Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, Discussion Guide, Chapters 1 and 2

In February, as an intergenerational Sunday School Class, we are reading Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas.  Here is part 1 of our small group discussion guide for Chapter 1 (American’s Exceptionalism) and Chapter 2 (The Black Body: A Guilty Body.)


PART 1:  First off, to get discussion started in your groups, please discuss the following questions:

  • “If Trayvon was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?” –President Barack Obama
  • How did you feel when you read this book or heard others talking about it?
  • If you consider yourself to be white, how often do you think about your own whiteness/ race/ construction of race? If you consider yourself to be a person of color, how often do you think about your skin color/ race/ construction of race? 
  • Where do you most commonly talk with others about the construct of race?
  • What role do you think the church has in the discussion of the construct of race? 

PART 2:  After that discussion, drawing on your faith, your personal experiences and your reading, please respond to these excerpted quotations.

How to you respond to the phrase and idea  America’s narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism?” How do you see the idea of American exceptionalism as part of the religious narrative? How to you respond to the phrase and idea of “whiteness as cherished property?” How would you respond to the phrase “white space?” (p.42-43)

How would you respond to this quotation?

It is important to recall once again that the narrative of Ango-Saxon exceptionalism is a religious narrative……Not only did the early America Anglo-Saxons believer their mission to be on of erecting God’s “city on a hill” but they also come to believe that they essentially have divinity running through their veins….Whiteness in this respect is not simply cherished property, but also sacred property.  It is virtually the gateway to divinity, the key to salvation.  As the evangelical Protestant hymns suggests, salvation requires one to be made “white as snow.” (p.42)

How do you respond this excerpt from the first quotation?

Cheryl Harris puts it this way: “Whiteness and property share a common premise—a conceptual nucleus—of a right to exclude.”  This right to exclude inexorably gives way to other fundamental rights—the right to claim land and the right to stake out space. (p.42-43)

Respond to this quotation from your sheet.  How would you respond as the parent of Dr. Douglas’s son or the best friend, James?

“I remember it like it was yesterday. My son was seven or eight years old. He and his best friend, who was white (I will call him James), were sitting in the backseat of the car as I was driving them home from school. It was during black history month, so they were learning about “famous” black people. That day, Arthur Ashe was the focus of their black history lesson. As my son and James were discussing Ashe, James said, “Good thing we [meaning white people] decided to share our stuff with you guys [meaning black people] or Arthur Ashe would have never been a champion.” Already implanted within James’s young consciousness was the awareness that with his white skin came certain rights that were not given to black people. The only way for black people to attain these things was for white people to decide to share them.”  (p.44)

Respond to these quotations:

“Why are black murder victims put on trial?” (p.48) “Why is it reasonable to believe, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that a black murder victim is culpable in his own or her own slaying?  Why is she/ he be viewed as threat even while asking for help?  Why is self-defense so easily granted as the justification for killing an unarmed black person, especially when the killer is white?” Respond to this quotation from L.Z. Grandson “there is a subconscious element of our culture that looks at a black corpse and quiet puts it, instead of the perpetrator, on trial.” (p.49)

Respond to this quotation:

“The sacred connection between the radicalized American nomos and the sacred cosmos is disrupted by the advent of the free black body.  In the end, a free black body poses an ontological danger to an Anglo-Saxon exceptionalist social order.  It also presents an existential danger.” (p.70)

How do you react to this quotation?  How do you respond to the term chattel? What role does the church have in dismantling this idea?

“The black body that was once marked as chattel is now marked as criminal. This construct serves the same purpose as the construct of chattel. It relegates the black body to an “unfree” space. It preserves the free space as a white space. This transformation began shortly after emancipation.” (p.77)

Respond to this experience ending with this quotation. If you were Dr. Douglas, how would you respond? If you were the parent of the little boy, how would you respond? If you were looking on to this scene not knowing either boy, how would you respond?  If this was an interaction between adults and not little children, how do you think things would have changed?

“This little boy was angry. My son had intruded into his space. My son was guilty of being black, in the park, and looking.” (p. 86)


PART 3:  How would you describe the first two chapters of this book and this discussion to someone that is not here today?

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