Recognizing and Warding Against “The Sunken Place” — A “Get Out” Survival Guide
Everybody is writing about “Get Out,” the directorial debut from comedian Jordan Peele. (If somehow you still haven’t seen this yet, there will absolutely be spoilers here, so you should run out and see it now then come back and read our survival guide.) Talking about it. Praising it! Analyzing it from every possible angle; and we know because we have been reading it ALL and loving it. Everything from the “toxicity of tokenism” to the “performance of personhood” in the film has been dissected and examined and hypothesized. The Sunken Place has taken on a life of its own and with good reason. Peele took to Twitter to explain that “The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.” This may be true, but for us the The Sunken Place means much much more.
Understanding The Sunken Place
White people literally feel they have a right and entitlement to our bodies, minds, and souls from slavery and on. We were there to be their labor, their comfort, their mammies, their furniture, their soulful inspiration… whatever they wanted from us and our beings, they felt entitled to (ahem Miley Cyrus). They contort our humanity, create strange stories and misperceptions, all for their profit and benefit. They are constantly trying to inhabit us, and take us over (e.g. kardashians, boy bands, whitewashing, and so many other examples). We are on the front lines fighting against this invasion every day and in every way.
The Sunken Place highlights the Black experience of moving through predominantly white spaces. It captures the multidimensional and multifaceted terrain that we navigate every day — that treacherous tarpit that continuously claws at our beings. It is all the accomplices that try to prep us to be stuck there. It is the ways we subconsciously contort ourselves around their misconceptions. It is all the hands and norms that push or pull us deeper into that void.
It is where you and your Blackness disappear, and they — wypipo — inhabit your being. You become a vessel for what they interpret as Blackness and a vehicle for their white benefit. You are literally their “object of desire” and when you are in The Sunken Place, they are simply reaching into your innermost intimate spaces and taking your essence on a joy ride so they can profit off of anything they see of value. The struggle against this sunken place has been going on for centuries and will certainly continue.
The Road to Hell is Paved in White
The Sunken Place does not just happen in one day. It is cultivated over time. When Jim Hudson (Stephen Root), the (color)blind art gallery owner that “wins” Chris explains the 3-step transformation process as part of the “pre-op” process, he used the term “limited consciousness” for The Sunken Place. For us, this whole conversation perfectly explained how you get or are on your way to The Sunken Place. Step 1 is hypnosis, aka brainwashing, aka indoctrination. Step 2 is acceptance, aka conformity. Step 3 is The Sunken Place and transplantation, aka literally internalized white supremacy and anti-Blackness, where the beliefs and misconceptions take residence in our very being. In this place, we no longer see or value ourselves as we are, but rather as whiteness does. The Sunken Place is a terrible place for any Black person to be, and our task here is to identify indicators that you are in or on your way to The Sunken Place and how to ward against it.
Recognizing the Sunken Place Shell
Before we go into how you can get pulled into The Sunken Place, let’s just talk about what it looked like for our people who were fully in there: Walter, Georgina, and Logan. All of our Sunken Place victims had lost the ability to code switch, connect with other people of color or their racial experiences. All of us have to wear those white masks to survive in this white supremacist society, but with these people those masks were never coming back off and their inner selves were just getting further and further eroded. They were so disconnected they could’ve heard a freedom song for the Underground Railroad and just thought it was a nice tune or asked someone to turn off that noise.
Each of the Sunken Black people did shit that would not inherently bring them joy or value, yet they acted like it was their life purpose. Walter loved doing the grounds for the white people and Georgina loved serving them. Only a Sunken Place person would actually try to act like Black joy comes from us being of service to white people. They would be the ones who let white people touch their hair and skin while smiling and agreeing that Brown and Black skin really is different, smoother and silkier! They would agree that yes, we’re so lucky we don’t get wrinkles easily. Because that’s all that really matters, that somehow proves to them that we’re not really oppressed. Basically agreeing to be a farm animal for them to pet.
With all of them, there were short circuit moments — when the flash went off, when pouring the iced tea — brief moments where their Blackness tried to break back out again. In a strange way, this is a tiny hopeful part, in that no matter how hard the wypipo try to invade us, there is always some degree of resistance.
Decoding The Sunken Environment
Normalizing distorted reality. The first step of the “pre-op” is preparing your Black subject to accept a contorted reality, where they question their own intuition and perception for the sake of white safety, comfort, and benefit. For example in “Get Out,” Rose kept presenting herself as a victim while Chris was the one who was actually extremely vulnerable. When he finally starts to get freaked out by the fact the Rose’s mother had hypnotized him, had been paraded around at the weird white people party, and that the Black people were acting strangely, Rose set up her white woman victimhood and Chris played right into it. Rose said, “You’re going to leave me here,” and Chris said, “No, I won’t abandon you,” when in reality she was not going to be abandoned at all. She was with her OWN family. She was with her tribe, while Chris was completely alone.
Stifled and normalized white resentment. Another part of the environment was the normalized and stifled white rage barely under the surface. For example, when Rose’s dad, Dean Armitage, talked to Chris about when his father losing to Jesse Owens, Dean’s bitterness was centered. Dean showed Chris the picture of his dad and said, “Chris, you’re gonna love this, my dad was going to the Olympics, but came in second,” and ended with, “Yeah, my dad almost got over it too.” There was an inner rage that was normalized to seem like everything was totally fine, and Dean tried to pull Chris into it, too. There was a strange assumption that the Black people were focused on taking something from white people that they were owed. Dean clearly admired the power of Jesse Owens, but wanted it for his dad and felt entitled to it. The Armitages thought that Black people had all these benefits, and felt that they were entitled to any benefits Black people had.
Normalized white invasion and Black objectification. They persistently try to invade your intimate space and privacy. The mother kept pushing inappropriately and prying into Chris’s life. He did not invite her, he did not ask her to have these conversations; she just wanted to feed off of his pain and exploit it. And when he wouldn’t give it to her, she just took it anyway. They size up and fetishize your body like it exists for them and their uses. The woman who admired Chris’ body and asked about his size not only exerted her dominance but reduced his humanity to his individual body parts.
Making Your Own Way Into the Void
Shrinking your Blackness and yourself. The Sunken Environment is constantly trying to prep you and push and pull you into The Sunken Place, but there are also ways that we participate in the process. They get into you by making your humanity and your Blackness disappear. You are likely disappearing if you swallow or normalize your own pain, while taking on more pain from them with a smile as wide as Georgina’s. During this process, you will find yourself normalizing their white fuckery, while pathologizing Black people — like when Chris briefly mentioned the fact that the mother, Missy Armitage, hypnotized him but then focused on problematizing Georgina and Walter. He was conditioned to trust Missy but see the Black people as a threat. In reality, the Black people Chris was so suspicious of were the only ones trying to warn him to get out. On your way to The Sunken Place, you think that people of color who are being “mean,” “abusive,” “angry,” or “bitter” are hindrances to your cause and the most important thing for you to do is to keep white people happy and comfortable.
Absorbing the pain and absolving the perpetrators. Along the way to The Sunken Place, Chris ignored his intuition, normalized white violence, prioritized white comfort and its distorted reality, and then pathologized Black people around him. The slave-auction/white-people party was weird as hell, but Chris figured he should just go along with it, and sacrifice himself for Rose and her family. He was likely so afraid of “playing the race card” that he twisted himself into a pretzel to let white people off the hook. There were countless times that Chris said something along the lines of “nah, it’s alright,” when shit clearly was NOT okay. He gave the white people a pass on micro- and macro-aggressions and invalidated his own feelings, further hollowing himself out for their colonization.
GET OUT!! Warding against the sunken place
Always have a life line. Have your crew. Sometimes all we have is each other and our shared experiences to guide us out of danger. Rod, as a fellow Black man, knew something was wrong every time he talked to Chris and instinctively knew the urgency of his actions. Rod didn’t need to know hard facts, he just knew that whiteness was afoot and he needed to show up for his friend. There will never be a stronger bond than with someone who shares your fears and holds space for them. Never lose that ability to code switch to connect and communicate with other people of color (POC). These connections are essential so that when that freedom song comes along you already know the verse and can follow the rhythm.
Protect your mind and soul. Never give up your humanity. It is not optional, up for debate or negotiation. Being carefree and unapologetically yourself is a radical act in this mayo world. It constantly tries to dull your shine and break you down so self-care is a middle finger to those who think it’s possible to break you. Remember to take the time to sharpen your armour and re-fill yourself with love, joy, and the revolutionary strength you need to get through your day.
Stay Woke. Stay woke. Trust your instincts. Know and listen to your language, your codes, your survival, your voice. Pay attention to the broken ones and remember that someone or something broke them. When you meet a Black or Brown or LGBTQ Republican or ones who thinks they — the Grand Ole Party — make some very interesting points; or ones who “agree that natural hair is unprofessional,” remember that someone or something broke that person and figure out what (or who) in that environment is doing that breaking. Never trust the monsters, and never forget that they are the monsters. Beware if they — wypipo — are watching you too much because they probably want something, and will be tempted to try to take it in some invasive and violent way. Don’t ever put your safety in their hands.
And finally, be generous and loving with your Black Self — this is a continuous struggle and there will be setbacks. Finding ways to reground yourself, get oriented and find your strength are essential for getting yourself out of a sunken pit, even if you have to claw your way out.