Posted by: rachelmaskin | December 5, 2014

On Ferguson & The Colbert Report

In reference to our conversation in class Wednesday regarding Ferguson and related recent events, I wanted to share this video of an episode of the Colbert Report from earlier in the week.

Colbert does a really nice job of outlining the absurd expectations around performativity that have been used throughout this conversation to defend racist behaviors. He notes that the St. Louis police force has condemned the number of football players for the St. Louis Rams who raised their arms (in a “hands up, don’t shoot” pose) in protest of the events surrounding the Mike Brown/Darren Wilson incident, calling the action “tasteless, offensive, and inflammatory.” He then recalls an incident in which a police officer stopped a black man for having his hands in his pockets (“You’re making people nervous”). Finally, Colbert moves onto a couple of sillier hand gestures: a turkey-style gesture and jazz hands.

The emphasis on evaluating intent through visual cues associated with body language has become central to debates of the last few weeks. It becomes especially crucial when fatal action occurs within the space of seconds or minutes, which means that the bulk of the retrospective analysis must have its basis in visual performance — gestures, facial expressions, and so on. As such, the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose has become a symbol of protests around the country. But what are the implications of a debate so heavily focused on surface-level imagery? How far can such a debate carry us? To some extent, this mode of discourse is useful, as its exaggerated focus on superficiality highlights the flawed way in which our society perceives surface-level racial characteristics. But it may also become dangerous for conversations to continue in this manner.

Thoughts? I’d be interested in carrying on this conversation outside the blog, if anyone else is…


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