Afro-Pessimism: The Interplay of Racism and Double Consciousness in Get Out and Between the World and Me by Dorlicas Buyibu Makuikila

Afro-Pessimism: The Interplay of Racism and Double Consciousness in Get Out and Between the World and Me by Dorlicas Buyibu Makuikila

Afro-pessimistic works like Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book Between the World and Me allude to a state of double consciousness experienced by Black people in North America. In Get Out, which follows Chris, a Black man escaping from his girlfriend’s parents’ house, where they attempt to subject him to an experiment involving the sale and use of his body by an older white man, the presence of double consciousness overwhelmingly affects Chris’ actions and thoughts. Similarly, in Between the World and Me, a nonfic- tion book that serves as a letter to Coates’ son about the realities of the Black experience in America, double consciousness is explored through the mentioning of real events in which Black people have been subjected to racialized discrimination. “Double consciousness” is a concept coined by W.E.B. Du Bois in his work The Souls of Black Folk (Du Bois np). It describes having to be aware at all times of how one’s actions or presence as a Black person can be perceived in white society, and acting accordingly so as not to seem threatening (Du Bois np). Racism is the creator of double consciousness. It is deeply ingrained within North American society, constituting the very foundation on which it is built. For Black people, it is virtually impossible to escape racism. We can, therefore, conclude that double consciousness is not a coping mechanism that allows one to deal with the integrated racism within white society, as some might suggest , but a symptom of white supremacy; a condition that allows one to survive its trials and tribulations by adapting to its structure, needs and demands. We can explore this in both Get Out and Between the World and Me.

In Get Out, there are two notable scenes of double consciousness: the first one is early in the film, when Chris expresses concern about Rose’s parents’ lack of awareness that he is Black. Rose, seemingly ignorant about the notion of racism within her family, reassures him that they are not racist (Get Out 7:16-8:28). Despite this, he seems to keep his walls up when he meets them. As a Black man in The United States, he is aware of the racial biases that white families tend to have, especially rich, suburban, white families. He even says, “You know, I don’t want to get chased off the lawn with a shotgun” (Get Out 7:54-7:56). His unease is brought up by his own personal skepticism of the family’s racism, reflecting a historical and societal consciousness shaped by centuries of systemic racism. In this scene, he shares his awareness of the fact that in predominantly white spaces, unwanted Blackness is met with violence, hostility, and microaggression. As a result, he is making sure that his Blackness is welcomed and not invading. This is double consciousness; it entails separating one’s Blackness from other parts of one’s identity, seeing one’s Blackness from a white perspective, and avoiding mannerisms that might seem threat- ening to the white eye (Du Bois 2). In this case, Chris is trying to survive by separating his African American identity from his American identity and acknowledging that his Blackness may seem threatening either due to prejudice or white supremacy. Double consciousness is not a coping mechanism as it is not alleviating or helping him manage the stress that comes with meeting white people as a Black person, but rather an unfortunate condition that allows him to avoid escalated racial violence; Chris, before even arriving at the estate, is assessing how his presence might be perceived and is taking the necessary steps to somewhat ensure his safety, all while still bracing himself for the possibility of encoun- tering prejudice, violence, and hostility.

The second scene that best illustrates this is at the end of the movie. Chris escapes the house and attempts to kill Rose with his bare hands in self-defense (Get Out 1:37:21-1:38:17). Despite stopping once they both see an assumed police car, he raises his hands and surrenders as Rose cries for help, unaware that his best friend is inside the car and not the police (Get Out 1:38:10-1:38:25). Double consciousness in this scene parallels a moment in Between the World and Me. In the letter, Coates writes,

And you know now, if you did not before, that the police depart- ments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed (Coates np).

Coates is pointing out how, regardless of the nature of one’s crime or their ability to adapt, Black people remain vulnerable in the face of law enforcement. He points out how regardless of one’s adaptation to white rules and supremacy, a Black body is a Black body, whether the crime fits the punishment or not. Double consciousness’ hapless existence is a product of white supremacists’ need to instil fear and discipline within the Black psyche. As a result, Black bodies can be subjected to violence because of their adaptation as they submit to the risk of unwarranted violence as opposed to a violent death. This seemingly inevitable violence is because Blackness is seen as inferior to white supremacists. Any attempt at rebellion is met with punishment and the lack of rebellion is seen as an opportunity to remind Black people of their place in society. One cannot simply be a Black man, woman, child, or person doing anything out of the ordinary in North America, let alone in the United States of America. One must constantly be aware of how one’s Blackness is perceived in this society that historically and continuously subjects Black bodies to violence and discrimination, regardless of the scale or significance of the situation prompting such violence. Get Out mirrors Coates’ in this scene as Chris is aware of what this situation looks like to anybody, particularly through the eyes of white police officers. As he raises his hands, he willingly gives up his freedom in exchange for his life, though as a Black man, violence on his body is still a real possibility. There cannot be a bloody Black man in the United States of America on top of a bloody white woman who is crying for help. As a Black man, you are never the victim in any situation that involves a white woman. Double consciousness in this scene is therefore not a coping mechanism, but an unfortunate symptom of white supremacy; despite knowing that he is not in the wrong, Chris gives up his freedom, as he knows that his Blackness is a threat that will and can be neutralized if given the oppor- tunity, a situation that a lot of Black people find themselves in.

In Between the World and Me, a picture of double consciousness is painted, particularly when Coates chooses not to comfort his son after the killers of Michael Brown were set free. Michael Brown was an 18-year-old Black boy who was shot and killed by the police. He was jaywalking with his friend when police officers confronted them. This resulted in an altercation that led to Brown being shot six times, despite being unarmed (Suggs). Coates writes,

[i]t was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. […] I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. […] I told you […] that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a Black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life [….] (Coates np).

By not comforting his son, Coates is telling him that this world shows no mercy to Black People. Black people must live with the hardships white supremacy throws at them and survive without the help of institutions created by the people, for the people. Coates is making

his son question the society in which he lives. How can a Black body survive in a country whose economic structure is historically based on the enslavement and exploitation of Black people, old and young alike? Black people cannot survive in a country that continuously profits from their labour, pays them pennies in exchange, keeps them in the slums and ghettos, and controls them with constant policing from officers who shoot them six times for jaywalking. As a young Black boy, it is important to know that these institutions were not made to help Black people but to oppress them, and that they must act accordingly, or these institutions will not be afraid to make them part of another statistic in a police brutality report. Get Out and Between the World and Me illustrate that double consciousness is not a coping mechanism but a symptom of white supremacy, a condition that Black people must unfortunately tap into to survive white America, the society they were forced into that hates them.

Works Cited

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. One World, 2015.

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. 1903,

“Excerpt from Between the World and Me | Penguin Random House Canada.” the-world-and-me-by-ta-nehisi-coates/9780812993547/excerpt

Gingras, Britta. “‘Double Consciousness’ and the Racial Self in Zitkala- Ša’s American Indian Stories.” Virtual Commons – Bridgewater State University, m1903%2C%20the%20African%20American,the%20concept%20 of%20double%20consciousness.

Peele, Jordan. Get Out. Universal Pictures, 2017.

Suggs, Ernie. “The Michael Brown Killing: What You Need to Know.” Ajc, 2014,

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