Discovering and becoming comfortable with one’s identity is arguably our most arduous undertaking as human beings. In a world that is obsessed with categorization, becoming content with our individual abnormalities can be exceedingly difficult.
This journey is further compounded by race – an illegitimate construct that was, according to Professor Barbara J. Fields of Columbia University, created by Americans of European descent during the era of the American revolution as a way of resolving the contradiction between a natural right to freedom and the fact of slavery. As a result of this creation, Black identity has suffered tremendously, as identity issues and inferiority complexes have seeped deep into the Black psyche. But thankfully, efforts to shed light upon these previously under-discussed and painful topics in our society’s culture have become increasingly common.
Jordan Peele’s Get Out was a brilliant depiction of contemporary components of race in America – whether in regards to the complexities of interracial relationships or white supremacy or Black identity [in white environments]. The film used the concept of “the sunken place” as an exceptional metaphor for limited [social] consciousness and the power of racism and white supremacy.
In the film, the protagonist Chris was kept mentally and physically paralyzed in “the sunken place” by Missy Armitage’s usage of a spoon and tea cup. She was able to hypnotize Chris by redirecting his attention to his failures (i.e. smoking or not saving his mom from dying) to keep him captive. This is an integral element of white supremacy and currently often comes in the form of mass media.
Whether we would like to admit this truth or not, every Black person in America (and arguably the world) has found themselves in “the sunken place” at some point in their lives. This is simply another unfortunate result of colonialism, racism and white supremacy. The length of time in this stunted consciousness state can of course vary greatly – being as brief as slightly changing one’s natural voice or mannerisms in certain [white] social settings or as long as denouncing your heritage and referring to slaves as “immigrants.”
“The sunken place” was used in the film as a way to debilitate Chris and keep him restricted in preparation for the coagula surgery. This surgery would essentially put him in a permanent sunken place state and allow his mind to be completely controlled by the Armitages.
I was very close to my own metaphysical coagula surgery, but fortunately I, like Chris, was able to break free from the physical and mental confinement of “the sunken place.” While Chris was able to use his wit and strength to break this imprisonment, mine came as a result of the costliest natural disaster in United States history.
The resounding message from Get Out is that one can never allow another to dictate how they act or view themselves.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I was attending an overwhelmingly majority (90-95%) white all-male catholic high school in New Orleans. Academically, it was exceptional as it had produced the top three national merit finalists in the state the year before I attended – and my mother sent me there despite being a social worker in New Orleans’ public school system for nearly twenty years at that time. While this concept may seem unique, it was somewhat common in New Orleans as the city still maintains the highest proportion of private school attendees in the country.
For some reason, despite being tested as gifted when I was five years old or skipping the third grade or always finishing at the top of my class prior to attending this school, I evolved into a horrible student once I was there. During my two full years there, I consistently struggled to maintain a 2.0 grade point average and was constantly in detention for infractions such as un-shined shoes and crooked nametags.
These struggles severely impacted my identity and confidence as I would frequently come home to my parents and tell them that I was “inferior” and that they “had to accept that I was stupid and mediocre.” The white supremacy disease had severely infected me and taken me to a very deep part of “the sunken place” - to the point that I was vehemently contesting my racial inferiority to a mother who was born in the first independent Black nation in the world and a father who was a former member of the Nation of Islam.
Thankfully, Hurricane Katrina was the camera flash that my soul needed to set me on a new path out of “the sunken place.” I was forced to relocate and attend a multicultural public high school in Shreveport, Louisiana where I excelled socially and academically after discovering the beauty of my individuality. I was also able to recognize my true potential and the limitations that certain social constructs such as race can attempt to place on people. This is the type of awakening that many members of the Black community in America need as we work to correct the effects of destructive false narratives born from hundreds of years of systemic transgressions.
But what would have happened had I stayed at my New Orleans high school and continued to exist in an environment that was destructing my identity? What will continue to happen to people, particularly those of color, if they allow their identity to be dictated by others?
No matter what your race, gender, creed or sexuality - one resounding message from Get Out is that one can never allow another to dictate how they act or view themselves. And this message is even more imperative for Black people as we work to rid ourselves of a now 398-year old affliction.