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How 'Get Out' Tackles Black Psychological Trauma

The Horror of Black Psychological Trauma

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Everyone is buzzing about Jordan Peele’s debut film Get Out  -- a suspenseful thriller that doubles as a social commentary on race and gender -- and for good reason.

History has lowered the bar for black people in horror films. To be honest, we're lucky if the black character makes it past the first three scenes. Get Out, on the other hand, deviates from this norm. It isn’t all creepy and dark with that annoying, I’m-going-to-stab-you-after-letting-you-painstakingly-run-half-a-mile-while-I-stalk-behind-at-a-steady-pace music.

To be fair, the film has its share of gory, edge-of-the-seat scenes, however, the movie is effective because it artfully touches on so many cultural tropes. This movie gets in your head and screws with cultural norms. 

For the first time, black men are not the assailants but the victims. White women didn't need saving, black characters had other talents besides dribbling a ball, rhyming, or shucking and jiving. Not to mention, the film subtly brings the vulnerability of black bodies and the dangers of ignoring black psychological trauma into the light.

***spoilers ***

There's a running joke in the black community about black people in horror movies that's led us to the conclusion that they're not meant for us. We don’t fit the bill. We don't randomly fall into creepy situations. We don't care about funny noises. We don't make willful decisions to just get up and go to secluded woodlands. Our spirits and ghosts are usually ancestors who lovingly watch over us, not torment us with guilt and life threatening apparitions. But Get Out finally creates a horror scenario that makes sense for people of color

The supporting actor, Rod, was mainly in the film for comic relief. And like other light-hearted characters before him, Rod defies lowly expectations and becomes the movie’s hero. His heroism helps shed a light on the oft-ignored strength of black male platonic relationships. He went to go get his boy from a mob of crazy white people by himself, knowing they were professional black man snatchers. That is love right there.

The greatest thing about Rod's character however, is the what he symbolizes. 

Rod is a PSA for black mental wellness. He maintained his suspicions that white people were making sex slaves out black men even when the rest of society was being seduced by ideas of post-racial harmony. Rod sees Chris's vulnerability when everyone else only sees dark, seemingly impenetrable skin. Chris tries to be what society says black men should be: impossible to abduct, impossible to conquer, impossible to possess. Chris tried to live up to the idea that black men are endless sources of power and strength; that black men are not allowed to be vulnerable, and Rod calls bullshit. 

Why is black psychological trauma unbelievable anyway? Who truly believes that black people do not experience severely distressing events that damage their mental state? And why are other people of color especially invested in dismissing our pain? If Chris had been white, those black and brown police officers would have been out searching every nook and cranny to find him. 

Get Out shows why we cannot continue to allow white people to call us crazy and laugh at our pain. There is a point when humor isn’t enough. Masking our pain into jokes cannot heal us.

As minorities, we are trained to believe that we are above psychological damage, that our torment is simply a byproduct of having radiant skin. 

To be fair, psychological trauma can make the simplicity of breathing a hazard. That's probably why it took the protagonist more than half of the film to realize that he was in trouble. Even then, he still held on to the belief that whiteness would recognize his survival before his pleasure. He really thought that a white woman would save him.

Why do we continue to plead for whiteness to save us from the torture they designed? They want our gifts but not our pain. They have no idea the depths of despair that lurks beneath our placid, cool faces. 

Truthfully, we don’t either, because if we did, we wouldn’t allow each other to suffer in silence. We must shatter the myth that blackness can absorb harm and remain whole. Black people break. And we must allow ourselves enough room to love and mend. 

Instead of finding new ways to build stronger blackness or demanding that blackness is indestructible, we need new approaches to identifying and acknowledging everyday black psychological trauma. 

Get Out is rejuvenating. It shows the vulnerability of blackness and demands that we get the word out about black psychological trauma.

Shout out to Mental Health America and all the other mental health support organizations. If you or someone you love is in trouble help them Get Out. Find resources at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/finding-help

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