There’s an Indian Flavour to Get Out’s Everyday Racism

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There’s an Indian Flavour to Get Out’s Everyday Racism

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

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he American suburbia that provides the backdrop for the Academy Award-winning Get Out might not look like crowded Mumbai or Delhi, but its inhabitants certainly reminded me of us Indians.

There’s a scene in the movie where the African-American lead character played by Daniel Kaluuya finds himself at a brunch attended predominantly by white people. Sticking out like a sore thumb, the hero Chris soon finds all sights trained on him. The Caucasian guests approach him one-by-one, some praise his photography, others praise his physique. He gets inspected and evaluated like a pig at market. It reminded me of the time I came under the scrutiny of my distant relatives, most of them trying to find out if I was a rishta fit for their daughters.

The casual racism and stereotyping that becomes an obstacle for Chris to overcome in Get Out is part of everyday India. Chris doesn’t face down KKK members carrying tiki torches; he doesn’t have to struggle against Jim Crow laws. Get Out doesn’t portray the usual, ugly brand of racism that we’re all conditioned to reject.

Chris is reluctant to visit his white girlfriend’s family in the suburbs, worried he’ll be rejected for being black. However, when he does encounter his girlfriend’s family, he meets a dad who proudly declares he voted for Obama, a sports-obsessed younger brother convinced black people are all athletes, and a community of white people that seems to revere black celebrities like Tiger Woods. Of course, this being a horror movie, there are complications and it ends with Chris realising that he needs to “get out”.

The racism witnessed in Get Out is more insidious and harder to pin down, much like the everyday stereotyping we see in India.

Universal Pictures

The racism witnessed in Get Out is more insidious and harder to pin down, much like the everyday stereotyping we see in India. In our case, it’s aimed at communities. We still crack up and make Sardar jokes, our Muslim co-worker gets harangued to bring biryani to lunch, and we make assumptions about a 30-year-old unmarried woman. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group in India that does not have some set stereotypes about it. Christians are alcoholics, Gujjus are food terrorists, Bengalis are oversensitive, and Marwaris are kanjoos, “Madrasis” are good at math and science, or so the word on the street is.

What makes Get Out such a great horror film is that its core conflict is something we live with every day.

It’s hard to decide how to feel about this, because it isn’t strictly racism, or at least its textbook definition. There is no tangible, measurable way of proving that these stereotypes cause discrimination, so we let them slide.

This benign form of racism is an over-enthusiastic acknowledgement of differences between communities. Differences that lead Hindu landlords to refuse to rent their properties to Muslim tenants or Jains who disallow meat-eaters from residing in the same complex. It’s an unwillingness to accept the otherness of anybody not belonging to our group. As we see in Get Out, this othering is the first step on the road to dehumanisation and eventual exploitation.

The sometimes creepy, sometimes friendly Armitage family that confuses and torments Chris in the film reminded me of countless acquaintances and relatives.

Universal Pictures

What makes Get Out such a great horror film is that its core conflict is something we live with every day. Though it’s set in the US, this phenomenon of seemingly benign othering is truly international, which is why it resonated so much with me watching in India. The sometimes creepy, sometimes friendly Armitage family that confuses and torments Chris in the film, reminded me of the countless acquaintances and relatives I’ve heard spouting off some generalised “sab jaante hai” crap about other communities and groups. It’s incessant, and lately I find myself starting to identify with Chris and the one thing that drives him through the movie – the urge to get out.

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