Microaggression Thriller

I saw Get Out, the Microagression Thriller.

From the trailer I knew it was a thriller and that Jordan Peele directed it.

I knew that it was well reviewed by critics.

I knew that alt-right types (Nazis) were calling it anti-white.

I knew I had to see it right away.

Well reviewed thriller that white supremacists hate? Sign me up!

Overall it’s a stunning work. It’s tense. It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s scary. It’s well-paced, well-acted and really well shot from a first-time director. Well-crafted films aren’t that common in February. We usually get left-overs that don’t have the budget for Spring & Summer or the prestige for Awards season in Fall. This is a pleasant surprise.

It’s also personal.

There’s a party scene. It’s the most tense, most dramatic, most discomforting “party” I’ve ever seen in film. It’s a big soiree. There are at least 30 people. Everyone is dressed elegantly. And they’re all white.

Chris, the protagonist, is the only black person we see. (There are others revealed later, but I’m not playing spoiler here) Everyone is very friendly to him. They shake his hand. Many hug him. They rub his shoulders. They all want to spend time with him. He starts to feel like the entire party is about him.

No one is rude. Quite the contrary. They’re really, really polite. They like him. They want him to like them. “I would have voted for Obama a 3rd time. Best President in my lifetime.” “I met Tiger Woods. Best I’ve ever seen.” “That was in for hundreds of years, but now black is in. Black is cool.” “Aren’t you handsome? And so fit. Is it true…that it’s better?”

Chris smiles. He wonders if the problem is his own sensitivity or if these people are really being disrespectful.

That party scene shook me. I’ve been there.

There’s the obvious racism that we talk about all the time. “I hate black people. I don’t want them around.” We get that. We all see that, recognize it, and most of us dismiss it. That’s not the only kind. There’s obviously the systemic racism that I always talk about and that creates real lack of opportunity for people, but there’s still another kind. It’s a kind we don’t talk a lot about. It’s liberal white racism.

Liberal white racism is that party scene. It’s white people who would never say, “I don’t like black people,” but would say, “I really like black people.” We’re still a monolith to be defined as the “other”, it’s just a positive monolith. It feels like, in a crowd like the party scene, the group does a mental scan to think of what they can talk to a black person about. “What would his interests be? How can I identify? How can I make him comfortable?” All those are relatively admirable traits, but it still treats this person as something to figure out instead of a person with which to have a conversation.

And those conversations. Wow, those conversations. They become a steady stream of mentions of famous black people (I love Ta-Nehisi Coates), works of art featuring black people (I love the Wire), charitable endeavors that help black people (I love Teach for America) and how Progressive their voting habits. (I love Obama).

All those conversations start to feel like a request. Roger Ebert once said, “I love you isn’t a statement. It’s a question. It means, ‘Do you love me.’”

The steady stream of black clichés feels the same way. “Do you like me? Do you recognize that I’m not like the other ones?” And it would be impolite to say, “Yes, you are, but in a different way.” So I smile to make them comfortable. I say, “Yeah, me too,” or, “I get it.” It’s exhausting. Most people aren’t really interested in granting racial dispensation, especially for those like me who are introverts. Talking at all is hard enough, especially when my voice is only interesting if it’s to thank or appreciate you.

To be fair, this is absolutely preferable to the, “Get out of here. You’re not welcome,” kind of racism. I’ve had that too. It ain’t nice. But this kind isn’t fun either.

All anyone wants is to be treated like an individual. Even positive stereotypes are stereotypes. Stereotypes take away someone’s humanity and define them by some greater expectation. That’s dangerous and it sucks for the person being stereotyped. And this is not just for black people. (I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “I love gay people.” Really, you love gay people? Every single one? Not one is a bad person?)

I won’t give away all the plot twists and turns in the film. (This is barely a film review anyway) I won’t give away the Trayvon Martin open or the Night of the Living Dead ending. I’ll just say that it’s a really smart film about a specific subject matter that movies don’t often touch. I see a lot of films. It’s not often I see something new. This was new and it hit home.

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