Behind Amy Schumer’s ‘Get Out’ joke: The horrible legacy of claiming the Black phallus endangers white women
By Sherronda Brown
Amy Schumer is racist, and white women love her. The White Feminist icon’s most recent public display of Beckery is yet another demonstration of the sexual racism she so often falls back into, using racist stereotypes benefitting her white womanhood while decrying the sexual proclivities of men of color.
Two weeks ago, when asked about past instances of her own rude behavior in the bedroom in an interview with Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens: Live, Schumer answered: “A guy had an uncircumcised penis and it was too big and I just was like ‘Peace!’ Like, I got out. I got right out of there. I was like, ‘I’m not going to be deformed because I had sex with you once.’ That’s what the movie Get Out should have been about.”
Perhaps she should have instead spoken seriously about the time she had sexual contact with a man so inebriated that he repeatedly fell asleep mid coitus. That certainly is far more rude (and probably criminal) than declining sex with someone, and would have been an appropriate instance for her to have “got right out of there.” Instead, Schumer has built her brand on being overtly sexual and raunchy in her comedy, and comments like this one about the film Get Out–which follows a Black man encountering various forms of anti-Blackness as he meets his white girlfriend’s family for the first time–have always been her hallmark.
In a previous piece for RaceBaitR, I wrote about phantasmagorical Blackness–the ways in which Blackness, especially Black male sexuality, becomes a monstrosity in the white imagination. Relationships between Black men and white women are constantly centered in social and cinematic narratives about phantasmagorical Blackness, and understanding this motif is significant when watching Get Out. Whiteness continually redraws the lines of connection between Blackness and animality as a way to both dehumanize and fetishize, and uses the perceived purity and inherent value of white women as the foundation for that work:
“Because horror texts are the perfect vehicles for audiences to contend with collective anxieties, horror texts created for white audiences will often rest on their fears of phantasmagorical Blackness (see: White Zombie (1932), I Walked With A Zombie (1943), Candyman (1992), The Skeleton Key (2005), Bag of Bones (2011), etc.). This is also true of films in other genres, like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Mandingo (1975), and it is no coincidence that so many of these stories place white women and the obsessive need to protect them from Black men at the center. Because of the distinct history of white womanhood and the ways in which it has traditionally operated in horror, I found it immensely satisfying that Peele’s narrative flips that dynamic by portraying white women as the ones who purposely enact some of the worst forms of racist violence. Two words: Emmett Till.” – (Sherronda Brown, “‘Listen to the ancestors, run!’: Get Out, zombification, and pathologizing escape from the plantation.”)
Accepted cultural myths about the dangerousness of Black sexualities and the innocence of white women are deeply rooted in our society, and white womanhood has historically been instrumental in inciting and upholding violence against Black people. That violence has manifest in a particular way on the bodies of Black men*.
In “The Negro as a Distinct Ethnic Factor in Civilization,” Dr. William Lee Howard writes, “Every unphysiological and antisocial act that tends to breed degenerate human beings, sinful, vicious, and lustful, lies inherent in the African to-day,” and details the inherent sexual perversion of Blackness, often focusing on the size of the Black phallus as evidence. This work appeared in a medical journal published in 1904:
“When education will reduce the large size of the negro’s penis as well as bring about the sensitiveness of the terminal fibers which exist in the Caucasian, then it will also be able to prevent the African’s birthright to sexual madness and excess– — from the Caucasian’s viewpoint.
During these periods of sexual madness, the negro has all the symptoms of lycanthropia. There is a loss of controlling power over the higher centers of the brain, or else the rabid impulses due to overdevelopment of sexual energy in certain portions of the brain, which the normal power of inhibition–that which the white man possesses–cannot control.”
Rather than contemplate how white women rationalize and enact anti-Black violences, Schumer asserts that Get Out should instead focus on how Black sexuality can be hazardous to white women like herself. Her “joke” brings up a particular history which has left a trail of thousands of Black men lynched for even looking at a white woman. Those lynchings often included castration specifically because of the fear of Black male sexuality and the harm that it might do, or allegedly has done, to white women.
Fantasies about the Black phallus leaves Black men (and non-men with penises) in a space in which they are both feared and fetishized. The fascination with this particular deviant sexuality has played out on the screen since the beginnings of cinema, with the likes of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of A Nation, in which a Black man is depicted as violently lusting after a young white woman and stalking her until she willingly leaps from a cliff to escape his unwanted advances.
A century after its release, the subject of the Black phallus is still explored on screen. With The Hateful Eight (2015), Tarantino imagines the Black phallus as a deplorable weapon wielded by Samuel L. Jackson’s character in an act of sexual violence against a white man as a form of racial justice, and it is later violently removed from his person, seemingly as another form of justice.
Jordan Peele contemplates this again with Get Out via the fetishization of Black male sexuality, and understanding the anti-Blackness is inherent to this obsession is key to understanding the work that film does as a whole. Anti-Blackness also clarifies Schumer’s “joke,” which could easily have worked without her final statement about Get Out, as she had already achieved her point about declining sex with the potential suitor due to his size. Instead, she deployed Jordan Peele’s well-known and racially charged film about anti-Blackness in order to punctuate her statement.
Schumer relies on the audience’s collective knowledge of this cultural artifact from recent memory, knowingly choosing to rest on racist beliefs that have historically rendered white women as pure and worthy of protection and Black men as inherently dangerous and deserving of death. And she does this through re-envisioning the role of white womanhood in the film in order to reposition it as perpetual victim to monstrous Black male sexuality.
With these comments, Amy Schumer continues to remind us, in the most absurd and unnecessary ways, how unwilling she is to seriously examine her anti-Blackness and general terribleness. Meanwhile, White Feminism will continue to coddle and validate her, as it always has.
*Note added May 26, 2017: I use this language about Black manhood and Black male sexuality because Amy Schumer was specifically referring to a cis man in her joke. I understand and acknowledge that having a penis is not exclusive to men.
Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies. You can support her work at https://www.paypal.me/SherrondaJBrown and https://www.patreon.com/SherrondaJBrown