Tag Archives: Mike Brown

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.)

The Racial Hierarchy of #AllLivesMatter

I did not in any way have plans to write this brief essay. I know I have taken a break from writing and I always planned to return and work harder than ever to build The Resist Daily as an online publication. Yet, I feel I need to comment on the on-going debate between #BlackLivesMatter, “#AllLivesMatter”, and yes, even “#BlueLivesMatter.” Two Saturdays ago at #NN15, Democratic Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were both interrupted by Black Lives Matters protesters. Both of their responses were, “#AllLivesMatter.” (Note: I am using quotation marks for both #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter because they have proven to be disingenuous and racist forms sloganeering to contribute further violence to Blacks’ experience) Now, whereas Martin O’Malley stayed, listened to #BLM’s concerns, Bernie Sanders left as he cancelled his meetings with Black Lives Matters representatives. Rather than having our agency and our thoughts respected, #FeelTheBern defenders heaped condescension upon condescension towards #BlackTwitter. The ensuing clapback such as #BernieSoBlack drew the ire of Sandernistas online. What Sanders defenders refuse to understand was that #BlackLivesMatters is not about a “single” issue, it’s about basic survival and Black people’s right to exist.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a human rights movement in a similar vein to the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950’s and 60’s. It was founded by three Black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. There are currently 23 CHAPTERS of Black Lives Matter in the United States, Canada, and Ghana. It is not simply a hashtag, but an organized movement dedicated to exposing and ending police brutality, racial profiling and mass incarceration: ALL THREE of which negatively and unjustly impact Black women and men. This is the crucial difference between the Civil Rights Movement and BLM: whereas during the CRM, leaders such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. dared the state to arrest them and thus making them martyrs, BLM is resisting the very state apparatus that was expanded: the police state with its S.W.A.T. teams, its “war” on Black Men Drugs, and now privatized prison industry. Black Lives Matter is a response to virulent White Supremacy and state violence. Many of the White liberals who dismiss #BLM do so with the understanding that racism has not adapted to our post-Jim Crow world. Many white conservatives who speak of the good old days of Martin Luther King Jr. wearing a suit and tie enter the conversation with a twisted sense of patriotism and remain far often too selective about when to talk about “limited” government.

Just like the Civil Rights Movement faced backlash and state violence and had to counter racist propaganda from officials like the late Governor George Wallace, #BLM too has its opponents. At no point has #BlackLivesMatter argued that “ALL” police officers were antiBlack racists. Unfortunately in a racist society, White Supremacy is still seen as primarily individual prejudice and a private sin. To claim that #BlackLivesMatters’ protests versus police BRUTALITY and racial profiling is the same thing has hating all police officers IS FLAT OUT FALSE. This means that people really are not listening to stories of pain and destroyed families; they’d rather insist on the false narrative of White innocence and superiority, all which are contingent upon the racist myths of Black criminality. Unfortunately, this is where the often times overtly racist “#BlueLivesMatter” stands. If indeed #BlueLivesMatter were an ACTUAL movement rather than racist propaganda, why are not its advocates going after video games that promote lethal violence versus police officers (like Grand Theft Auto)? It begs the question when posts from “#BlueLivesMatters” include celebrations of police brutality, black death,

blulm2

and fascist understandings of community.

bluelm1

Police are here to serve and protect, not SEEK AND DESTROY (Thank you, Michael Bay). “#BlueLivesMatter” isn’t about uniting people or organizing and networking to protect human life; it’s about propagating anti-Blackness and glorifying death and fear.

“#AllLivesMatter” may cater to a more progressive crowd, but it relies on a more subtle notion of prejudice in the form of color-blind racism. Time and again, statistics show that the persons who are most likely to get arrested and face police brutality for non-violent offenses are Black and/or Native American. These are facts, but what #AllLivesMatter does is not only make the anti-intellectual move of denying concrete data, this rebuttal (because again, it’s not even a movement, just a slogan) is a product of lazy thinking and willful ignorance. No one has actually argued that “no other lives matter.” Even in multicultural Canada, a mural of Sandra Bland was vandalized with “#AllLivesMatter”; why? what’s the proof in that action? When people say, #BlackLivesMatter, they are saying we live in a society that still has a racial hierarchy, and that hierarchy is exposed when it comes to police brutality, racial profiling, and the Prison Industry. Now, if Black Lives matter, those at the very bottom, it is only then that ALL LIVES can TRULY matter. It’s as James Cone said about #BLM, if we can get the bottom right, we can make everything upright.
From a Christian perspective, we worship a justifying God who cares about even the minute details, from the sparrow to the lilies in the field to every hair on our head. Divine providence starts from the bottom-up, lifting the lowly to new heights in fellowship with God and neighbor. #BlackLivesMatter is a call back to a God whose Son went to the very bottom of the world in Sheoul, who was raised up from death, and now whose Spirit resides in the life of the faithful as well as inspires all persons who are resisting oppression everywhere.

From Plessy v. Ferguson to #Ferguson, Missouri

Dispelling the myth of equality in the legal system

This is a re-post from the Uprooting Criminology blog.

Two weeks ago I attended a rally in Dallas, Texas to protest police brutality during the death of Michael Brown. There were many impassioned speeches and heart felt rallying cries. One of those chants “No Justice, No Peace; No Racist Police,” caused me to pause and reflect on the statement. I simply could not bring myself to repeat the phrase. Perhaps it was because addressing the individual racist police officer does not address the real issue.

Incidents such as Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner in New York are symptomatic of the larger issue of institutional racism that permeates the legal system in the United States. The myth of equal treatment in the legal system has endured for centuries. Whether it is through the Supreme Court case Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896 until the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson Missouri in 2014, rhetoric continues to proclaim fairness and equality in the legal system, when all of the evidence speaks to the contrary.

In 1896 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the doctrine of “separate but equal.” It effectively ensured legalized segregation. Under this doctrine, the government was allowed to require that services, facilities, public accommodations, housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation be separate provided that the quality of each group’s public facilities was equal. This ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education (1956).

The court ruled in this case that segregation was inherently unfair and that policies that separate race denote inferiority among those races. Problems of inequality persist in the criminal justice system today to an even greater extent than what was outlined by the doctrine of “Separate but Equal.” Through various ways minorities are treated separately and unequally. The dilemma arises because many fail to acknowledge this separate treatment and even worse the disproportionate effects on minority communities. So the first step is to finally acknowledge some of the factors that have led to the unequal treatment of minorities in the United States.

Institutional inequality is in part due to the make-up of the law makers. Law makers are disproportionately white (over 85%), male (over 80%), and are usually more than 20 years older than the average American. More important than demographic information however, is the way crime is constructed in the legal system. This construction of crime has had a direct effect on urban cities like Ferguson, MO; which has a populous dominated by people of color.

Crime is not labeled based on the degree of harm it causes but rather the illusion that street crime is the most dangerous form of crime. This emphasis causes a disproportionate focus on crime based on urban areas, particularly ones with minorities as the overwhelming demographic. If police are heavily focused on street crime and disproportionately located in urban areas, it is inevitable that there will be disparities in stop and arrest rates between whites and people of color. It is also certain that force will be more likely to be used against people of color than against whites.

This is verified by statistics that show blacks and Hispanics are far more likely to report run-ins or harassment by officers. They are 3-4 more likely to be arrested and have force (including lethal force) used against them (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2007). The shooting death of Mike Brown fits well into these statistics.

So beyond dispelling the myth of inequality in the legal system what else can be done to address the unequal treatment of minorities? Much research has been conducted to find empirical data to quantify to some extent the effects of institutional racism in our legal system. The Baldus Study and research from the Kirwan Institute on implicit bias to name a few. However, further research combined with legislative change offers a more effective solution. In any case, John Powell in a recent interview said it best, “We still have not come to full recognition of blacks and other people as full citizens, as full people. And one way we can demonstrate that is that when we see another human being, our brain is actually wired so that part of the brain lights up, just from recognition of another human being.” When our policy making finally reflects this sentiment we will have a more equitable legal system.