The Sunken Place
Okay, I know I’m late. Everybody saw Get Out last year and I’m the last to cross the finish line, I understand. But listen, I finally conjured the courage to watch that shit like two weeks ago and biiiiiitchhhhhhhhhh.
I got fucked up.
There were a lot of things to get charged up about, from the observations it drew on regarding interracial dating, to the brilliant way they depicted subtle racism in every-day interactions with white people, but the thing I think they did best with, the thing that made me furiously type notes into my phone, was the impeccable portrayal of the effects of racism through the metaphor of the Sunken Place.
For those of you who have not watched Get Out (seriously what are you doing with your life? *acts like I saw it in theaters even though I just told you I just watched it*) there are going to be spoilers ahead so if you don’t want none, Get Out. (This may not be the last of these jokes.)
Okay so. Essentially the premise of the movie is that there is a quaint little neighborhood, I’d guess somewhere in the northeast (a thing that doesn’t matter at all), where an all-white population kidnaps black people, paralyzes them by taking them to the Sunken Place through hypnosis, and then assumes their bodies in these paralyzed states. When a person is in the Sunken Place, they’ve fallen beneath the floor, into this inner dimension where they’re trapped. On the outside it looks like the person is still present, and simply immobile. But on the inside, the person is standing in what seems to be a black hole, screaming for their life to come back to themselves, and high above them is a window to the world, out of reach, where they can see what’s going on but cannot act.
I watched this phenomenon and I was like, This Is Racism. This is exactly how racism functions, to take people to the Sunken Place. Let me explain:
Over the summer last year, I had a very unfortunate encounter with a very popular yoga studio. Unintentionally (though that means very little) I was made the target of some racist comments having to do with my hair. At the time when it happened, I felt shocked. Stunned. Even apologetic. I walked away from that encounter not super sure what had happened but fairly confident it was not okay. It wasn’t until I texted my friends about it that they could reflect back to me the truth of what happened: that shit was racist.
When I talked to my therapist about it afterwards, I mentioned that injuries from racism feel very unique and peculiar to any other kinds of injury. It’s not the same as simply being disliked or rejected; those things are encompassed but it goes deeper. My therapist (who is not white) pointed out that it feels like when something racist happens, you (general form) forget how to protect yourself. You’re stunned, shocked, paralyzed. Months later while watching this movie, that was the exact incident I recalled. The Sunken Place is the paralyzation of racism.
How many generations have been repeatedly and routinely undignified? How many people of color have been frozen into submission, had our rights, our senses of selves, stripped to take us to the Sunken Place where — and I think it not coincidence — we are looking UP to White people, to the White level. Like how for most of my life I despised my blackness but admired, adored, and looked up to Whiteness. I wanted the hair, I wanted the skin tone, I wanted the eye color, because from the Sunken Place, we cannot possess ourselves, so we cannot love ourselves. Our agency is stolen, our dignity denied, and Whiteness feels above us, so we say “Yes, Master”. And after generations of this, you start to think it’s life. We just live here, beneath, less than, incapable of charting our own courses, "passengers” in our own lives, as the movie calls it.
Oooooo when I tell you this shit got me FIRED UP.
There are literally one million things I could write about Get Out, and I was very tempted to put them all into this post. But the Sunken Place felt so salient, so spot-the-fuck-on that I was like, this deserves its own thing. The rest can come later.
If you still haven’t watched Get Out by the end of this writing, get your ass to RedBox this instant! Or actually it might be on Netflix, I played myself and paid for it when I’m pretty sure it’s free. Or excuse me, “$9.99/mo” for somebody. Whatever the fuck you gotta do, go watch it NOW. I will expect a thorough and respectful discussion in the comments when you’re done.
Thumbnail image from NYTimes.com