review: “get out” and the myth of interracial liberation

Nobody needs me to write about how great Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is (it’s been done, better than I could have). But holy shit, it is incredible on every level. Powerful and nuanced political messages, well-developed characters, an exciting and emotional narrative, just the right number of jump scares, gut-twisting suspense. It’s got everything. Go see it.

Beyond the obvious merits of the film, one thing that I loved was its pretty clear assertion that interracial relationships (and, implicitly, interracial mating and babies) cannot be counted upon to liberate anyone.  I think it is becoming increasingly clear that putting all hopes for an anti-racist future in interracial coupling and multiracial babies will assuredly lead to failure, but it is still a pervasive myth that having interracial relationships and giving birth to multiracial children are, in themselves, anti-racist actions.  Rates of interracial marriage are often used as a proxy for racial progress (always focused on white interracial marriage); the beauty of multiracial babies is touted as some sort of hallmark of both physical and social evolution.

*spoilers below*

“Get Out” shows a different side of the great, white hope of interracial marriage. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), the protagonist and a black man is dating Rose (Allison Williams), a white woman. The movie starts with the two of them packing and talking about their weekend trip: visiting her parents, who purportedly don’t know he’s black.  Chris expresses his apprehension about the trip, but Rose reassures him, saying her parents loved Obama and that she would have told Chris if they were racists. Chris spends a lot of the next 45 minutes of the movie reassuring Rose that he isn’t upset or hurt by the racist microaggressions he experiences at the hands of her parents , brother, and extended family members.

Fast forward: turns out that not only is Rose’s family full of racists, but they’re racists who want to lobotomize Chris and implant the brain of an old white man into his body. And, even more upsetting, Rose has been in on the plot the whole time. It turns out that she targets black men (and at least one black women), lures them into romantic and sexual relationships, takes them home to meet the parents, and allows them to be lobotomized while she stalks her next victims (and eats dry cereal while drinking milk through a straw…).

Portrayals of interracial relationships between white women and black men as being dangerous for black men are extremely rare. More common are movies like Loving, in which interracial love overcomes all obstacles, or movies in which interracial relationships between black men and white women are portrayed as dangerous for the white woman (see Birth of a Nation).  The reality is that black people are, and always have been, the ones who are penalized for interracial relationships, from white enslavers raping black slaves and subsequently selling the children produced by those rapes, to black men being lynched for even looking at white women “the wrong way.” This danger is still real, if less public, and it is usually ignored in portrayals of interracial relationships in film and TV.

But Clare, why isn’t interracial marriage/dating/baby-making an anti-racist act? First, racism exists on many levels. Racism is part of our individual psyches, but also snakes its way through our entire legal, political, social, and economic systems and American culture.  This means that interpersonal relationships can’t change an entire society, and frankly, I think it’s asking a little bit much of us multiracial folks to do so. (lol!!!) Additionally, this whole idea that multiracial people and interracial relationships will change the dominant American discourse on race is built upon the racist rhetoric of multiculturalism, which privileges representational politics over structural change. Multiculturalism assumes that just changing the colors of America will change how America works. It won’t. For example, multicultural rhetoric would have us celebrate that both Secretaries of State under George W. Bush were black (and one was a queer black woman); however, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice did not change how the state operated, which continued to kill black and brown people in the United States and abroad. (Also, anything about how hot and sexy the world will be when it’s overrun with multiracial people is racist, period. It’s objectifying, obviously, and it’s pretty clearly a result of the exoticization and fetishization of people of color who are close enough to whiteness not to be threatening. Think orientalism. Not good!)

Second, to affect racism on even an individual level, we would have to assume that interracial couples, parents, and families are talking about race in an entirely different way than monoracial couples, parents, and families. Guess what? We’re not! Even though multiracial people or people in interracial families/couples often gain different insights about race from their identities and relationships, they are still constrained by the hegemonic discourse about race, as well as by racism. Most people, even multiracial people and people in interracial relationships, are not radical race theorists; they’re just people. Additionally, in white-POC interracial families, white parents frequently take no responsibility for educating themselves about anti-racist parenting or for helping their POC partner cultivate a healthy dialogue about race within their family. So, no, not even within interracial couples and families is racism being destroyed.

Third, American racial hegemony is a tightly-woven, deeply-rooted system.  It has shifted and changed in the past, and it can change again to protect itself.  With the advent of multiracial boxes on government documents (i.e. the census), I think we are beginning to see a shift towards increased inclusion of depoliticized multiracial Americans, which can look progressive because we love to celebrate inclusion but ultimately will sustain white supremacy.  The number of interracial families and multiracial people in the United States is growing, and will probably continue to do so; the only way forward for white supremacy is to find a place for us.

In some sense, it’s true that interracial relationships and babies resulting from those unions disrupt conventional processes of racialization. Anti-miscegenation laws, which were prohibited by the Supreme Court in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia, are clearly an expression of white supremacy.  The very existence of multiracial people can destabilize racial categories, because we don’t fit into any one category.  But increasing the number of people who can participate in state-sanctioned marriage and the proliferation of beautiful (light) brown babies will never, ever undo racism. Ever. And “Get Out,” written by a biracial black man who is married to a white woman, understands this, and takes this fact to the most frightening possible conclusion.

* If you want to read more, there’s also a piece on Buzzfeed about this same topic!

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