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The history of racism seen through the prism of the movie Get Out
  • Lee hun, reporter
  • 승인 2017.06.08 23:36
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A color-divided poster which caricatures our society

Although people have started to reject racism and prejudice more and more, there are many parts of the world where they still treat people unfairly based on the color of their skin. With that said, let me introduce the movie Get Out. In the movie poster, we see a black man sitting on a chair. Also, it’s significant to point out that the left half of the poster is in black whereas the right half of it is in white. It was specially designed this way to draw a contrast between black people and white people and to show that the problem of racism is still prevalent these days. It is almost as if the director purposely chose the genre of horror & thriller to put a strong emphasis on the severity of racism. In the movie, the main characters are a black man and a white woman who are in a relationship. She decides to introduce him to her family who seem to welcome him at first. Yet, shortly afterwards he is hypnotized by her mother, a psychiatrist, and when he regains consciousness, he is at a party where he can feel the people surrounding him are quietly gossiping about his relationship with his white girlfriend. While the party goes on, he meets another black man and he realizes he is in a dangerous situation after talking to him. The protagonist tries to go back home but the family strongly insists that he stay longer. After discovering that the house was functioning as a place for white people to receive a DNA transplant from black people, he eventually succeeds in his attempt to escape.

There are many insinuations throughout the movie that exposes racism and prejudice towards certain minorities still has not died out. When people are asked in a survey about their opinions on racism, they all answer “it’s wrong!”. Yet, we still see the problems and issues that arise from racial prejudice. According to the Los Angeles Police Department’s statistics, hate crimes in the United States have increased 15% compared to last year. Hate crimes caused by racism have increased 18.5% to reach a record high. America, also famously known for its aphorism “the land of freedom and liberty”, is one of the few nations in the world where problems from racism are at their highest. Often times, people commit these racist crimes for the mere reason that they do not like certain colors of people. It is not only in America where racism exists. In South Korea, widespread racism towards ethnicities other than white and Korean can be seen frequently. White superiority lives in the Korean peninsula unfortunately, and it is becoming a more severe problem as time passes. Racism and racial prejudice all together must be exterminated. However, we subconsciously see a certain color of skin and make prejudicial decisions. Instead of blaming other people for their racist behaviors, we have to look at ourselves first to examine if we have displayed racist behaviors without realizing it.

One could begin to wonder where this chronic racism all started from. The term white superiority or white supremacy began in the 15th century when the Portuguese won the war against the Islamic nations and achieved the maritime hegemony in the western coast of Africa. The Portuguese started to abduct African indigenous people and sold them as slaves. Also, slavery first appeared in American history in 1629 when a ship containing 20 African slaves dropped anchor in Jamestown, Virginia. As the southern states in America revelled in prosperity from the cotton and tobacco industry, people in the South faced a desperate need to supply the labor. To solve this, they began to bring in a multitude of African slaves into the United States. Slavery contracts worked just like any other contract in that a slave was sold as personal property and therefore, the masters had all the right to use or dispose of them as they pleased. The average price for a female slave was around $300~500 and $1000 for a healthy male slave. The price reached its highest when a male slave was 25, and the price dropped for male slaves who were younger or older than 25. To put it in today’s prices, it would amount to approximately $10,000 for females and $30,000 for males. Since slaves constantly attempted to flee, it was very common for masters to hire bounty hunters and pay them about $300 for catching their female slaves. At that time, the conditions of slavery were atrocious. People bought, sold, or traded slaves at their disposal, and slaves had no right in expressing their will whatsoever. Even if a slave married another slave and had children, it was the owner’s right to do whatever he wished with the slaves and often times killed them if they displayed a slight chance of disobedience. When killing was well justified in the states, torture was of course a part of the custom. Ever since the inception of the United States, heavy industries took root in the North whereas agriculture took place in the South. Therefore, the proportion of black slaves to white inhabitants were 2~5 to 100, whereas in the South, it was 30~40 to 100. Areas like South Carolina where the cotton industry was booming, 60% of the entire state population was black. Since there weren’t too many slaves in the North, people decided to abolish slavery altogether in the early 1800s. Also, another influential figure named Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin which depicted the horrendous conditions of slavery. It eventually became one of the most famous bestselling books in US history with 1.5 million copies sold. It was essentially that one book which reverberated throughout the nation and planted this idea that slavery is evil. The rising popularity of this book and the content that it dealt with invoked change in the US which eventually led to the Civil War. The total casualties of the war amounted to 600,000, and the North won. Shortly after, the South surrendered and the reconstruction era took place, all slavery was officially abolished.

A photograph taken in 1863 where a slave in Louisiana was whipped brutally

However, black people still had to face severe postwar life where de-facto slavery Jim Crow laws remained effective for over 100 years. Even as years passed, the black education institutions had to face shortages of financial support from the government. All public bathrooms and transportation were designated with specific areas for “colored” people, and it was most noticeable on a bus where it was a social custom for black people to always sit in the back. Then, things started to change when two events occurred in the 1950s that sparked the Civil Rights Movement. The first event was the famous landmark decision called “Brown vs. Board of Education”. A black pastor named Oliver Brown filed a suit that would ask for constitutional authorities to allow his daughter to attend a white school. This case went all the way to the Federal Supreme Court and sparked controversy all throughout the states. Another landmark event in history was the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Rosa Parks. It started in 1955 when a lady named Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat to a white person which resulted in her arrest for failing to comply with the law. This arrest led to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a pastor of a church Ms. Parks attended, to direct a boycott against the bus companies for a year. This action prompted millions of other people to gather and fight against the racial prejudice through peaceful and non-violent ways. This case also went all the way to the Supreme Court and the court ruled it unconstitutional to segregate by race on the bus.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr contributed enormously to the Civil Rights Movement

Although slavery was abolished in 1865, black people still had to face enormous racism and prejudice from the majority of white people. As a matter of fact, it has been only 50 years since black and white students were allowed to study in the same classroom. Although the Civil Rights Movement began to sprout all over the states since the 1950s, treatment towards African-Americans was severe and inhumane and other minorities besides African-Americans had to suffer from racism as well. Even today, poverty amongst the black population stems from a mixture of historic prejudice which inhibited black people from achieving high social and economic status and systematic racial bias that works negatively against them. Although practicing racism in public was banned altogether in the past, people elusively began discriminatory practices against the black population, and the Civil Rights Movement seemed to have faded away after the Vietnam War and the ideological battle with the USSR succeeded the public’s attention. As a result, it is a reality that black people are in this never-ending cycle of poverty and limitation, and the movie Get Out has done a marvelous job in portraying this stark reality. The famous quote from the movie satirizes this harsh reality towards the African-American population and also sends out the message, “A rainbow is beautiful if it is comprised of many colors. A rainbow consisted of a single color only creates fear.”

Lee hun, reporter  20160189@changwon.ac.kr

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