Author Archives: Richard

About Richard

Godaime Raikage. Sociology of Religion. Japanime. Sports. Liberation. Rod's brother. #AnaBlacktivism

Get Out (2017) vs. Neoliberalism

 

Get Out: A Satirical Critique of Neo-liberalism

This weekend two seemingly unrelated events happened to me within the span of 24 hours.
First, on Friday night I went to the 10:50 pm CST showing of the movie Get Out. For those who do not know the premise of the movie is about a young interracial couple (black male and
white female) who go to visit the woman’s parents. When the boyfriend gets to the parent’s
house he notices something is different about the black people that work for the woman’s
parents. The next event occurred a little more than fifteen hours after seeing the movie, I
spoke on a panel for the American Academy of Religion Southwest regional conference. The
panel was entitled “Black Religious Lives Matter: An Exploration of Black Religiosity in the
Midst of Trauma.” The aim of the panel was to use different methods to explore the
meaning of black religion after tragedies such as Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis,
and Terrence Crutcher. Ironically, in my opinion the most interesting aspect of the
presentation came from one of the panelist who was unable to attend because of illness. I
read the panelist’s outline on what he planned to present on, namely, a pastoral care
perspective on the way that young black males have been demarcated through public
media perceptions with particular respect to cases such as Michael Brown. After the
presentation, a topic that came up for discussion involved what to make of the
simultaneous portrayal of Baylor football players for their athletic feats while also handling
the demonizing of many of the same players because of the rape scandal. Reflecting on this
discussion alongside of the movie Get Out I have concluded that a common theme for both
is the neo-liberal commodification of black bodies.

While I am almost certain that Jordan Peele did not intend for his film to be a critique of the
capitalist superstructure (maybe he did who knows?), it certainly can be viewed in that way. Contrary to the rather weak criticism by “leading left” magazine Jacobin offered that Get Out can be dismissed as black nationalism and not able to awaken people politically, I do believe there are possibilities within the film itself.

According to Marxism 101, society is composed of both a base and a superstructure. The
base is composed of the modes/ means of production and relations of production. Means of
productions include the land, labor, and resources necessary to create a product. While the
relations of productions describes the different classes that are created by access to the
means of production. The simplest division is between the capitalist class (bourgeoisie)
and the working class (proletariat). The most important thing to know about this is that
Marx says it helps to shape and maintain the superstructure, or all of our ideologies.
Ideologies include our views on politics, religion, race, culture, media, education, etc. In
essence all of society is viewed from the logic of capitalism. Marx uses commodification to
describe this term. Commodification allows for knowledge, friendship, nature, and even
people to be viewed based on their monetary value. A contemporary examination of this
phenomenon is the basis for neo-liberalism. Get Out examines, in some not so subtle ways,
the logic of capitalism in relation to black bodies.

The film begins with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) packing to go with his girlfriend Rose (Allison
Williams) to her parent’s house upstate. It is significant that her parents live in an affluent
upper-class neighborhood. They als enjoy very successful careers in the medical field. In
other words, they are from the capitalist class. As such, they control the means of
production or commodities necessary for the capitalist system. In the film the commodity
that Rose’s parents hope to control are the black bodies that come into the neighborhood.
Chris notices early that the family seems to overly accommodate for him. At first he
believes this is because Rose’s parent do not want to seem racist or disapproving of their
daughter’s interracial relationship. Eventually Chris comes to the realization that it is
because of something far more sinister. Rose’s parents only value him because of the
physical usefulness of his body. He is only viewed as a product that can be used as a part of
their grotesque experiments. During one scene, one of the more subtle instances of humor
in the film, Rose begins to look for her next target on the internet. As Chris tries to escape
the house of horrors, Rose is seen searching for black male athletes on the search engine
Bing. This is a very clear example of the search for a black body that she views as a valued
commodity. Although Get Out should be seen as a satire, that does not mean it does not
possess universal truths. In this case, it hints at the neo-liberal commodification of black
bodies through popular culture/ media images.

However, as the presentation of one my fellow panelist alluded to, athletics are probably
the most glaring example of how popular media images commodify black athletes. To be
sure to adequately cover this topic involves a great deal of complexity. However, for the
purposes of this piece I will only sketch out the neoliberal commodification of black
athletes in relation to the Baylor rape scandal. I will also preface this by stating although
this analysis does not directly speak to the victims of the rape scandal it does acknowledge
the seriousness of the irreparable harm that has been caused to both the victims and their
families. To the point of this piece, the media depiction of these black athletes is consistent
with the neo-liberal commodification of black athletes. It has become a part of popular
culture to classify skilled black male athletes as a beast. In many instances they are
encouraged to act like a beast on the field. Some would argue that the current use to the
term beast is a throwback reference to when black males were described as buck. Both
terms connote the animalistic physical dominance of black bodies. However, beast is more
of a reference to the potential production value of the athlete. The more the athlete
produces on the field the more monetary value they have for the University. Thus, these
athletes are consistently pushed to produce great athletic feats on the field because it will
directly impact the amount of capital generated by the school from sports.

In this neoliberal capitalist system athletes are only valued only in so far as the product
that they create (wins, conference titles, individual accolades), which has a direct impact on
their portrayal in the media. They are viewed as heroes for their great accomplishments
and the revenue that they help to generate. At the same time, much like in the past, they are
viewed through the lens of their sexual and aggressive nature. According to previous
generations, the black male as a buck was a wild untamable animal that lived for sexual
prowess and domination. Society needed to be protected from him, and in particular the
white female needed protection. It is not a lost fact that the vast majority of cases in the
rape scandal involve black men and white women. It is also not lost that Baylor University
repeatedly prioritized the product created from the labor of many black bodies over the
health and safety of the victims. Capitalist interest or the superstructure took precedent
over everything else. The point here is this, the portrayal of of the black male athlete as a
beast in many of its connotations is a result of the neo-liberal commodification of black
bodies.

So what is the impact of the commodification of black bodies? Well from watching Get Out
the answer is pretty obvious. In the film , the bodies of black people are literally taken over
by white people. Their consciousness is sent to the “sunken place,” where they are able to
see what happens to them but are paralyzed from controlling their own bodies. What
happens, in more realistic depictions of commodification. Well, in the case of Baylor
football players they are viewed as either superhuman or subhuman. When the athletes
achieve great feats on the field they are recognized for their superhuman abilities.
However, when they damage the product of Baylor sports or the potential revenue
generated from sports they are viewed as subhuman. Both depictions of the beast as either
a positive reflection or as a negative reflection of the university’s culture are equally as
dehumanizing to the athletes. In short, the neo-liberal commodification of black bodies
denies these individuals of their humanity because they are only valued as products. This a
point that brings this analysis full circle. When black bodies are denied their humanity it
becomes easier to trivialize black lives. It is this devaluation/ trivialization of black life that
created the images we now know as Terrence Crutcher, Mike Brown, Jordan Davis and
many many more. It is also the reason why it is important to critically evaluate films like
Get Out and panels dedicated examining the scope of black humanity.

Watch this space for Rod’s take on Get Out (2017) and religion and its refreshing take on Black culture.

Recommended reviews on Get Out (2017)

Get Out More Than Just Apparent: Assessing Jordan Peele’s On White Liberalism and the Gender Paradigm by Dr. T. Hasan Johnson

Get the F*ck Outta Here & Get the F*ck Outta Here: The Sequel by Son of Baldwin

Also see the whole treasure trove of reviews and commentary over at Very Smart Brothas: VSB on Get Out.

(photo description: the picture is a screen shot from the movie trailer for Get Out (2017). There is a black man (the character Rod Williams) wearing glasses and sitting on a brown leather couch, on his cell phone talking to the protagonist, who is also black and male, Chris.)

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

(The following essay contains excerpts from a presentation given at this year’s Race, Ethnicity, and Place Conference in Cleveland, OH)

“Can’t we all just get along?” These are the famous words from police brutality victim Rodney King that sparked the 1992 L.A. uprisings, some call “riots.”  What exactly does it mean for two people groups “to get along” in the context of White supremacist violence and domination? In July of 1967, there was another set of uprisings in the city of Detroit, Michigan. In the aftermath of the rioting,  President Lyndon Baines Johnson commissioned a report to investigate the cause of the riot and ways to prevent it in the future. The infamous Detroit Riot of 1967 led to the federal investigation into social unrest in what would be published in the Kerner Report.

Nearly fifty years later America is still haunted by the ghosts of the Kerner Report. In particular, the major findings of the report still ring true. The continued impact of hundreds of years of systematic oppression has created a deep rift between the experiences of many black Americans and white Americans, which led to the report’s conclusion:  “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, and one white- separate and unequal.” Although this report was published in 1968, it described a reality not unlike today.

The lack of political power was a major frustration of many of the participants in the riots. The report reads: “What the rioters appeared to be seeking was fuller participation in the social order and material benefits enjoyed by the majority of American citizens.” (NACCD, 1967)  The lack of political representation in local government only further angered the residents. The demographics of the Detroit had transformed so that African Americans were the majority by 1967. However, this change in demographic was not evident in political representation.

Minority political under representation continues to be a problem today in many places. In Ferguson, where Michael Brown was shot, the overall population of the city is over sixty percent African American. However, they only make up around fifteen percent of local legislators. According to Karen Shanton, approximately 1.2 million African Americans across 175 different communities do not have proportionate representation in their cities (Shanton, 2016). She goes on to describe how groups that are not descriptively represented are less like to participate in the political process or have someone advocate for their interests. Political disengagement and inattention simply helped to perpetuate a system of mistrust between civic leaders and the community. In a country where a revolution was sparked by the words, “No taxation without representation,” it would seem as if representative democracy in this republic strictly favors the dominant culture. The vast majority of whites continue to believe that everyone receives equal opportunities in America, while minorities on the other hand see great disparities. In other words, our nation continues to “move towards two societies, one black, and one white- separate and unequal.”

 

The Nine Inch Knife

“It was, as I saw it, a case of ‘the chickens coming home to roost.’ I said that the hate in white men had not stopped with the killing of defenseless black people, but that hate, allowed to spread unchecked, had finally struck down this country’s Chief Magistrate.”
Malcolm X, trying to explain his infamous “chickens” quote
In The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley (1964)

During the 1960’s Malcolm X was perhaps the most controversial voice for Black America during the Civil Rights Movement. His “Chickens coming home to roost” was arguably one of his most controversial statement. This quote earned him censorship from Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, as well as the ire of many Americans. However, Malcolm X did not back down from his words. Many interpreted his words as condoning the assassination of President Kennedy. This however was a mistake. His words were much deeper than a seemingly unsympathetic remark about an American tragedy. It was a brutally honest assessment of a problem that continues to plague America today. Malcolm X described the grotesque violence that is created by the all-consuming nature of institutionalized racism. Institutionalized racism creates a socio-political, economic, and cultural system predicated on violence that is perpetuated throughout all of society. In such an environment not even the President of the United States is safe.

Malcolm X’s words inform my own reflection on the series of recent tragedies in Dallas, St. Paul, and Baton Rouge. Recently, I have zoned in and out of various media coverage of all these incidents. I can’t help but notice that despite all of the different issues that have been analyzed I have been very dissatisfied with the socio-historical analysis of the events. Personally, I believe that the five officers murdered in Dallas, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling are all victims of systemic or institutionalized racism. More accurately, their deaths are the result of a society that refuses to acknowledge its racial history and the ongoing systems of inequality that continue to create a racialized caste system.

Institutional racism is defined simply as the way that various practices in social and political institutions are embedded with racist ideologies that create inequality. These ideologies are reiterated through various avenues such as; the criminal justice system, employment opportunities, housing, health care, political power, education. Institutional racism can be both implicit as well and explicit. It can often go unnoticed and can be reinforced through the status quo. Institutional racism originates through everyday opportunities and operates through the politics of respectability. It is easy to recognize or call out a racist individual but institutional racism is far more complicated. Institutional racism is by no mean a recent phenomenon. African Americans have fought against institutional racism for about as long as they have fought for equal right and protection under the law. Whether it was through the race riots in Detroit, Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas during the Civil Rights Movement Era, the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, protest over Rodney King, and the contemporary iteration of Black Lives Matter Movement; the struggle against institutional racism continues. Finally, institutional racism evokes both passive and active violence. Economic disparities, lack of educational opportunities, political disenfranchisement, and environmental racism are acts of passive violence that are created by institutional racism. It should come as no surprise that these conditions create an environment where active violence becomes a normalized behavior. This behavior becomes a staple for every stakeholder in the system of institutionalized racism.

If institutional racism is indeed the problem what exactly is its scope today? This particular problem exists at all levels. To begin with it is exists at all levels of the education system. Yes, this includes preschool. Black children make up a large portion of the preschoolers who are suspended according to a recent study. They compose relatively 1/6 of the preschool population, yet they represent over 50 percent of all out-of-school suspensions. In general, black children are far more likely to face stricter punishments compared to white students in grades K through twelve. They make up forty percent of all school expulsions and over sixty percent of the students referred to the police from schools are minorities according to the department of education. Scholars call this phenomenon the school to prison pipeline.

Institutional racism also affects employment opportunities and housing arrangements. Black graduates are more than twice as likely to be unemployed compared to white college graduates. It is no secret about the ongoing disparities between mean income for African American families compared to white families. Recent research has also indicated racial biases in hiring practices. Applicants with black sounding names have found great difficulty in finding employment despite have similar or a better resume compared to other applicants. Studies also show that as the pay scale for a particular job increases using increments of 10,000 dollars, the likelihood of an African American applicant receiving that job decreases by seven percent. In the housing market, almost 80 percent of whites own homes compared to less than 50 percent of African Americans. Perhaps most staggering are recent figures that suggest that the median net worth of white families is approximately 250,000 dollars compared to nearly 30,000 dollars for black families.

The greatest indicator of institutional racism continues to be the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, racial inequality is pervasive at every step of the criminal justice process. Black juveniles are 18 times as likely to be sentenced as adults compared to white juveniles. They also compose the vast majority of both the juveniles in prison as well as the one’s tried as adults in the court system. African Americans are more than three times as likely to be searched during a routine traffic stop by a police officer and more than six times as likely to be arrested. According to the Sentencing Project found that this statistic is not merely a coincidence stating that there is “an implicit racial association of black Americans with dangerous or aggressive behavior.” Furthermore, systematic inequality continues to exist in the court system as well. A black person who kills a white person is twice as likely to receive the death penalty as a white person who kills a black person. Even jury selection suffers from racial discrimination. Black jurors who are equally as qualified as white jurors have been illegally turned away from the courtroom in some places as often as ⅘ times. The end result of this process is that in many death penalty cases, particularly one’s involving African Americans, predominantly white juries determine guilt or innocence. Sadly, this is just the beginning of institutional racism in the court system. Noticeably absent from this picture are any stats about stop and frisk policies from the FBI’s investigation, disparities created by mandatory minimums, truth in sentencing laws, and the impact of the War on Drugs.

If any of the above facts are hard to believe then take the recommendation of the United Nations on the current status of race relations in the United States. In a recent news article Ricardo Sunga III, chair of the UN expert panel on people of African descent that the United States has a high level of institutional and structural racism. He also noted that excessive form seems to be the norm for police when dealing with African Americans, who are more than twice as likes to be shot by officers compared to whites. Sunga stated: “It is time, now for the US Government to strongly assert that Black lives matter and prevent any further killings as a matter of national priority.”

To conclude I will return to Malcolm X’s (in)famous words about a “chicken coming home to roost.” In his first interview after being censured by the Nation of Islam Malcolm X did not shy away from his original comments. He also described American racial progress using the analogy of a 9-inch knife in someone’s back. I think this is an appropriate analogy to describe the current impact and attitude towards institutional racism in American society. Institutional racism is like a 9-inch knife that has been placed in the back of Black America. It creates crippling conditions that make it a struggle for black people to move on a daily basis. Since the Classic Era of the Civil Right Movement some people have said that the knife is only three inches and others have said the knife has been removed. Either way according to Malcolm X it does not matter whether the knife is still there or completely removed. True progress only happens once the wounds that the knife has created begins to heal. However, for Malcolm X and many other black Americans most people in the United States refuse to even admit that there is a knife in the back. No matter what one’s perspective is, one thing remains clear. American society is not even close to healing any of the wounds created by institutional racism.