Warning: This diary contains spoilers.
As I interpret Get Out, the fantasy for White Americans is the myth of the enviable Black body. To be sure, throughout American history, Whites have destroyed the virile and intelligent (male) Black body, retaining only that which was docile and/or brutally strong. This was what slavery necessitated. Beauty, too, was secondarily cultivated, for White masters had free rein with Black female bodies, and they sought their own manifestations and evaluations of beauty in that act. So: brute strength in males, beauty in females, docility in both, and—ideally—intelligence in neither. Thus every stereotype was born in these flimsy fantasies.
But Whites, in their way, admire the Black body, and this shades into envy, even to the point of destructive anger at not being able to fully identify with the Black body. This is the Frankensteinesque nightmare of Get Out, where the protagonist—a young Black male with which the audience is made to identify—is pursued exclusively as a vessel into which a White brain would reside, a mere repository, a living vat by which these two separatenesses could conjoin: Black brawn and White intellect, finally one and the same, through the vilest and most nefarious of means: transplantation.
That there were intelligent Blacks in the land was a fact that could never be denied, only destroyed. So it was imperative to rid reality of the intelligent Black. This was, insofar as chattel slavery was concerned, the worst husbandry and most barbaric; but it not only incinerated the genetic source of the offending intelligence, it induced docile behavior in the survivors through its terrorism, thereby reproducing the stereotypy which it desired.
The problem, as Hannah Arendt aptly stated (though in a somewhat different context), was what to do with the refugee once he was in the country. How could you remove or rid yourself of him?
It would seem that the very undeportability of the stateless person should have prevented a government’s expelling him; but since the man without a state was “an anomaly for whom there is no appropriate niche in the framework of the law”—an outlaw by definition—he was completely at the mercy of police . . . .
All discussions about the refugee problems revolved around this one question: How can the refugee be made deportable again?1
For White America, the Black body tied to the land made the land self-improving and thus like a living body itself; when this was true, the Black body was cherished. When abolition came and decoupled Blacks from the land, both the land and the Black body depreciated in the White eye: the land far less valuable, and the Black body—now a person—despised beyond value, worthless, not even deserving of pity. How to rid the land of these internal refugees? There was no way. Repatriation went nowhere. The only remedy left to the barbarous was to roast them, hoist them, rape them, and let them die in segregated places, in ghettoes, out of sight.
With slavery abolished, the only course left for White America was to institute as much distance between them and this benighted people. White flight took many forms, and it was this type of racism—aversive racism—that defined the United States for much of the twentieth century.
The aversive racist keeps his distance, both physically and morally. He does not concretely touch those black bodies so coveted by dominative racists. … [D]istance becomes a singularly effective mode of defensive adaptation.2
Redlining matured into segregated suburbia, with its restrictions on multilevel (mixed) housing, to keep the riffraff out; anti-miscegenation laws were ruled illegal in the ‘60s, but Whites found a way to enforce their norms that forbade commingling—instead of sharing the commons, such as swimming pools, they made a barren wasteland, filling them with concrete or draining them instead. There would be no such thing as the public good as long as that public included the Black. Higher education at state universities would no longer be gratuitous. Public schools would be downgraded and degraded. Whiteness coalesced behind iron gates and private residences.
Still, the Black bodies—now people—persisted. And one rose so high in a meteoric rise that he became President, and certain White people lost their everloving minds.
To them, this was the reprise of all the terrible stories they had heard from when they were wee lads and lasses, of a dank history where the ignoble Black had been propped up by the Union and made to rule over the Whites, in contravention to nature. Oh, it was terrible! How could this calamity happen twice in this nation’s history? Reconstruction was an unmitigated failure, they knew; it’s what they had been taught and what their parents had been taught. Reconstruction had set ignorant Blacks over righteous Whites; surely it was unnatural and we could not endure it again.
As W. E. B. Du Bois clearly demonstrated, those stories were lies, promulgated as foul propaganda during the era where Northern and Southern Whites set to reconciliation. The bargain struck was to agree that the War had been a mistake, and that the only ones to bear blame would be the very victims of slavery’s plight: the freedmen.3 They would assume responsibility for all the fraud of the time, even though they could not have effected the scale and scope of the degeneration that occurred in the wake of war. But they were great scapegoats. Fantastic specimens.
For the Whites, then, especially Southern Whites, these stories were regarded as absolutely true. They were overthrown only in the aftermath of the moral failure of the eugenics movement after World War II as well as that of the new era of civil rights, where a more correct view of the Civil War would be taught to generations of schoolchildren. The old propaganda would not be their first solid food.4 They would learn of the terrors and viciousness of the Old South.5,6,7
But fifty years is a long time to fail to teach basic civics; and in all that time, White America has continued to seek distance, to separate, to self-segregate in gated communities and private schools. Along with that retreat, conservative policies devastated efforts to equalize opportunities in housing, in education, in employment—in all the areas needed for social equality to take root, if only in the perception of White folk. Those are the only ones who have kept dragging their feet for so long.
In the meantime, the old stereotypes have resurfaced with a vengeance, spurred by two-bit television shows such as Cops, a modern-day Birth of a Nation which endeavored to show White saviors of the city clamping down on what appears to be nearly exclusively Black crime. That show and others did their hidden, incalculable damage, until now we have Dylann Roof’s acolyte publishing a manifesto detailing the paranoia of a great replacement, and that mass murderer apologizing to a White victim caught in his killing spree; now we have a candidate for Senate in Arizona flatly blaming mass shootings on “Black people, frankly,” and another public figure claiming outright that Black people are simply naturally inferior to Whites.
That we have circled back to abject racism in this country does not bode well. Republicans refuse to denounce these racist conspiracy theories and will not work an iota toward curbing availability of gun possession and ownership, even among the unstable. Meanwhile, we have an impending Supreme Court decision that means to strike a woman’s right to seek abortion with one of the main rationales being that the stocks of babies for adoption are not plentiful enough. This is the rationale mirrored in the Great Replacement theory itself and that of the neo-Nazi Fourteen Words. Let’s be clear.
What we’re seeing now, with the revivification of January 6th with the Select Committee’s unflinching scrutiny, is the battle for this ground of which worldview America will adopt. To which do we subscribe? Will it be a re-adoption of the old propaganda where slavery never was a cause of strife and thus has no legacy to impart? Will it be a place where eugenics is taken up as forward thinking, and so the populace sink back to forced sterilizations? Will miscegenation again become a rallying point toward generating countless lynchings?
Make no mistake: this is what the fomenters of January 6—both the masterminds and the minions—want to restore. They want to go back to those antebellum fantasies, to a deference society where whiteness is rewarded for whiteness’ sake; where it is expected and celebrated that a man would bellow at a fellow American “You’ll never be White,” then pursue on foot to threaten that person with a boxcutter.
This is what those people want: a racial society far and away worse than what even the Nazis had organized and orchestrated. Because here it would be on home soil. (Remember, the Nazis looked to the American South when crafting their laws regarding Rassenhygiene.) All that those fomenters have to do is reawaken those latent fears and hostilities, some of which have been passed, generation to generation, like heirlooms; some of which are being uploaded into individual consciousnesses nightly, one cable “news” broadcast at a time.
What these people threaten would be worse than what the world has ever seen.
This is why the January 6 Committee matters. Everything is on the line. Everything is up for grabs. If the work of the Committee is somehow ignored or pushed back from consideration, it is unclear what keeps the nation from sinking into the absolute depths of depravity.
Speaking of the “friendly fascism” of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Joel Kovel, in the fresh introduction of his book White Racism, said, “In 1969, I do not think I could have imagined such a concatenation of right-wing reaction within the facade of the democratic ethos.” He penned that a little more than a decade from the book’s original publication. Ten years is not a long time. I know that each of us gets only so many decades, but really—and especially in terms of a historical glance—ten years is not much at all. But Reconstruction lasted only about so long, and after its collapse the country underwent a change that stretched more than seventy years. Nazis took Germany from liberal democracy to genocidal machine in fewer than nine.
Where will we be in the next ten years? This is the question that faces us, and we must squarely undertake its implications, or it may be we who are undertaken.
1 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, pp. 283, 284.
2 Joel Kovel, White Racism, pp. 60, 61.
3 “But the South now began to use the diplomacy so badly lacking in its previous leadership since the war. Adroitly it stopped attacking abolitionists and even carpetbaggers, and gradually transferred all the blame for post-war misgovernment to the Negroes. The Negro vote and graft was indissolubly linked in the public mind by incessant propaganda. Race repulsion, race hate, and race pride were increased by every subtle method, until the Negro and his friends were on the defensive and the Negro himself almost convinced of his own guilt. Negro haters and pseudo-scientists raised their heads and voices in triumph.” W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880, p. 624.
4 “Grounded in such elementary and high school teaching, an American youth attending college today [in 1935] would learn from current textbooks of history that the Constitution recognized slavery; that the chance of getting rid of slavery by peaceful methods was ruined by the Abolitionists; … that Harriet Beecher Stowe brought on the Civil War; that the assault on Charles Sumner was due to his ‘coarse invective’ against a South Carolina Senator; and that Negroes were the only people to achieve emancipation with no effort on their part. That Reconstruction was a disgraceful attempt to subject white people to ignorant Negro rule…. In other words, he would in all probability complete his education without any idea of the part which the black race has played in America; of the tremendous moral problem of abolition; of the cause and meaning of the Civil War and the relation which Reconstruction had to democratic government and the labor movement today.” Ibid., pp. 712-713.
5 “’The whites do not think it wrong to shoot, stab or knock down Negroes on slight provocation. It is actually thought a great point among certain classes to be able to boast that one has killed or beaten a Negro.’” Ibid., p. 386 (quoting Simkins and Woody).
6 “’From many parishes we have almost daily accounts of violence and outrage—in many cases most brutal and revolting murders—without any effort on the part of the people to prevent or punish them.’” Ibid., p. 473 (quoting Warmoth).
7 “The Secretary of State report[ed] to the Texas Senate that 905 homicides had taken place in the two years ending in 1870, and he believed that if all the facts were known, the total would be 1,500. In 1870, after the new state government was organized, it was officially reported that 2,970 persons charged with murder were evading arrest in the state, and two to seven murders were often attributed to the same individual.” Ibid., p. 677.
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