Since its official release in February 2017, Jordan Peele’s "Get Out has dominated American racial conversations with its situating of white obsession with the black body in the horror genre. Even more horrific is the feeling of intense desire driving this obsession in the film, a desire that makes white characters marvel at blackness in a way that would make even the most fanatic Afrocentrist blush. At the same time, accompanying this ever-present desire is Peele’s artistic foray into popular theories concerning authentic and imagined black identities. Although the authenticity of the self is a concept that has been debated for ages, non-black imaginings of the black self are ubiquitous in the film, and dangerously so, as is the case in the real world. In Get Out, whites manipulate the identities of their black surrogates with the result that every aspect of the surrogate’s former identity reflects how whites imagine blacks. Through his representation of the relationship between desire and black surrogacy in the film, this theory of personal incongruence between blackness and white imaginings of blackness becomes Peele’s main social commentary, calling attention to the ubiquity of these imaginings. To illustrate this, I pay special attention to supporting characters in Get Out, tracing desire and its various horrific implications throughout the film.

Early in the film, Peele establishes desire, not hate, as the reason for the eventual destruction of black bodies in the film. As Chris expresses anxiety regarding the parents of Rose Armitage (his white girlfriend) not being aware of his racial identity, Rose assures him that her father would have "voted for Obama a third time". Chris fears that hatred will ruin the trip to the Armitage estate. Yet, Rose denies racial hatred at all, using the example of voting for Obama as evidence of her family’s acceptance of blackness. In a later scene, Rose drives Chris to the Armitage home in a red car; with red being a common allusion to desire in the film, in this case- it literally being a vehicle for the greater Armitage plan.

Dually importantly, Rose snatches Chris’ cigarette and throws it out the window. Then, the camera jumps to Rod, Chris’ best friend, smoking at the airport during a break. The juxtaposition of Chris- slim, relatively in shape, constantly urged by Rose to quit smoking – and Rod – visibly overweight by conventional standards, comfortably smoking on his own behalf – is not just foreshadowing the desire to have a healthy black body to inhabit, but also the personal incongruence driven by desire that will soon come in the film. Because the black body is the object of white desire in Get Out, white characters cannot help but point out to Chris when they believe his body could be put to use best if he changed, oftentimes conceding their own inadequacy in the process.

At the dinner table on his first night in the Armitage household, Chris meets Jeremy for the first time who does not hesitate to chide Chris for the underutilization of his body. A mildly intoxicated, blonde-haired and blue-eyed Jeremy states how Chris could be a “f*cking beast” if he stops “pussyfooting around” and trains hard, given his “frame and genetic makeup”. At the same time, Jeremy emphasizes that the mind and “being a few moves ahead” are the most important aspects of this fighting form – not the body. Then, the brother attempts to challenge Chris to a sparring match, eager to demonstrate that his white mind is more powerful than Chris’ black body. With a stern calling of his name, Jeremy’s mother, Missy, thwarts what would have ruined the Armitages’ plan for Chris. Jeremy did this all to prove he could beat Chris despite his natural black gifts.

This scene illuminates Jeremy’s feelings of inadequacy as a young white man, especially since this character is one of the few who does not openly desire the black body for themselves but instead help satisfies the desire of their skinfolk as essential participants in the Armitage operation. The notion that a racialized mind or brain even exists is ludicrous, but Jeremy is so hypnotized by his own personal racial sentiments that he is willing to subscribe to any belief to feel superior. No one, not even national scientific organizations or genome projects in their ostensible whiteness, could eradicate the fact that “race holds no scientific validity” for whites in Get Out. When thinking about himself, Jeremy forgoes perceiving whiteness as social, as is common in studies of whiteness. Whiteness only became a biological thing because blackness became a biological thing; because a white person desired the black body, because he felt so crushed by the limits of his whiteness that he had to redefine it to revalidate his racial superiority.

Jeremy refuses to be – Peele stresses his inability to simply be – as his being a white male has literally always been and will always be “shaped by the presence of the racial other”. Since childhood, he was a part of the Armitage operation, evident in the infomercial “Behold the Coagula” that is played for Chris while he awaits his surgery. Jeremy studies medicine at the tacit behest of his father, knowing that he will eventually become the next lead surgeon of the Armitage family.

                                                                                          Photo: Get Out 

He takes an eerie pleasure in the conquest of black male victims. Whether choking and successfully abducting Andre (later Logan) at the beginning of the film or getting excited at Chris’ hard fall at the end, Jeremy’s personal inadequacy overshadows his willingness to strictly abide by the Armitage standards. As Zadie Smith asserts, Get Out “reveals race as the fundamental American lens through which everything is seen” (“Getting In and Out”). I do not intend to induce sympathy for Jeremy as a character or an allegory for young white men, nor do I wish to promote color-blindness. Rather, I call attention to the monumental degree that whiteness is predicated upon the desire of the black body in Get Out. Even if not an individual’s own personal desire, that of other whites still reinforces this dynamic. Toni Morrison’s musings on the white self in Playing in the Dark, then, are useful here in drawing the connection between desire and black surrogacy in the movie.

In Get Out, the black body literally becomes the vehicle by which whites know or will know themselves as free, desirable, and powerful versus enslaved, repulsive, and helpless. Jeremy’s feelings of inadequacy affirm the realness and likelihood of the latter three sentiments Morrison invokes. Peele provides other characters who exhibit these feelings nevertheless. When Chris decides to approach Walter, the surrogate of Roman Armitage, outside in one scene, Chris remarks, “Sup man. They workin’ you good out here, huh?” to which Walter replies, “Nothing I don’t want to be doing”. Walter was performing manual labor, chopping firewood. When Chris meets rich non-blacks who unapologetically appraise his body at a gathering, Logan remarks how the African American experience has been “very good” despite becoming a homebody, later adding, “the chores have become my sanctuary”. Logan is rich, like Walter. Besides enjoying their newfound physical mobility, Walter and Logan have the means to do anything else that a black body would allow them to do. They do not have to work any type of job to support themselves like other normal black characters, yet they willingly and cheerfully engage in physical and domestic labor.

Nelson Deets, the older husband of a younger looking Elisa, looks on mesmerized as his wife feels Chris’ biceps, commenting in the third person solely on Chris’ physical attributes and sexual potential. “So…is it true? Is it better?” Elisa asks Rose as a gaunt Nelson, in a wheelchair, and with breathing tubes through his nostrils, maintains a lengthy and fixed gaze on Chris’ body. The acquisition of this black body would likely mean Nelson’s ability to satisfy his wife’s sexual appetite and quench her racially pornographic fantasies, a fact that both are aware of. At the same gathering, Rose introduces Chris to Gordon and Emily Greene. Gordon eagerly shakes Chris’ hand, complimenting him on his strong grip. The conversation pivots toward golf, as Gordon asks Chris about his golf experience, Chris denying any adeptness at it as Gordon laments over how he “can’t quite swing the hips” like he used to. Gordon is a former, long-time professional golfer. After Gordon professes his love for Tiger Woods and urges that Chris exhibit his golfing form, Gordon’s acquisition of a black body would mean the restoration of his golfing ability, which was destroyed by old age.

Each of these scenes in Get Out are cinematic manifestations of the self-reflexive nature of whiteness that Morrison highlights in Playing in the Dark. While white characters’ motives for securing a black body for themselves are important, equally as significant is how each utilizes or plans to utilize the black body in light of becoming a new person. White characters in the film don’t simply desire a black body for personal reasons, acquire it, and live again. That would be an oversimplification. Instead, they desire, acquire, and inhabit their new black body in a way that reflects how they view themselves in said body. That is, the new identities that white characters create through black surrogates reflect white imaginings of how the black body should be used and black identity performed.

Evidently, no white woman wants to inhabit a black male body. No white man wants to inhabit a black female body. When Chris meets Logan for the first time, Logan’s wife tears him away, alleging that another couple wanted to talk to Logan. Yet, in one of few scenes that allude to the staged nature of the gathering at the Armitage home, every white couple pauses when Chris retreats to his bedroom. No one talks. They stare towards the ceiling instead as Chris’ body is the real reason for the occasion. Logan and his wife already had what they needed – a black male body – and thus extended interaction with Chris was unnecessary, especially given others’ interests in how Logan was faring in his new black body. Even more useful for explaining personal incongruence, though, would be a close reading of Get Out’s sole black female surrogate, Georgina, through a sexual lens. She is feminine and auxiliary, yes. Indeed, she is a strong, yet vulnerable black woman whose strength alone makes Marianne’s surrogacy anything but peaceful. However, Georgina’s queerness when she was her “authentic self” – a black woman in a black female body – has not received enough analytical attention at all.

Firstly, it is plausible to assume that she would have been shown the same “Behold the Coagula” infomercial that was played for Chris, as it functions as “psychological prenup” for the surrogate. Thus, if Georgina has enjoyed “physical advantages” like Chris, and whites are solely interested in said advantages, Marianne would have only chosen a black female body out of preference. While Marianne wishes to perform her version of womanhood in Georgina’s black body, she does not acknowledge Georgina’s former non-heterosexuality. This leads us to Georgina’s picture with Rose when they were in a relationship together pre-operation. Of course, the photo itself is shocking to Chris, it being one of the final epiphanies urging Chris to “Get out!” However, a closer look at the photo illuminates the rings on Rose’s left and right ring fingers, a traditionally man’s and woman’s wedding ring respectively, alluding to an intimate relationship in both cases.

                                                                                            Photo: Get Out 

Rose breaks gender norms here regarding what role she plays in the same-sex relationship (of course they are both women, but the different types of rings trouble the dismissal of this question). She has no problem reverting to dating black men, as evidenced by the many other pictures she has with her former beaus. Nevertheless, Georgina’s non-heterosexuality is erased – not even replaced, but erased. What would expectedly be the only black-black relationship in the film is severed, as Walter and Georgina are never even hinted at enjoying any type of intimacy, as might have been anticipated given the Armitage grandparents’ relationship when they were in their normal white bodies.

Considering that both grandparents grew up during times of eugenics and Nazism, Georgina and Walter’s separation begs the question of why. Collins’ analysis of black relationships includes how “fear lies in loving too deeply elements of oneself found in the other,” as dominant constructions of black sexuality “limit the ability to form nonsexualized friendships”. The only such friendship that would disqualify this is Chris and Rod’s, though Rod’s conventional undesirability makes him unthreatening. Otherwise, nearly all the characters in Get Out, save Rod and detective Latoya, are or were romantically involved with (a white) someone. The desexualization of Georgina happens because of Marianne’s white imagining of (black) womanhood. This is important because it delineates how the white imagination can supersede “authentic” black identities.

Performing an imagined identity, any aspect of which you had never possessed, is socially dangerous anyway. Throughout Get Out, it is obvious and perhaps irritatingly comical to most audiences as much as to Chris that white people do not understand blackness. There are overt instances of this, like when Logan awkwardly shakes Chris’ fist with an open palm. Perhaps the most striking and ongoing example, though, is the film’s representation of a corporal and personal colonization. Before the audience is even made aware of the Armitages’ plot, Rose’s parents welcome Chris into the home. The lighting is warm and makes the audience feel secure, as Get Out’s cinematographer, Toby Oliver, maintains – despite the looming figure of Walter’s black body and the red car ruining the soothing ty of the scene’s ultimate shot. When Chris first sits down and talks with Missy, Dean, and Rose in the family room, over the parents’ shoulders is a copy of a vintage New World map, vintage because of the lack of relatively accurate scale and completion as far as the audience can tell.

                                                                                           Photo: Get Out 

This invocation of colonialism continues with the Coagula method itself and its purported purpose. Roman Armitage explains to Chris in his infomercial how the “natural gifts of the black body” combined with the white psyche could lead humankind to “something greater – something perfect”. The blind white man who wants Chris’ body subsequently explains how black surrogates will be able to “see and hear,” but their existence will be as passengers. Playing partially on Césaire, Peele elucidates how this literal form of colonization dehumanizes the whites involved in it, they easing their consciences not by loathing the black body, but by fetishizing it and grossly over-exalting their actions. Teju Cole points out this complex as well, the black body serving as a backdrop onto which “white egos can be conveniently projected” (“The White Savior Industrial Complex”). Whites in Get Out are so narcissistic that they do not even care about the implications concerning having a black body in America. Mr. Hiroshi Tanaka, the only non-white who seeks to bid on Chris’ body, is the sole person who considers the possible repercussions of possessing such a body. During the Armitages’ gathering, he asks Chris, “Do you find that being African American is more of an advantage or disadvantage in the modern world?”. Tanaka’s only line in the film, it does not reveal Peele’s “biracial anxiety,” as White erroneously analyzed (“Return of the Get-Whitey Movie”). Most of the other white guests waste their short time with Chris salivating at what the colonizing of a black body might do for them. Tanaka’s involvement in the Armitage operation is still evil, but his inquiry suggests an acknowledgement of the need to understand how greater society treats blackness – an acknowledgement of how blind whites are because of the ubiquity of blackness in their world, the limitless extent to which it defines their lives, selves, and American being.

The Armitages’ misunderstanding of blackness in Get Out ends up being a fatal mistake for them. Like Jeremy, they rely too heavily on being “a few steps ahead” of the black people they prey on, underestimating their intelligence. Misunderstanding blackness, though, is not as terrifying as the inextricability of race and science in the film, which leads to a secret white order carrying out a mass surrogacy project unchecked. Peele makes the liberal’s mistake concrete, but Dorothy Roberts describes it clearly: viewing “the concept of biological race as a neutral scientific fact that can be put to good or bad use”. Confusing white imaginings of black health with supposedly objective fields of study is what we really need to get out of, which is a side effect of the application of such imaginings to every facet of American life. However, we lose sight of this fact through the inadequate analysis of peripheral characters in Get Out. Although useful have been such analyses in determining the look and feel of black identities in the black imagination, they ignore the importance of the ubiquity of white imaginings of blackness. Before we dismiss the Armitages’ beliefs as unrealistic pseudoscience, we need to recognize that the Armitages aren’t the only ones who believe that race is nature. Not human nature, not biological nature, nor nature of any kind. Race is none of these. Yet, he who does not understand its realness should get out as well, not for the sake of their own being, but rather for the person who will lose their body as a result.