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Abdul-Jabbar writes: "What startles some viewers of Get Out is that the biggest threat to the young black protagonist isn't the predictable redneck leftovers from Deliverance, but the wealthy white liberals who probably donate to the ACLU and tearfully tell their friends to watch Moonlight."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (photo: unknown)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (photo: unknown)


Why 'Get Out' Is 'Invasion of the Black Body Snatchers' for the Trump Era

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hollywood Reporter

17 March 17

 

The horror hit's family of "chipper Kellyanne  Conways whitesplaining away racism" reveals the modern face of public bigotry, writes the THR columnist and NBA legend, who recalls his own past as the "Good Negro" of white society.

recently watched the highly entertaining thriller Get Out and the deeply disturbing documentary I Am Not Your Negro. Turns out they're the same movie. They both deal with the subjugation of the unpopular voice — whether black, female, gay, Muslim, Jewish or immigrant — through the enslavement of the body. Get Out uses the medical-horror genre, and I Am Not Your Negro uses ex-pat African-American writer James Baldwin's passionate outrage at the martyrdom of his three murdered friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. But both films explore the differences between the end of legal slavery and the lingering effects of institutional slavery. The urgent message in both is that unless the body is free from others trying to control its actions and free from constant threat of injury or death, that body, that person, that people are still enslaved.

Get Out's well-deserved 99 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and huge financial success have as much to do with its sly, subversive message as its spooky ride. Written and directed by the immensely talented Jordan Peele, the film embodies and expresses the African-American experience with infrastructural racism in a way that blacks hope whites will better understand after seeing it. Most important is the idea that when you live under constant physical threat of violence — whether from police, the legal system or racist groups — that in itself is a way to control people. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his blunt and incisive book Between the World and Me, describes this daily dilemma for people of color: "Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body. We could not get out."

What startles some viewers of Get Out is that the biggest threat to the young black protagonist isn't the predictable redneck leftovers from Deliverance, but the wealthy white liberals who probably donate to the ACLU and tearfully tell their friends to watch Moonlight. This echoes something the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, where his body had been locked up for marching for freedom: "I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice."

Why is that relevant today? Because 54 years later, we're still facing the same issues of imprisoning and enslaving the body, through direct and indirect violence as well as through limiting educational and job opportunities. The charming Armitage family of the movie may seem liberal, but they could just as easily be Trump surrogates, a family of chipper Kellyanne Conways, whitesplaining away racism.

A couple weeks ago, President Trump announced that he was "the least racist person" during a press conference in which he openly demonstrated clueless racism by bristling at a black reporter's question of whether or not he would be including the Congressional Black Caucus in discussions about issues related to the African-American community. Which he then followed up by aggressively suggesting the reporter should set up the meeting, implying because she's black she must know them personally. What makes Trump's pronouncement of his lack of racism so stunning is that it occurred soon after the U.S. Justice Department abandoned its longstanding fight against the Texas voter ID law, which is a blatant attempt to restrict poor and minority voters. This week, the GOP revealed its health care plan to replace Obamacare, a key provision of which is to defund Planned Parenthood as punishment for providing abortion services, despite the fact that none of its federal funding is used for abortions. Texas legislators are discussing a bill that permits doctors to lie to women about the health of their fetuses to discourage them from seeking an abortion. These are ways to control women's bodies, putting them in physical and financial danger while reducing their value to society by proclaiming they aren't smart enough to choose their own course. And Trump's administration has decided to withdraw the previous administration's support for the rights of transgender students at public schools, further imprisoning those children in their bodies.

Slave shackles by any other name.

It's horrifying watching poor Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) paralyzed in that chair while his will and body are being stolen, because growing up, I felt as paralyzed as him. Watching James Baldwin struggle with the frustrations of black bodies being destroyed both physically and mentally in the documentary reminded me of my own struggles as a young black man in the '60s. I was the poster child for the Good Boy, which to many Americans meant Good Negro. Everyone was telling black children that if you studied hard and did what you were told, you could be successful and welcomed into white society. I studied hard and earned good grades. I practiced hard and earned a good living. But I knew as a child that my name and religion were not my own. Alcindor was the Christian slave monger who owned my ancestors. I was paralyzed by that past, by white America's expectations for how a black man should behave, by how much gratitude I should constantly express for allowing me to succeed. I overcame that paralysis when I adopted a religion and name that I felt connected me more to my cultural roots. Reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time inspired me to find my own voice. When I used that voice to speak about political and social injustice, some Americans responded with hatred and death threats. Ironically, I was just doing what people came to America to do since it was founded: reinvent myself according to my beliefs rather than someone else's.

Raoul Peck's unforgettable I Am Not Your Negro chronicles the civil rights struggles of the '60s, while Get Out shows how the public racism of that time has hidden itself by burrowing like a ravenous tapeworm into the bowels of America, growing fatter each year as it feeds off good intentions and bad faith.

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+31 # norman markowitz 2017-03-17 10:55
Great, Kareem. In an age when college football and basketball coaches have salaries larger than whole departments of colleges, you really are the best example of what the NCAA touts as a "scholar athlete" that I know
The real horror is the use of past triumphs to deny present realities. Lincoln "freed the slaves" and the issue was settled for all time. Lincoln became as Sinclair Lewis called him in the 1920s "the patron saint of America" as Klansmen roamed the country committing atrocities in support of dejure and de facto segregation.
Martin Luther King died to end segregation and the issue was settled, while police brutality, mass encarceration, deepening poverty and economic and social,inequali ty, all with a clear and powerful racist subtext were denied by Clinton Democrats and used consciously by Reagan-Bush Republicans.
This led directly to the election of Trump and the establishment of the most open racist administration since the end of the Civil War, not counting Andrew Johnson who beat impeachment by one vote and Woodrow Wilson, whose overt and destructive racism was over shadowed by his attempts to enact structural regulatory economic reforms and his policies leading to U.S.involvement in WWI.
Now as you suggest the horror of "Get Out" threatens many people whose ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, and political beliefs and associations put them on a permanent enemies list, not just people of color. That is why we must unite to "Get Trump Out"
 
 
+7 # Glen 2017-03-17 13:27
Excellent Mr. Markowitz. You covered the history nicely and the hypocrisy. However, it is doubtful that uniting to "Get Trump Out" is possible. Americans are far too divided and angry to unify with purpose.

As offensive as it is, deadly, maddening, the actions of this new "government" and their backers are extraordinarily powerful.
 
 
+7 # madame de farge 2017-03-18 14:23
Two things, I believe MLK was executed to prevent his War on Poverty. I also believe that it is a class war we are in and the top 10% are doing very well and along with another 15% of culture warriors, they elected Bush and Trump, both little boys who could not find their way out of a paper bag...
 
 
0 # Robbee 2017-03-20 19:54
Quoting norman markowitz:
The real horror is the use of past triumphs to deny present realities. Lincoln "freed the slaves" and the issue was settled for all time. Lincoln became as Sinclair Lewis called him in the 1920s "the patron saint of America" as Klansmen roamed the country committing atrocities in support of dejure and de facto segregation.
Martin Luther King died to end segregation and the issue was settled, while police brutality, mass encarceration, deepening poverty and economic and social,inequality, all with a clear and powerful racist subtext were denied by Clinton Democrats and used consciously by Reagan-Bush Republicans.
This led directly to the election of Trump and the establishment of the most open racist administration since the end of the Civil War.

- and yet! no one on RSN, but robbee, dare identify rump's core, reliable, unquestioning voter group - "white baptists!"

"the horror of "Get Out" threatens many people whose ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, and political beliefs and associations put them on a permanent enemies list, not just people of color. That is why we must unite to "Get Trump Out""

in unity is strength! - in disunity is horror!
 
 
+27 # sfreeman 2017-03-17 11:09
As a white, southern university political science professor, I tried to tell my students for almost 40 years racism was not dead in our nation. Even thought I taught at an overwhelmingly minority institution in an area with a long history of racism and race violence, most simply did not believe me. They could not grasp the concept of institutional racism, even though many of them had relatives in prison; even though they knew the U.S. prison population was disproportionat ely minorities. Sadly, the indoctrination and conditioning system of schools and media works extremely well.
 
 
+19 # Troubadour 2017-03-17 11:10
As always Mr. Kareem Jabar, you are a voice of reason in a world of horror that half the population chooses not to acknowledge. Thanks for paying attention.
 
 
+14 # Vermont Grandma 2017-03-17 11:21
Thank you, Dr. Abdul-Jabbar. It has been many, many decades since I read Baldwin's The Fire Next Time & later Malcolm X's autobiography. I was a white co-ed in the 60s & early 70s when these & other books articulating the need for deep change in how our our black brothers and sisters are treated. I am deeply grateful that these sources of insight were available to me and that I partook of them.
However, despite an abiding concern about racism over the years, until I read Peggy McIntosh's 1988 piece, Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege, in the early 2000s, I did not grasp the paucity of my understanding as a white person. When a person is not personally affected by racism, as it the case for most people with pink skin like mine, it is all too easy & common for needed change to be put on the back burner. Sadly this occurs even for those white folks who tell themselves that they care & are engaged in the fight against racism.
And now here we are in to the first quarter of 2017, decades since the Black Panthers presented a powerfully different view of black men in society, with racism heightened at the very top of the executive branch & the failure to address the disparate outcome (and frequency) of police encounters based on race.
Although grieving and dispirited at where we are now, you remind us that racism affects our brothers and sisters of color every day, & that we whose skin color leaves us not so afflicted cannot let that grief and enui overcome us.
 
 
+11 # Femihumanist 2017-03-17 13:36
I find this especially interesting today because last night I was discussing the Israel-Palestin e situation with a friend. He said that to a large extent, Jewish Americans are telling Palestinian Americans how to run their end of our movement.

This made sense to me. I can remember men trying to tell women how best to run our movement. I remember when (at least where I lived) a very White NAACP was explaining to very African-America n CORE members how best to run their movement.

It's interesting how history repeats itself and it's true that those of us who contribute to ACLU don't see it.
 
 
+1 # NAVYVET 2017-03-18 17:22
Michelle Alexander explained this lag in the ACLU in her incredibly informative book, THE NEW JIM CROW.

If there is anyone out there who hasn't read it by now, please do!
 
 
+2 # NAVYVET 2017-03-18 17:26
Outstanding article! I turned 81 a few days ago, have supported the rights of people of color since my teens, but there's always something new to learn. Every time I read one of Mr Abdul-Jabbar's essays I come away with new understanding.
 
 
+9 # pam 2017-03-17 17:20
I was always impressed by the depth and clarity of thought that Kareem exhibited, I wish we could convince him to run for political office. He's powerful and there are enough of us who remember him from his Power Memorial Days .
 
 
+7 # JayaVII 2017-03-18 10:40
Kareem is indeed the best thing we have going. I too hope he runs for office, not as a Dimocrat, but as a leader of some new, uncompromised and genuinely progressive party.
 
 
+1 # Pearlbell 2017-03-18 18:43
Well I just turned 82. Born in Oklahoma, fled the dust bowl, seems always a life of toil and trouble and usually disappointed in most events and experiences I have witnessed, always late with a good retort to sudden enlightenment of social and racial problems.

Military? Yes, Army and thanks to the GI Bill for undergrad; a scholarship for grad work; entrepreneur in family business ventures; Environmental Scientist with State & Federal employment and retired on modest pension.

I obviously missed something in all those years, but I worked in and around all types including Blacks, Latinos, Jews, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese and I guess, likely for being so naïve, I missed their struggles.

Maybe at our social level problems then were somewhat basic, but now a certain degree of sophistication has been stirred into the pot of discontent and it just may be overcooked a bit, almost beyond any lay understanding of the problems at hand.

Social injustice, like war and a festering sore just might take care of itself if people and politics quit picking at it.
 

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