, but to White moderates who tell you they’ve voted for Obama and drop 2-5 microaggressions in the same breathe. It calls out “well meaning White folks,” and shows that, unchecked, they too, can be racist. We’re at a place where “well meaning White folks” society stresses out about Black millennials voting the right way and then turns around AND VOTES FOR TRUMP. Or where “well meaning White” woman get mad because a women’s march acknowledges intersecting identities and offended when asked if we’ll see them at the next #BlackLivesMatter march (fun fact: apparently “nice White lady” is a slur). To be “well meaning” is not enough. And Get Out stresses this point perfectly.

Get Out is also powerful because a Black person defeated the odds and made it out of the house. As we know, often times, that’s not how the story ends. And I’m not even talking about other horror movies. Around the same time Get Out was released, 18-year-old Ben Keita was found hung in the woods near Seattle. 24-year-old Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond was shot multiple times in Chicago and was misgendered in the news. And then, less than a few days later, 31-year-old Chyna Doll Dupree was shot in New Orleans (and misgendered in the news), And then, less than a few days later, 25-year-old Ciara McElveen was stabbed in New Orleans (and misgendered in the news). Get Out is not a tool to forget about these individuals, but gives us a narrative that we as Black folks don’t get to hear often: a Black person, in the presence of several White people that wanted to harm them, ESCAPED. There is power in that statement, a storyline that we don’t hear enough in real life.

Honestly, Get Out is the movie we need and deserve. Beyond the fact that it gave us a lot of material for hilarious tweets (my favorites being the ones that give a shout-out to Rod from TSA), it does a great job of calling out Whiteness and allowing folks to see what it’s like to be the only Black person in a room, all while being witty, smart, and real as hell.

Bike locks, hate crimes, and the casualness toward Black bodies

I came across a Washington Post article titled “No hate crime convictions for white San Jose State students who clamped black roommate in bike lock.” If you think I almost flipped over a table before I finished reading, you’d be correct. It’s been a while back, but I’m still in a table-flipping mood. I have two separate thoughts, and the other piece is here: BIKE LOCKS, HATE CRIMES… AND DATING? 

During Fall 2013, Donald Williams Jr, a Black, then-freshman student at San Jose State University, was heavily harassed by his White roommates. And when I say “heavily harassed,” I mean they did things like put his neck in a bike lock. Among other things. Yes. Among other racist things. Including, but not limited to:

  • Williams’ roommate calling him “three-fifths;”
  • Williams’ roommates hanging a Confederate flag in his room;
  • Williams’ roommates mocking him in a letter that was signed “the Beloved Revered Doctor Martin Luther King.”

Recently, the Santa Clara County Jury found the roommates guilty of a misdemeanor, but decided not to find them guilty on a hate crime charge. Because, of course, these nice young men’s actions have nothing to do with race! They’re just friendly pranks!

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People often want to talk about how we’re in a post-racial America, or how “Black privilege” is a thing now. I honestly don’t understand how they can make these arguments when White supremacy is alive and well. And this is White supremacy at its finest. How in the world did three college students think it was okay to chain their Black roommate up in a bike lock, that they could tease him in such a racist and hurtful way, that they could touch him in such a way? Because White supremacy. Because these men, in their privileged mind, thought they could do these things, and laugh it off as a joke. Because they weren’t thinking of Williams’ feelings, or agency, or right to live in his residence hall in peace, because why would they consider those things? Privilege is being able to not think about those things, and not see the historical connection between putting a Black man’s head in a bike lock and chaining Black men together during slavery.

Reading that their lawyers call their hate crimes a “prank war” made me furious, but not surprised. Processing that the jury did not declare their actions a hate crime made me cry.

Misdemeanor battery is obviously nothing to scoff at. The three men who received these charge were already expelled, and will serve 30 days in jail, be on two-years probation, do community service, take a cultural competency course, and pay restitution (this linked article also talks about student protests over the decision and their campus climate, which is awesome). However, it’s important to recognize the jury gave this sentence because of “offensive touching,” a legal term that, while certainly true in this case, does not speak to the fact that the offenses are clearly also a hate crime. It’s also important to recognize the jury acquitted one of the three men.

I would like to take this time to point out that if a group of Black college students put a white man’s head in a lock, all hell would break loose. Not only would this story reach all corners of the United States faster, but all parties involved would probably face more than a month of jail time. Think pieces around reverse racism would skyrocket. The men would be seen as hard criminals, not “dumb prank[sters].”

Which brings me to the point of the casualness toward Black bodies, the treatment of Black individuals as less than human. Putting Williams’ head in a bike lock served a message: Black bodies do not need to be respected, don’t need to be treated with dignity. The use of the Confederate flag, even after Williams expressed issue with it, served a message: Black bodies do not need to be made comfortable. And the jury refusing to charge the three White roommates served a message:  it’s not a hate crime when hate crimes are committed. William’ story and word does not matter. White feelings trump Black bodies.

This casualness is what fuels police brutality against Black people. It’s what allows society to look at Black women as “strong” and “unbreakable” as an excuse to ignore accounts of violence and assault.  It’s what leads to racial disparity among the prison population. It’s what makes me nervous for my brothers’ experiences in college: Will they feel like they belong? Will someone make them feel less than human? Will they be okay?

It’s what allowed three White men to chain a Black man into a bike lock. Among other racist things. And officially, it was still not considered a hate crime.