“The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.”
The Sunken Place: A mental state which was introduced in the film, Get Out. It occurs when a person is coerced into a hypnotic trance, and they lose all control of their bodily functions, ultimately becoming a passive spectator to their own lives.
Get Out was released on the 24th of February 2017, and it was written and directed by Jordan Peele. It explores the concept of whiteness inhibiting and suppressing black consciousness. Peele does this by constructing a story whereby white characters insert their brains into black people, repressing their thoughts and taking control of their bodies to use them as their own.
The white people in the movie take over black bodies, because they are fascinated with the perceived physical attributes – like strength, speed and a sizeable penis – that black people acquire at birth which are seen as an advantage. They are also interested in appropriating the black culture, as one white character in the movie says: “Black is in fashion”
Image taken from: http://bit.ly/2r1sSLf
This enthrallment of the black body and black culture by white people, which is called negrophilia, may seem to be a flattering gesture; but it deprives black people from existing as human beings, and only seems to further marginalise them as their identity is reduced to a commodity for white people to explore when they need to feel “cool’.
There is a person who has very strong views on the concept of black identity being appropriated and either used for capital gain or social degradation. This person is quite a big voice in the political sphere of the University of Cape Town. Because of this, they have asked that I do not disclose their identity. So to keep their anonymity safe, I will simply refer to this person as I.
“I am an African”, I proclaimed. “I am marginalised”, I proclaimed. Attesting to the experience of a black person in a predominantly white university. Just like the main character in Get Out; who was about to be stripped of his consciousness, and have his body literally invaded by a white person, becoming a spectator to his own existence. I observed a similar pattern when I first arrived in the University. Noticing how black people would often change their speech patterns, tone and behaviour when around certain groups of people:
- As if to assimilate to a different way of being.
- As if to alter their identity to correlate with the status quo.
- As if to fit into the mould of what is perceived to be acceptable.
“I am, by default, marginalised”. Words that pierce one’s psyche and provokes thought. Words that are an indication of the hegemonic perception of black culture being inferior to whiteness. Words that capture the essence of the black struggles in predominantly white spaces.
One of these struggles includes having to adapt to the lingua franca of academic spaces, which is English.
Although English is popularly coined as a ‘universal language’, numerous people who come from areas whereby English is not a regularly spoken language seem to find it hard when trying to articulate their thoughts in the language, either in academic spaces or social circles. This creates an identity crisis in most black people who try to assimilate to a new way of thinking, speaking and being in University. Whereby they measure their level of intelligence by how eloquently they speak English, which means that their self-esteem is hindered as they judge themselves on the guise of others who are proficient in the language.
In a book by Ngugi wa Thiong’o titled Decolonising The Mind, he explains the ramifications of the imposed English language on (specifically) black people. He writes, “Thus language and literature were taking us further and further from ourselves to other selves”. He argued that, although the English language is a valued commodity in society, the hegemony of the language eradicates indigenous African language and in turn destroys the literature, history and culture that they carry. Similarly, I points to the Eurocentric manner with which the University of Cape Town is built upon, and how this means that it is inherent in its proceedings that it marginalises black bodies.
Get Out is an example of a storyteller using art in a complex and nuanced way, in order to convey an intricate socio-political issue. I echoes in his words what Jordan Peele illustrates in his movie: In a white supremacist society, black people’s identity are either suppressed or commodified. The Sunken Place and its inception in the film is an effective metaphor to represent how black identity and black culture is pushed down to create space for whiteness.
“The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.” – Jordan Peele