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Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.

Pointing out racism is exhausting. It's easier to just 'get out.': Vicky Mochama

Rather than say “I noticed you’re black,” people will say something like “My cousin’s kid is doing a semester in Africa.” Either way, race is brought up.

Filmmaker Jordan Peele on the set of his directorial debut, Get Out. The film highlights the subtle racism encountered daily by black people in so-called progressive spaces, writes Vicky Mochama.

Associated Press

Filmmaker Jordan Peele on the set of his directorial debut, Get Out. The film highlights the subtle racism encountered daily by black people in so-called progressive spaces, writes Vicky Mochama.

At a friend’s wedding shower, a friend of the bride’s mother greeted me with enthusiastic warmth.

“Hey! I haven’t seen you in a while. How are things?”

We’d never met.

She had confused me for a new neighbour of hers. What did the new neighbour and I have in common? We are both black women.

I wasn’t sure what to do except to laugh it off.

In Get Out, the recent Jordan Peele horror film, I saw the same instinct to laugh off racial incidents from Chris, the film’s main character. Instead of a dramedy like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Get Out turns the idea of a black man meeting his white partner’s parents into a thriller about the real and perceived danger of being the only black person in a predominantly white space.

There’s a scene that surely reads differently depending on who you are.

Chris, a black photographer goes with his girlfriend, Rose, to meet her parents on their pastoral property in upstate New York. Her father takes Chris on a tour of the house.

For the untrained ear, it sounds like any house tour: A souvenir from Bali. A photo of his dad, who raced Jesse Owens. The maid. For me, the entire conversation sounded like, “Hey Chris, you’re black. This is a new room, and by the way, you’re black.”

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By pointing out his worldliness and adjacency to black people and black history, the father is signalling his bona fides on race while at the same time reminding Chris that, as a black man, he is different. (Later, he will insist that he would have voted for Obama a third time if he could.)

The way the conversation subtly pivots to race is just one of the ways in which people who wouldn’t consider themselves to be racist can come off as racist.

They may be well-intentioned, but it often feels like an effort to address race by subterfuge. Rather than actually say aloud “I noticed you’re black,” a lot of people will say a more general phrase like “My cousin’s kid is doing a semester in Africa.”

The movie has more overt moments of reminding Chris he’s black.

I won’t spoil the house party scenes except to say that it’s very hard to enjoy a glass of wine while older white folks talk about whether you’re more of a caramel or a chocolate skin tone. Gulps, not sips, are required.

These seemingly innocuous incidents pile up yet they’re hardly worth delivering a seminar on race to the offenders. Because of the semblance of innocence, it is hard to point to them as evidence.

That’s the rub of discrimination in progressive places, especially dominantly white spaces. It is hard to put together the comments, questions and asides for other people in a way that spells out the racism.

The easier option is to get out.

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