The Insidious Innocence of White Women

In Jordan Peele’s horror film “Get Out” and in Harriet Jacob’s narrative “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”, our protagonists trust in the allyship of white women. However, Rose, who reflects the perceived innocence of women due to infantilization discussed in the Keywords essay Innocence, betrays Chris and reminds us of how white women continue to perpetuate their historical legacy of poor allyship. In her 1861 narrative, Harriet Jacobs called on white northern women to sympathize with her story and devote their efforts to ending the oppression of Black people in the United States. Jacobs likely called on white women in particular because they held the power to help due to their whiteness but also a perceived innocence and thus trustworthiness because of their gender. This characterization of women is discussed in the Keywords essay Innocence, which relates the conventional beauty standards of women to characteristics of infants and children. Because women are infantilized, they are also inextricably linked with innocence. This perceived innocence is enhanced when attributed to white women, whose race allows them further cultural dissociation from evil. Along with their perceived innocence, as a group still marginalized by the patriarchy, white women have historically been trusted as allies to other marginalizaed groups, namely Black Americans like Harriet Jacobs and Chris. However, “Get Out” shows us how this perceived innocence and trustworthiness can be, is, and historically was manipulated by white women to further their own interests, while also revealing how this manipulation still upholds white supremacy and the oppression of Black Americans today. The film “Get Out” thus casts a dark light over Harriet Jacob’s trust in white women, affirming that there is still much work to be done to end Black oppression, particularly on behalf of white women.

5 thoughts on “The Insidious Innocence of White Women”

  1. Very interesting take on relating the keywords essay and the movie! I saw the movie and did not even notice the portrayed innocence you are talking about…but now that you point it out, it is extremely obvious to me! I agree with your perspective and the portrayal of white innocence and trust seen in the movie.

  2. I too, saw the movie Get Out and considered it extremely thought provoking. Throughout the many themes I considered, “The Insidious Innocence of White Women” was not one of them. That is why I enjoyed this post very much. The racism displayed by Rose and her family was incredibly unique. They looked down on African Americans because they took advantage of them, but they took advantage of them because they wanted to BE
    African Americans. The fact that the entire plot twist of the movie was based on Rose taking advantage and manipulating black men so her extended family could become African American was bold and really proved many points on how far we have to come to end oppression.

  3. Clare, I recently went with my brother to see this film and it blew me away. I was speechless throughout the entire thing and we both walked out with so many questions. I could not agree more with everything you wrote and I love the connections you made to Harriet Jacob’s narrative and the keyword of innocence. Black oppression is so deeply intertwined within our society and you couldn’t be more correct when you say that we still have a lot of work to do.

  4. Hi Clare, this was an awesome post! I have never seen the movie trailer for “Get Out,” but once I watched it on your post I was so intrigued by it and really want to see the movie now. I like how you compared the movie with “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” and how they are both relative to the term innocence. Women are often depicted by beauty standards (as you mentioned) and are often over sexualized in the television and film industry. I wonder if this film would be the same if a role reversal was present, being that a white man and a black woman were the main characters, or if it would be different due to how different genders are perceived by others.

  5. I’ve heard a lot of interesting comments about this movie. I’ve never actually seen it, but some people told me it “made them sick” because it contained so much racism and hatred. They also told me that it was very thought-provoking, despite its violence. I find it intriguing how you compared these two stories. The link between them, white women, is so different in each case, so I liked how you drew your main point off of that. I think white women are often thought of us trustworthy because they’ve had a history over being submissive to men, and “below” them in society. Therefore, some people might think that they can be easily controlled. The movie “Get Out” shows that some might come across as trustworthy, but it ends up being a manipulative plan.

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