Like many others, I saw the new Jordan Peele movie Get Out over the weekend. It has (mistakenly, in my opinion) been referred to as a horror/comedy mash up. There is definitely humor in it, but it doesn't really fit into the defined boundaries of what constitutes a modern day horror movie. There isn't much blood, it isn't scary, per se, there is no supernatural or paranormal element. Get Out is predominantly a thriller, and a very good one.
Get Out also provides some commentary on race in America, though it does so (for the most part) in a subtle way. There are no grandiose speeches, we aren't hit over the head with preachy sermons. The film makes its points with a palatable smoothness. There is a black protagonist who is dating a white woman. He goes out to the country to visit her (ostensibly liberal) parents, and then an unsettling creepiness ensues.
Peele's dialogue and direction manages to convey an awkwardness and uncomfortable truth which we too often overlook. Namely, that well-meaning people can often say and do some fairly rude things. There's a scene in the movie, at a dinner party, where the main character, Chris, is one of only two black people at a party, aside from the servants. The attendees proceed to inundate him with questions. Many of the questions seem fairly innocuous, but can have some slightly off-putting undertones. I could relate to that.
As Chris was barraged with questions and comments from the party guests, feeling increasingly overwhelmed, I had flashbacks to several life instances. Like the time, in seventh grade, when a teacher (a white woman) walked by, playfully ruffled the top of my head, then stopped and turned around to feel it some more. "Oh my god, it's like carpet!" she exclaimed. "I've never felt anything like this before!" She then proceeded to call over another teacher (who looked uncomfortable) to touch my hair, as well, to feel the apparently extraordinary texture.
Then there were the basketball references. As a kid, I had a super-fast metabolism, shooting-up past my peers at a noticeable rate, and skinny as a rail (this was until things began to slow down in middle school). People (and it was always white people, for some reason) would often say, "Oh, we've got a basketball player here! Do you like to play basketball, son?" Note: I hated sports. Still, I would just smile and not be rude about the attention, as well-meaning adults would peer at me and nod their heads approvingly.
Now, one could argue that the aforementioned incidents were, for one, hardly pulse-pounding situations and, for another, not explicitly racial. And there is some merit to that. However, it can often be about the scenario as much as anything else. A white person treating a black kid's hair as though it's something from out of this world. White people telling a black kid that he'd probably be good at basketball. I mean, sure, those same situations could occur with people of the same race, but.... they didn't. And therein lies the rub.
Of course, there have been the simply odd, blatantly racist incidents that I have no explanation for. Back in my early twenties I was a DJ. A fellow DJ stopped by my place of work one day to complain about "the niggers" who had been disruptive on his dance floor the night before. "I beg your pardon?" was my initial response, a combination of surprise and, well, surprise. The guy could see my raised eyebrows and quickly assured me that he didn't mean black people. Well, yes, they were black, but they were, as he explained, the "bad blacks. You know, the niggers."
As the DJ friend continued digging his hole, it was obvious that he meant absolutely no ill will toward me. He saw me as Matt, his colleague in the DJing world, and he'd had a bad night that he wanted to vent about. I honestly don't think he saw anything amiss in the way he described what went down. The fact that I was part black, and that it could be offensive, didn't register with him. And, for what it's worth, I simply let him vent. I didn't call him out for it, I just let him talk. But our interactions after that dropped-off precipitously, and not by accident.
There are other examples, but blog posts should only be so long, so I won't rattle-off any more questionable instances. As many regular readers of this site know, I try not to make a big deal out of racial issues. I am proud to be of white and black ancestry, and actually prefer the bi-racial label to that of either black or (in rarer circumstances) white. Ultimately, I'd like to see us not even feel the need to label one another by racial make-up at all. But then that still leaves the door open for those awkward situations that make us want to just get out.