“Every Black American is bilingual. All of them. We speak street vernacular and we speak job interview.” – Dave Chappelle, 2005.
When I went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I saw this quote hanging on the wall with lights shining on its message. As I stood there reading the quote, I remembered the first time I heard Dave Chappelle say this; it stuck with me for a time because of the deeper meaning behind it, a meaning that goes farther than just language.
Being black in America, you’re taught early on that you will always have two faces; one for your friends on the block and one for the world that doesn’t know you personally.
When you’re with your friends or family, you can be as loud as you want, as silly as you want, or as rude and vulgar as you want. When you’re out and about in the world however, you have to be perfect. No slang, but near perfect English. No slouching, but a straight back and best foot forward. Never wear your hood up or hands in your pockets. This may seem like standard rules for everyone, but there is a difference. These are lifesaving rules if you are black. These are the rules that keep you alive. These are the rules that get you past a job interview. This is how you get a seat at the table.
Jordan Peele, one half of the comedy duo Key and Peele, released the trailer for his movie Get Out. The trailer shows the movie to be your typical American horror story about a couple going to visit the girlfriend’s parents and things go horribly wrong. The focal couple in the movie is interracial, the girlfriend is white and the boyfriend is black. The trailer gives the impression that the movie will not shy away from bringing up racial issues that a black person would encounter. In the first few seconds, the boyfriend asks “Do they [her parents] know I’m black?” The one twist to the typical, classic, American horror story is that the movie weaves psychological thriller elements with common fears that black people can encounter in their regular life.
Being the only black person in a sea of white people; wondering if you will be profiled and dealt with by a vigilante. Check. Driving on the highway and pulled over for no reason; wondering if this will be you last moment alive. Check. Encountering microaggressions from white people and having to laugh with the joke in order to avoid verbal or physical conflict. Check. Conforming to being “one of the good ones” so you won’t get singled out or isolated. Check.
Even though the fear the trailer portrays is from a black man’s perspective, it still resonates with my black experience. I can’t speak on a black man’s truth, but I can tell you my truth. The fear is real. This trailer dug deep into my heart and pulled out horrors I have experienced as a black woman and horrors I haven’t faced but worry if and when they will happen.
I know what it feels like to be the only black person in the room and worry about being that token minority. Recognizing little jabs whether it’s about your hair or a “black thing” and laughing it off instead of taking it head on. Feeling like you have to live up to a stereotype or crack jokes so you’ll be seen as “one of the good ones;” scanning the room, looking for another black person in need of some pseudo friendship that will get you by until you get to leave the situation, or even better…wearing my other face that speaks ‘job interview.’
As a black person, there is always a fine line you have to walk as you navigate your way through the world. If you’re not black, it’s hard to explain and if you ever get into a situation where you have to explain it can be tiresome. You’re faced with ignorance, someone talking over you or for you, downplaying your experiences by saying it probably wasn’t that bad, or completely dismissing your troubles and feelings altogether. Peele takes the black experience and marries it with classic horror themes like unsettling parents or neighbors, brainwashing elements from The Stepford Wives, medical/surgical terror, and the fight-or-flight response built into every human being when your life is in danger.
Get Out is set for release on February 24, 2017; Black History Month. Appropriate.