Being Noah Tesfaye #11: “Get Out” and What It Reminded Me About Race and Politics

If you haven’t seen Get Out by now, then you probably should stop reading this and avoid any further spoilers. Furthermore, if you haven’t seen Get Out, I insist that you should go watch this one of a kind film immediately! Anyway, my mom hadn’t seen the movie, so we watched it last weekend. Then, a few weeks later, I stumbled upon this article. And it brought up the point that I often forget to emphasize to a lot of my friends. In America, we emphasize too often the prevalence of white nationalists and their racist rhetoric. And while I do think it is important that we emphasize that their rhetoric is horrible and dangerous and all that, I feel as though that isn’t the real threat to preventing black people from rising up in society. I mean, sure, if you live in the South, much of the racism you face is more outward and explicit. But the racism that I know minorities in Silicon Valley experience is “liberal racism.”

We all know what racism is: “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” according to Merriam Webster. This idea of racial superiority is nothing novel, yet it continues to persist in society. Here in Silicon Valley and from my personal experience, people behave in a way that continues to perpetuate racial superiority, but the instant they get called out on this behavior, they immediately claim “I’m not racist.” This can range from stereotyping to direct use of slurs, but the result, regardless of intent, leads to facilitating a situation where “racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” This is where I think we as people might lean if we dig into the definition at surface level. I would tend to agree with this point of view, and in many ways I think that this can lead to a few problems.

The first and most obvious problem when you call someone out on these ideas of “liberal racism” is that they most often didn’t intentionally mean to say anything that would lead to this sort of circumstance. This is where the term “racially insensitive” comes up. This is a more relaxed term that usually is used as a means to differ from the specific intent that comes with being racist and being racially insensitive. Some argue that this term comes back to the idea that the label of racist is “harsh” and that we shouldn’t label anyone with such a strong term. I find this logic to be absolutely stupid and honestly a way for people to let their racist comment, regardless of whether it was intentional or not, slide. If you did something regardless of whether it was intentional or not, in any circumstance, the fact is that you did it. You wouldn’t tell a judge that you took something from a store shelf, walked out with it unintentionally, and claim you didn’t steal. You did.

The best example I would like to use from experience of liberal racism is the idea that certain minorities, regardless of their work ethic and determination, aren’t as well-fit to take advanced courses. I speak for my experience in middle school when, like I mentioned in a previous post, my math teacher thought I shouldn’t take the honors math track for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. Her judgment that I wasn’t ready for it was unfortunately based on the fact that African American and Latino students tend to, objectively, have lower scores and are less successful students. However, of course we all know that these minority students have significantly more setbacks to their lives, from the lower socioeconomic brackets, to bad public schools, and so on. But the fact that this teacher was adamant that I don’t take this advanced course showed me for the first time an experience that was not intentional, but was designed regardless to continue to perpetuate racial superiority. I know many conservatives may disagree with this point with “Oh, why do you always bring up race?” And to that I would like to say that had it not been for my race, that teacher would have seen my As and hard work, and would have been objectively been able to say I should definitely take that honors math course.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with Get Out? As I watched the film, I couldn’t believe the precision Jordan Peele was able to describe some of the subtle, yet race-based conversation that continues to arise with black people in this country. The main character, Chris, gets into discussions with his girlfriend’s parents, who are white, about what it’s like to be black, and later at a party, a group of people at a party at the Armitage house question Chris about his athleticism and the unique features of black people. Besides this all being extremely awkward and disturbing, it continues to portray more of the same stereotyping that exists with particularly black citizens in this country. They are amazed that he can speak so eloquently and it only continues to the point, and reaches a climax where he gets literally hypnotized by his girlfriend’s mother to get his eyes extracted for a customer. This family literally sells features of black people to the highest non-white bidders, and this famous artist just so happened to be blind and wanted to see again.

I can speak for other black people that there couldn’t quite be something we fear as much as being crippled and at the mercy of white racists who pick apart our best features and throw everything else away for scraps. This movie showed me, and lots of other black people, is that these types of irrational fears that seem like true terrors are in actually nowhere near the magnitude to the kinds of real fears we have everyday. I pray everyday that when I do get pulled over by a police officer that I stay as calm as possible and any movement I make could result in the end of my life. I live in constant frustration by the fact that I will get wrongly accused of something I didn’t do just because of my skin tone. These fears seem extremely irrational and for most of the time, I can exist free of these fears because where I live isn’t too bad. Nonetheless, I feel insulted every time I hear a racist joke about black people because they somehow believe my existence as an Ethiopian is different from any other black American. Sure, my last name is different, and I may have the ability to trace my roots of my family, but that’s it. I still get treated the same. No racist is going to be less harsh to me because I’m Ethiopian. No police officer is going to be less harsh because I’m African. No court of law will be less harsh because I’m not the typical black teen ethnicity-wise. Just because I am first generation, doesn’t make it mean I’m less of a black person. My family just happen to have moved from a sh*thole country voluntarily and only thirty years ago.

In many ways, this is why I think that sense of security and support for one another and its significant lack of it is why we aren’t able to ensure our true success. Maybe if we weren’t so caught up in getting upset at each other, with the Ta-Nehisi Coates vs Cornell West debates, or with the fact we aren’t demanding more from our legislation without bringing enough people to compete at that level. Get Out presents us with the opportunity to reflect on the status of black people and really check if the true enemy we are going after is the white supremacist in Alabama or the white liberal/conservative intellectuals who we are only starting to challenge now. I am glad that for once that the fears of liberal America were put on such a display in this movie, and Jordan Peele shared the unfortunate story about the fact that those who even appear to help us are also not willing to let us reach an equal summit of power.

So let us take this year as an opportunity to intelligently tackle the issues of black people. Let’s try to think and continue to look at the great parts of our community taking up the arms in legislation, changing communities. We could use more politicians like Jewell Jones, citizens who are willing to impact their communities and take the most methodical legal approach to eventually one day securing the true equality of black people. We may never be equals in this life, but what we can do is to continue to work as hard as possible to one day be on that level and at the very least put the next generation at a better place than we are at today. Dr. King would be proud of the steps we have taken the past few years, but in his words: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Hope you enjoyed reading this week! Be sure to follow me on Twitter for some of my thoughts more immediately as well as some fun tweets as well! See you all next week at the same time.


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