“Get Out” and White Liberalism

Micah Glidewell
Jun 25, 2020 · 6 min read

Get Out is one of my favorite films. It’s brilliantly made, and continues to become more and more relevant as time goes on. I was exposed to the controversy surrounding the film when it released, and a lot of liberal White people criticized the film. I wasn’t able to see the film at the time, so I assumed that these grumpy White people didn’t understand the film.

When I finally saw the film as a twenty-year-old, I realized I was wrong. Those White people did understand the film, because Get Out is about them. Instead of the film focusing on demonizing Conservatives, or praising Liberals for being part of the solution, they were outraged to discover the message of the film: White Liberals are just as Racist as Conservatives.

SPOILER WARNING! The following sections are going to spoil the film’s main twist. If you haven’t seen the film already, and you’re interested to learn why liberalism is dangerous; I encourage you to watch the film. With that warning, on to spoiler territory.

In Get Out, the danger of White Liberalism is clear and direct. The Armitages are clearly liberal. After all, Dean (the father) would have “voted for Obama for a third term if he could.” The family supports Black art, appreciates Black music, celebrates Black athletes, and welcomes Chris into their home without concern. At first, this is played as awkwardness, but it isn’t until the family gathering that we realize there’s something more to the Armitages.

The Arimitages effectively kidnap and traffic Black people in order to implant their brains into Black bodies. The motivation comes from a belief that Black bodies are superior to White ones, and that Black people are “in fashion.” They try to do this to Chris, which leads him to kill the entire family out of survival before being rescued by his friend, Rod.

The Armitages’ commodification of Black bodies represents a lot of racist practices, with the most obvious being the fetishization of all things Black. In America, this practice dates back to Colonial days with racist depictions of Black men and women, often sexual in nature. In the modern era, examples of this practice include things like Blackface, the re-branding of Black culture by corporations, White people wearing dreads, and NSFW (not safe for work) content that uses Black identity as something sexual.

Peele included direct violence in this narrative to reference the larger harm that White Liberalism does to Black people. On the surface, Liberalism looks like activism. But when examined closely, the actions common to Liberalism don’t actually help Black Americans legally or socially. The actions of White Liberals are often veiled through their own comparisons to Conservatives.

A similar thing is occurring in the public response to the deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans who’ve been killed by police. Discussions about how to handle policing as a concept are happening all over the country. One commonly proposed solution is police reform.

(Johnny Louis/Getty Images)

On the surface, this action seems good. After all, banning things like chokeholds and no-knock warrants will stop cops from using them — right? Going against Conservatives is good, and we’re creating a safe space for Black people — right? Isn’t making being a racist cop illegal good?

No. It’s not. Banning chokeholds doesn’t work. New York City banned chokeholds in 1993 and Eric Garner was still killed from one over twenty years later. Sensitivity training and body cams only divert more funding towards police. Activists like Mychal Denzel Smith are quick to point out that even if police are trained to not use lethal force, cops will still do so because they “were in fear for their lives.” He states that “They (police) have the authority of the state to use deadly violence at their discretion.”

When White Liberals advocate for police reform rather than defunding, they advocate for an aesthetic change. Like the Armitages, they support the existence of Black Americans. They support Black musicians, they voted for Obama, or Hilary, or Biden, they “don’t see color.” They support laws that make it illegal to fire someone for being Black, or wear traditional Kente cloth while taking a knee in support of Black rights, but do nothing to dismantle systems built to uphold racism, like the police.

As a White person who once considered himself a Liberal, I understand that the first reaction to this film might be anger. It’s easy for us to believe that because we’re not conservatives, we must be doing everything right. It’s hard to accept that we’re ineffective and harmful when we mean well.

But we must expose ourselves to this. We owe it to Black members of our city, our state, our country — to feel that discomfort and anger, and say:

“Do my actions harm Black people?”

“How am I complicit in systems of oppression?”

“Do the police really help people?”

We must ask ourselves the tough questions, and listen to Black activists when they talk about concepts like White fragility. We must watch, read, and listen to educational resources, so we can better fight against racist systems of oppression. We cannot just be “not racist”, we must be anti-racist.

I know it can be hard and feel daunting to try and educate ourselves, so the following is a compilation of educational resources I’ve seen from Black activists on various social media platforms.

For starters, the Black Lives Matter collection on Netflix has really good recommendations. My personal favorites are Pose and Dear White People, but I plan on watching the rest of the collection as I continue to educate myself.

Educational Resources to Watch:

  • Explained: “The Racial Wealth Gap” (Season 1, Episode 20). This episode helps communicate what “White privilege” is, and why it’s super important.
  • Time: The Kalief Browder Story. This crime docuseries follows a Black teenager wrongfully charged with theft who was jailed for over 1,000 days.
  • When They See Us. This crime docuseries is based on the Central Park jogger case, where 5 teenagers of color are wrongfully convicted of a violent crime.
  • 13th. This documentary analyzes the criminalization of Black Americans, as well as the U.S. prison boom.
  • Who Killed Malcolm X? This documentary series turns to activists to discuss the life of Malcolm X, his activism, and the mysterious circumstances of his death.
  • Disclosure. This documentary discusses the intersections between transgender characters and Black characters in film.

Educational Resources to Read:

Educational Resources to Listen to:

Get Out not only sets an example for filmmakers, especially those interested in horror, but it sets an example for White people looking to be anti-racist. For White people looking to understand how our praise of Black culture still harms Black people, this film is essential.

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