Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Trayvon Martin case is an example of how an encounter at the street level in a nominally public space can scale up from the street and become a national public debate about race and racism. In this relatively impromptu speech, Obama puts himself in the position of Trayvon Martin and discusses some of the other ways that racism gives rise to a fear that forecloses the possibilities of open "contact" (Jacobs) kinds of encounters in the public spaces of the city. Note though how gender plays into this dynamic of fear, for when he discusses the now heavily mythologized elevator scene he refrains from putting himself in the position of someone who might be feared. Keep in mind also that this speech is aimed at giving expression to widespread political outrage in the hopes of heading off what could be a violent response to such a verdict (memories of Rodney King and the LA riots). In this regard, watch his hand gestures, which might be expected to emphasize his points with fist thrusts but which come across as being fatigued and lacklustre. Thus, even in his body language he channels the frustration while refusing to channel a forceful reaction, replacing the potential force with a frustrated fatigue.


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