A Letter From the Sunken Place
This is not a film review of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” If you have not seen the film, I definitely recommend you watch it.
The Sunken Place
In the movie, The Sunken Place represents the dark place where black people are mindless drones and their sins and fears are amplified in their faces at every corner.
It emphasized the oppression experienced in the lives of the black people in the community visited by the main character. It has become a popular reference representing those who are ignorant to the struggles and oppression of black people in this country.
I’m here to let you know this Sunken Place is not just a dramatic element of a movie. I’ve been there and parts of me are still there. In this piece, white evangelical places are the Sunken Place. I hope this encourages some brothers and sisters to know they are not alone and to shed light on their experience.
The Story of OJ
As a black person in the Sunken Place, my favorite song is “The Story of OJ” by Jay-Z. It reminds me that I leave the house with a name tag: first name, ‘Nigga’ and last name, ‘Problem’. No matter how much I smile, no matter how polite I am, or how hard I try to rise above, I am “Still Nigga” in the eyes of some.
In the Sunken Place, a ‘Nigga’ is one who causes trouble and division, and who is the problem with ‘this’ country. Only those who are quiet, work in the shadows, and never cause the dominant culture discomfort are seen as a good resource.
There is pain in the eyes of black people in this category. We know that we are banks, libraries, and crutches. We are used to keep the social status accounts of the dominant culture full. Those in the dominant culture check us in and out only when needed, and lean on us to ignore the realities of their political, financial, and social contributions to white supremacy.
Most are not bold enough to call me by my first name ‘Nigga’ but they definitely love to address and treat me like my last name ‘Problem’.
I am the problem because I can not stand idle and contribute to the status quo. I am the problem because I believe Black Lives Matter. I am the problem because I am tired of police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men. I am the problem because I kneel with heroes like Colin Kaepernick.
My existence is likened to Bigger Thomas from Richard Wright’s “Native Son.” While in prison, Bigger breaks down and invites readers into his soul:
“They draw a line and say for you to stay on your side of the line. They don’t care if there is no bread over on your side. They don’t care if you die. And then they say things like that about you and when you try to come from behind your line, they kill you. They feel they ought to kill you then. Everybody wants to kill you then.”
These words resonate in my heart as a black man living in the Sunken Place. I see a line drawn with one side expecting me to be composed, polite, and humble. I am expected to be indifferent to the concerns of black people who are not as successful or “lucky” as I. I should never expose my pain, frustration, or anger. If I cross over to the other side with them, then I am met with hostility.
It is never the right time to talk about my pain for the sake of their comfort. Yet it is always okay to talk about what parts of town are unsafe or of the decline of black families. I feel like a cheap mascot in the midst of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation discussions. I watch as others are entertained and intrigued by our black cultures, but only at the expense of my silence.
Is God a White Supremacist?
In the Sunken Place, this is a legit question I ask myself. I expect some will say I need to read the bible more, understand God’s character better, or even go to a different church. The short answer is the God of Nat Turner, Medgar Evers, and Dr. Martin Luther King is absolutely not a white supremacist. In the Sunken Place, the question does cross your mind. Sometimes it is not so easy to label it as foolishness.
My blackness is supposed to be separate from my spirituality in the Sunken Place. If I am concerned with blackness, then I am at risk of being spiritually unhealthy. I see churches champion the causes against abortion and same-sex marriage, but once the idea of social justice or racial equality is mentioned, then the church suddenly becomes at risk of becoming over-run with a “social gospel”.
On Sunday, I sit in a pew and wonder if sins like racism, prejudice, and inequality are important to the bride of Christ. We pray for many things, but when it comes to the concerns and pain of black people, there is silence.
In the Sunken Place, I long for a Jesus, as Lecrae says, without the “Ultra perm, them soft eyes and thin lips.” I long for a space where I am not seen as an angry black man. I long for the light of the true Gospel and not the one drenched in American nationalism. I long to rise from the depths of the Sunken Place and bask in the glory of the new heaven and new earth.
I long for the day where I get out of this place of suffering, pain, and oppression and reunite with my Savior. Knowing this day will come gives me hope despite all of the current hardship.
I end this letter letting you know that I have hope. It is not always easy but hope is there. If you can relate, I invite you to join in the pain and struggle that many of us face. You are not alone.