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Publisher's Summary

"If Trayvon was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?" (President Barack Obama)

The 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager in Florida, and the subsequent acquittal of his killer, brought public attention to controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws. The verdict, as much as the killing, sent shock waves through the African American community, recalling a history of similar deaths, and the long struggle for justice. On the Sunday morning following the verdict, black preachers around the country addressed the question, "Where is the justice of God? What are we to hope for?" This book is an attempt to take seriously social and theological questions raised by this and similar stories, and to answer black church people's questions of justice and faith in response to the call of God.  

But Kelly Brown Douglas also brings another significant interpretative lens to this text: that of a mother. "There has been no story in the news that has troubled me more than that of Trayvon Martin's slaying. President Obama said that if he had a son his son would look like Trayvon. I do have a son and he does look like Trayvon." Her book will also affirm the "truth" of a black mother's faith in these times of "stand your ground".

©2015 Kelly Brown Douglas (P)2019 Tantor
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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Important

Summary: A theological exploration of the culture led to Stand Your Ground laws.

Stand Your Ground by Kelly Brown Douglas is on several lists for best book of theology for the 2010s. In addition, it is regularly cited in books I have read that were published since Stand Your Ground came out in 2015. As many contemporary theology books do, part one is a historical and cultural framing of the issue, with part two concentrating on the constructive theological response.

Part one is much more straightforward to discuss. Kelly Brown Douglas charts the development of the Anglo-Saxon myth of exceptionalism from the 1st century Roman Historian Tacitus’s book Germania. The book was not cited much until the Renaissance, when it was common to root ideology in older Roman or Greek ideas. Germany did not solidify into a single ideological, cultural or political identity until fairly late, but Germania was used in the myth-making (as well as with Nazi ideals.) But Germania was also important to the development of Anglo-Saxon identity because early Anglo-Saxons pointed to Germania as the ideal of what Anglo-Saxons came from and could become. The narrative of Anglo-Saxon identity was important to the American founders. This extended quote of Benjamin Franklin that Kelly Brown Douglas quotes is representative of other over Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism.

"Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind."

But current ideas of Stand Your Ground require more than just Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism; it also requires the degradation of the Black body. Certainly, racial superiority is present in Franklin’s quote. Still, the development of the Black body into chattel continues after Franklin. After the Civil War, the ideology of white supremacy continued to morph to perpetuate the Black body as particularly dangerous, sexual, and criminal. Each of these ideas is developed at length, and I will not detail them here, but a third aspect completes Brown Douglas’ ideological history, Manifest Destiny War. The concept of Manifest Destiny has been developed by many for its theological history and influence, particularly Unsettling Truths. The most important aspect to Stand Your Ground is the idea that war becomes just through the understanding of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism and racial superiority. If land and resources were not being used in ways that were considered best (and best was in part simply about being Anglo-Saxon desire), then just war concepts were met to take the land or resources violently.

One of the more important but not explicit points that Kelly Brown Douglas makes in this section is primarily quoting justification for Manifest Destiny from people who were known as outspoken abolitionists. Rejection of slavery did not mean (and rarely meant) belief in equality or integration across racial groups. Many abolitionists wanted an end to slavery not because of the cruelty of owning another human or the violation of the concept of Imago Dei, but because the slave system was competitive with jobs and employment for White people. Before it legalized slavery, Georgia was intended to be a White only state. Oregon did not allow slavery but also did not allow any Black residents. Texas made free Black residents illegal and broke away from Mexico partly because of Manifest Destiny (desire for land that was not being used according to Anglo-Saxon ideals) and because Mexico made slavery illegal.

Part Two is harder to talk about because it is less linear in its development. The counter to Stand Your Ground, a concept that is inherently violent, rooted in exceptionalism, and only a concept that is applied to Anglo-Saxons (or those adopted into whiteness), is God’s identification with the marginalized. I listened to Stand Your Ground and give it adequate credit, and I need to re-read the last 100 pages of constructive theology in print. Kelly Brown Douglas was a student of James Cone and interacted with his concept of the Cross and the Lynching Tree. She also calls for the church to find a new moral memory, identity, and imagination to counter the historically distorted and sinful Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, which has harmed not just the church or Black society broadly but also the white people. As noted several times, Womanist theology is not seeking to reconfigure a hierarchy but to alter the theological and ethical systems to eradicate hierarchies fundamentally. However, many, primarily White conservative Christians, believe that hierarchies were put in place by God and that bringing about liberation violates God’s created order. Protests against Womanist theology often misread it because their theological categories require hierarchy, whether rooted in gender, sexuality, race, class, ethnic or political structures, or something else. The vision of real liberation is beautiful but requires openness to it as a possibility in this world, not just the next.

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Necessary Reading

Historical and Biblical content well researched and expressed within our living reality of the day. Very much appreciated the author's personal experience as a mother ntertwined throughout the book.

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Enlightening!

Explains so much. Ties to the crucifixion was key for me. The struggle continues.Thanks you

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Essential Reading

This book is essential reading. I knew much of the history covered here, even though it is often left out of most history books. But I have never had it put in such a clear flow before from the ancient roots of American (white) exceptionalism to our culture today. The theological implications are invaluable too, since America was and is a largely Christian country.

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I learned a new side of history

When I grew up history taught about events but not the details in between the events. The history of the US, the Civil Was and the Civil Rights movement were portrayed as great leaps forward. I know our children today are learning more to the stories, but for me this was absolutely eye opening. I re-learned things about my history and my religion that I had been blinded to and I have a better perspective. This book is a hard read in many ways, but worth every minute and essential as we navigate healing and hope to eradicate racism.