Editor’s Note: Ranier Maningding is a copywriter and mastermind behind the social justice page “The Love Life of an Asian Guy“. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely his own.
Designed as a two-for-one special, “Get Out” was both a brilliant horror film with terrifying visuals and a scathing critique of racism in white America. This two-faced presentation meant that if you’re woke (aka, you understand how race operates) you were tasked with uncovering all racial symbolism hidden in the film and making sure you didn’t shit your pants from all the scary bits.
As an Asian-American, I walked into “Get Out” with the expectation that I’d be watching a public roast of white America. A horror movie that depicts cheeky white folks as evil while illuminating the dangers of racial microaggressions? Hell yea!
I was pumped for this movie. I walked into that movie theater on opening day with a stride in my step, and two bubble tea drinks stashed inside my fiancee’s purse. IT’S ON LIKE KUBLAI KHAN! But just as I was sipping my hypothetical and literal tea, forty minutes into the film during the cocktail party scene I saw this shit:
Is that an Asian dude?!
My race-baiting senses flared up. “Wait, why is there an Asian dude in this movie?” If “Get Out” is a movie about the mental and physical abuse that white folks inflict on Black people, why did Jordan Peele include an Asian character?
(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen this film, turn around, have a hot pocket, and piss off. Massive spoilers ahead.)
“Get Out” tackles the terrifying experiences of being Black in racist white America, and the inclusion of the Asian man reveals that, while Asians may not play a lead role in white supremacy, our willingness to participate in anti-blackness makes us a supporting character.
Why Was There Only One Asian Character?
The inclusion of the Asian character was a powerful message, but why did Jordan Peele add one? Why not five? If subtlety was the objective, then one Asian character was enough, but I don’t think Peele was trying to be discreet about his commentary on Asians. Instead, the decision to cast one Asian guy mimicked the actual demographics of Asians in America.
According to the Pew Research Center, Asian-Americans make up 5.8% of the country. Compared to Black Americans who stand at 13.3%, Asians are even more of a demographic minority. By adding one solitary Asian character, Peele highlights the fact that even though Asians are outnumbered by Black folks, we still take on the role as oppressors by standing on the side of white supremacy and anti-Blackness.
Why Did The Asian Man Ask About The “African-American Experience”?
The cocktail party scene was a brilliant way to demonstrate the racial microaggressions and dehumanization that Black folks experience. Upon meeting the white party guests, protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) was asked a number of rude, racist questions. These specific questions said a lot about the questioner: an old white man who could no longer do sports asked if Chris could swing a golf club like Tiger Woods; an older white woman with a dying husband asked if the stereotypes were true about the big Black penis. When the Asian character made his grand entrance, he asked:
“Is the African-American experience an advantage or disadvantage?”
To understand why the Asian man asked this, you have to consider Claire Jean Kim’s theory of racial triangulation. Racial triangulation posits that Asians exist on a spectrum where they are 1.) perceived as better than Blacks (but not as good as whites) and 2.) categorized as perpetual foreigners who will never be accepted as “full” Americans. According to racial triangulation, Asians are in racial limbo, trying desperately to achieve whiteness and status as “real Americans” by stepping on the heads of Black folks.
So when the Asian man asked Chris, “Is the African-American experience an advantage or disadvantage?” he wasn’t just making small talk, he was wrestling with the decision of whether or not it would be better to trade bodies with Chris and experience anti-Blackness or stay the same and live life as an Asian man in America and experience xenophobia.
What’s Up with The Asian Dude and The Bingo Scene?
The infamous bingo scene in “Get Out” is a modern interpretation of slave auctions. Slave auctions allowed white slave masters to bid on individual slaves as young as three-months-old or bid on entire families of seven or more Black people. So why did Jordan Peele insert the Asian guy into this scene?
Because historically, Asian-Americans also owned Black slaves.
Though not as common as white slave masters, some Asian-Americans purchased Black slaves. Born in Thailand and forced to join the circus, conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker (known as the “Original Siamese twins”) eventually made enough money to gain naturalization and purchase a plantation with Black slaves. The wealth and socialite status of Chang and Eng propelled them to a position where they could purchase Black slaves and even marry white women. Asian participation in slavery goes back even further than the Bunker twins with some sources citing that Kublai Khan and leaders of the Yuan Dynasty also purchased Black slaves.
If you interpret the bingo scene from a hyperbolic lens, you can also argue that the Asian man and his white constituents were participating in the appropriation and degradation of Black bodies — a practice we’ve seen with K-Pop’s appropriation of Black culture and the violent crimes of Asian-American officers Daniel Holtzclaw and Peter Liang.
Asians Must Acknowledge Their Role in Anti-Black Racism
If you’re an Asian person and reading this, you probably feel pretty damn shitty right now.
Good. You should. As Asians, we should feel shitty about Jordan Peele inserting us into his movie. He didn’t add a Latino character, or an Indigenous woman, or a Muslim-American. He added an Asian. He wrote this character into the script, sent out a casting call, hired an Asian actor, and gave him lines to read.
The Asian character wasn’t added on accident. He served a purpose.
Now it’s our job, as Asians, to recognize our complacency under the canopy of white supremacy and realize that like Black folks, we have nothing to gain by siding with whiteness. It’s time we wake the fuck up and “Get Out” of this cycle of anti-Blackness.