Get Out is a taut horror thriller from Jordan Peele, famous as half of Comedy Central’s sketch comedy duo Key & Peele. In Get Out, Peele makes his debut behind the camera, directing fresh-faced Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror, Sicario) and Allison Williams (The Mindy Project) with his original script. But rather than comparing it to horror classics, I found it instructive to compare Get Out to another story with a relationship at its center – 2015’s film adaption of the hit musical The Last Five Years, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. They’re both masterful in the way they use characters to hone a sense of perspective. And Lord knows, when it comes to racial issues, evangelicals could use a healthy dose of the black perspective.
If you don’t play video games, this hashtag probably hasn’t crossed your social media feed… or if it has, you may not understand what it means or why it exists. Such is the challenge of any kind of hashtag activism — it’s difficult to have meaningful exchanges when limited to 140 characters or less.
Consequently, there is a lot of miscommunication, misunderstanding and misinformation going on with #GamesSoWhite, much like what happened with the incredibly controversial #GamerGate controversy from 2014. Unlike GamerGate, which many video game enthusiasts used as a rallying cry to marshall support toward protecting their turf, #GamesSoWhite has become a target of many of those same gamers, who are doing their best to discredit, disprove or shout down the ideas behind the hashtag.
One of the great ironies of Justin Simien’s masterful directorial debut, Dear White People, which released in theaters nationwide this last weekend, is that although it’s aimed at white people, it’s not about white people.
And just now as I was writing, I was tempted to use another, less weaponized-sounding verb, but truly, “aimed” is the right choice, because Dear White People is relentless in its depiction of white people as alternately clueless, ambivalent or calculatingly sinister regarding the racial issues on display at fictional ivy-league school Winchester University. And I mean that as a compliment.
In ways both obvious and subtle, it makes Big Important Pronouncements about race, and then uses those pronouncements both as occasional comedic sketch premises, but also as plot devices to flesh out the emotional development of its main characters, all of whom are either black or biracial. The combination of the two, the thematic heavy-handedness modulated by a playful tone of nimble vignettes with varying emotional intensity… it’s quite a balancing act to pull off, akin to performing surgery with a shotgun.
Okay, so let me fess up, right off the top.
That is a horrible, clickbaity title, a ridiculous, derivative and obvious reference, comparing two TV shows that couldn’t be more different if one of them were set on a different planet.
But they have one thing in common, that thing that most successful TV shows manage to pull off with some level of success. They can take a specific cultural situation and make it broad and relatable enough for people outside to appreciate and understand it, and by the same token, take basic and timeless themes and filter them through the lens of a specific perspective and worldview. They make the specific general, and the general specific.
This is a response I see a lot… all the time, in fact.
I saw it in response to the Ferguson shooting, but honestly I’ve been seeing it for years… decades, perhaps. It’s a common response from white people who don’t understand why everything is always about race with you people.
So I thought I’d write about it.
So it seems that a series of circumstances have all led me to reminisce, Pete-Rock-&-CL-Smooth-style, about my upbringing here in Portland Oregon, the undisputed whitest major city in America. Reconnecting with old friends from high school, being a little less homebound and a little more out-and-about in the city (which is a typical, if subconscious spring ritual), and responding to people emailing me about Mitchell S. Jackson’s March essay in Salon, about his experiences growing up here.
I’ve written about this issue before, but usually only tangentially. It’s not something I feel the need to discuss all that often, not because my experiences aren’t novel or interesting, but because there are so few genuine opportunities to talk frankly about racial issues without the issues being sidetracked or hijacked by local or national politics. I actually have several compelling interests that could incentivize my sharing what it’s like growing up here (at or near the top would be to promote my creative works). But in practice, it’s hard to do so without being burdened by the advancement of a particular agenda – as in, talking about diversity in the context of Why We Need To Do Such & Such About The Problem – or, more honestly, without bumming white people out.
So, in light of the Michael Dunn verdicts — several guilty counts of attempted murder, but a hung jury on the count of murder in the first degree — there is a resurgence of conversation on social media about the ways in which the criminal justice systems, particularly in the state of Florida, are heavily biased against young Black men.
In particular, I’ve seen scores of Black people lamenting this disparity, usually with some emotional combination of sadness, anger, or, most common, a detached bitter sense of resignation.
And in response, when discussing the particulars of the case, I’ve seen several White people say things like, “well I just don’t think it should be about race,” or “skin color has nothing to do with it,” or something along those lines. It’s not that they’re defending Michael Dunn’s (or before him, George Zimmerman’s) actions, but they’re saying “it’s just a tragic situation, period, and race shouldn’t factor into it.”
I give a brief hat tip and a shout out to Lynne Childress of The Sweet Midlife, who brought this back up in her Facebook feed the other day. It rekindled all kinds of thoughts and feelings that I’ve been meaning to say for years, but never took the time to do so.
So in the spirit of resisting any further procrastination, here it is…
If you want to be my friend on any level, please see to it that you never use the phrase “the race card.”
Being someone who appreciates vivid word pictures and solid metaphors, I can appreciate its allure. “The race card” is one of those expressions that is handy for White people who wish to convey their frustration about racial discussions, particularly when they feel that race is being injected into the conversation in ways that it doesn’t belong. It’s often accompanied by the idea that such an injection is an example of “reverse racism.”
But it’s got to stop, and here’s why: