Race, Space and Standing Your Ground: Interiority and the George Zimmerman Trial and Trayvon Martin Case

A few days ago, I ended my last post with a link to Defining the Question of Interiority, which discussed interiority, partially in terms of architecture but also in terms of blurring the lines between interiority and exteriority. This link quotes from another interesting source, The Body Within: Art, Medicine and Visualization (2009), which talks about the problematic nature of the interior and imagining one’s interiority as both material and invisible and intangible

Interiority is always based on something exterior, something with extension, something that cannot be internalized or appropriated. Things with extension are spatial (119).

In trying to resolve this relationship between interiority and exteriority, the inner self and the actual flesh and blood that surrounds, Jenny Slatman writes in Chapter 6 of The Body Within, “Transparent Bodies: Revealing the Myth of Interiority,” that “At first glance, we might be inclined to say that interiority is the space beneath the skin” (108). What is this “space”? Is it psychological? Is this interior traceable by brain activity? Seen by x-ray? Perhaps it’s at least a spatial and psychological concept and both visible and invisible. Visible because we do have an interior beneath the skin: our flesh, bones, internal organs, but also visible in psychological terms as well through actions and the motivations that seem to be behind one’s behavior. If, as Slatman continues, “Psychological and spatial interiority converge in this so-called phenomenon of bodily subjectivity,” then interiority is based on both one’s bodily experience and also one’s individual perspective and experiences in relationship to how one’s body interacts with cultural and national spaces (110).

I was thinking about these themes after finishing Suspicion Nation last week, Lisa Bloom’s analysis of the 2013 George Zimmerman trial. She brings up some of these themes implicitly in her critique of the legal argument the prosecutors presented to the jury and in her concerns about the cultural baggage and biases that led to Zimmerman’s acquittal and that continue to lead to a general suspicion of black men and racial others in the United States. How we understand or make assumptions about a person’s inner thoughts must be put in context of how we view his or her relationship to his or her body and the outer world. If interiority is the space beneath the skin or product of experiencing bodily subjectivity, then skin, or one’s skin color and the ethnic/racial meaning that skin connotes, influences how we understand a person’s inner thoughts, desires, fears, and motivations. Interiority is relevant to how we view a person’s relationship to the world and his or her right to protect and own space and have a place in this world.

Bloom mentions Stand Your Ground Laws, though not explicitly part of Zimmerman’s defense, to explain U.S. preoccupations with crime, race, and space. These laws “expanded traditional self-defense doctrine to allow those who felt threatened in virtually any location to use deadly force even if they could have escaped without violence” (Bloom 12). Such a belief in one’s right to claim space and protect one’s turf by any means necessary shaped Zimmerman’s defense and belief that he was reasonable in his fears of Trayvon Martin. Bloom argues that while Zimmerman was deemed reasonable in his fear and eventual killing of Trayvon Martin, neither the defense nor more importantly the prosecution gave a voice to Trayvon Martin’s inner feelings the night he died or gave any value to who he was as a human being, all of which influenced how the jury viewed these two men and what motivated their actions. 

And much of that comes back to how we view interiority and what we believe lies beneath the skin. George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin as suspicious because of a combination of factors dealing with his anxieties about race, space, interiority as they figure in the “black-as-criminal image” that according to Bloom “has been with us at least since the nineteenth century, when explicit racism portrayed African-American slaves’ essential nature as ignorant and savage and in need of the ‘civilizing’ influence of the white man” (232). Zimmerman was allowed to feel afraid for his life, to defend his body and his turf. Acknowledgement of these inner feelings and respect for his bodily subjectivity allowed him to claim physical space and do so with lethal force. His innermost feelings or more accurately, his race-based paranoia, had a voice. His feelings, his anxieties, his desire to feel safe in his gated community were privileged above Travyon’s interiority and bodily subjectivity in court of law.

Charles Taylor writes in Sources of the Self that, based on a tradition in the West of respecting human dignity and one’s individual rights, “we [in the West] believe it would be utterly wrong and unfounded to draw the boundaries any narrower than around the whole human race” (6-7).   But boundaries are drawn among members of the human race depending on whether or not we recognize one’s interiority. To have the law and society recognize these interior experiences as well as protect one’s bodily subjectivity allows one to claim rights and protect one’s space as sacred, untouchable. How do such rights emerge from this recognition of bodily integrity and subjectivity? How does it correspond to how we engage in our society and nation at large? These are questions I hope to touch upon in my next post.




Possible Digital Humanities Projects about Race, Space and Interiority

It’s been two months and six days since my last confession…I mean my last post. It has been awhile since I’ve written and I hope to rectify this, at least for my own sake, by posting more often this summer.  In the time that’s passed, I have continued learning to code through codecademy.com.  I’ve finished HTML and am slowly working my way through CSS.  I must confess that I never knew coding could be fun, but it is and I hope to finish those lessons by September.

I began this blog not only to keep track of my progress in acquiring new skills but also as part of a desire to link a burgeoning curiosity in digital humanities to my academic research interests. Since my interests and even the title of this blog are dedicated to topic of race, space and interiority, I hope in future posts to discuss interiority, subjectivity and selfhood and how we articulate and aestheticize these concepts.

While I connect “interiority” to words like “subjectivity or “selfhood” in the paragraph above, “interiority” in particular interests me because it links selfhood and subjectivity to a location. In the simplest definition(s) of the word, “interiority” refers to being within or inside something, a house or a room or some inhabitable space. It might also refer to somewhere inland from the coast or border or something that pertains to domestic, national issues.  The Department of the Interior may have been named with such a focus on territorial and U.S. internal/domestic issues. Finally, interiority can also indicate something’s inner nature or someone’s internal spiritual and psychological disposition.

So, what happens when we view ourselves as having an interior or an inner self that is private and hidden by its very nature of being internal while also being important to how we deal with the world outside of that internal self? What are the implications of understanding subjectivity and selfhood as founded upon a spatial existence within the body? How does this reflect how we understand ourselves and others in relationship to the spaces we can and cannot inhabit? How do we represent and discuss this interiorized self in novels, TV and film?  How do we reveal and even confess these interiorized selves and why do we do this? What rights does interiority grant us and what rights and/or privileges are denied when this sense of interiority isn’t recognized culturally or legally?

In the next weeks and months I hope to discuss ways these questions are answered and post such findings here.

I end this week’s entry with a link to a post I stumbled upon recently that discusses interiority and space as it relates to architecture, culture and identity and how we define our interior and exterior spaces. Defining The Question of Interiority brings up interesting questions I hope to discuss next week.