Among “Us”

By Ifeanyi Nwonye

At this point, it’s no secret that Jordan Peele’s movie, Us, used the conflict between the Tethered (impoverished/marginalized people) and humans (privileged people) to provide commentary on the caste systems that pervade our American society. But, another fascinating layer of this discussion was how it used the conflict between Adelaide and Red to make a commentary on marginalized people who exploit their ability to “pass” in order to gain access to a higher society and then become a gatekeeper against the same marginalized community they came from. 


In real life, “passing privilege” has usually applied to light-skin people of color whose complexion, hair texture, and/or facial features make them appear racially ambiguous enough to pass as White or “exotic,” which then affords them more privilege than their less ambiguous counterparts who are not as palatable to White people. As we see in the film, the Tethered people are clones but not exactly mirror images of their human counterparts because many of them have disabilities or physical deformities that would prevent them from seamlessly integrating into upper society. Consider Jason’s burned face, Umbrae’s permanent racoon eyes, and the awkward mannerisms that all the Tethered share. Red and Adelaide were only able to switch for a couple reasons: 1) she was a child with little to no differences from her doppelgänger and 2) unlike the others, Tethered Adelaide seemed to display the ability to control her human counterpart, which is presumably how she lead her to the funhouse in the first place. Even though she was originally from underground, she was still too young for the underground lifestyle to have taken full effect on her behavior or her physical appearance. So, she was able to “pass” as human after years of therapy and dance lessons. But, in her upward climb towards freedom, she crippled Red’s voice when she choked her and left her to become corrupted by the underground environment in her place, thus making it nearly impossible for her to return to her normal life even if she had escaped before growing mad.


As gruesome as it sounds, this is an experience Black people know all too well since the conflict between Red and Adelaide resembles the conflicts between Black people who are fighting to get ahead in life. In response to the limited number of seats made available to Black people in elite White spaces, Adelaide represents the Black person who sabotages the success of other Black people due to their crabs-in-a-barrel mentality. Rather than use their elevated position to create more space and opportunity for other people like them, they take the spot and then shut the door behind them to join forces with the same oppressors who fought to keep them out. 


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