Stand Your Ground: Chapter 3 Discussion Guide


As we gather, on your own or with the person next to you, reflect on this block of text and the included questions from the beginning of chapter 3, found on page 9.

“Given the fact that America’s narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism has constructed the white body in extreme opposition to the black body, it is predicable that black bodies are disproportionately assaulted by this culture. What perhaps is not so predictable is the deadly force of this culture in relation to the black body. What has allowed this culture to become to acceptability deadly when it comes to the black body?  Why does this culture seemingly pursue black bodies with murderous intent?”

Small Group Part 1:

  1. Assign a moderator and a recorder for your group.
  2. Introduce yourself and share a 1-2 sentence summary of what you learned last week or learned earlier in our group introduction.

Small Group Part 2:  Discuss the following quotations from chapter 3: (Bold emphasis is Alice’s.)

I. On Manifest Destiny:

A.“Historian Reginald Horseman explains the underlying assumptions of American’s mission of Manifest Destiny this way, “By 1850 the emphasis was on the American Anglo-Saxons as a separate, innately superior people who were destined to bring good government, commercial prosperity, and Christianity to the American continents and to the world. This was a superior race and inferior races were doomed to subordinate status or extinction.  There was in face a relio-science to support the “extinction” presumption of Manifest Destiny.” (102)

B. “For while the phrase “melting pot” would become a metaphor for the expectation that all immigrants would be assimilated and thus transformed into “Americans,” until the early twentieth century, the usage of “melting away” suggested the expectation for the nonwhite bodies. If American was to become an Anglo-Saxon melting pot, then certain people would have to “melt away.” Nott and Glidon continue by saying that although missionaries claim to have bene successful in civilizing them, “it is in vain to talk about civilizing [the American Indian.] You might as well attempt to change the nature of the buffalo.” (103)

C. “As much as this exodus story is a story of moving out of bondage into freedom, it is also a story of invading an occupied land.  The exodus provides a theological paradigm for Manifest Destiny just as much it does for liberation….

The exodus story has traditionally provided the primary scriptural foundation for black people’s understanding of God’s movement in their own history.  This story is central to black faith.  It is the story that stirred the imagination of the enslaved and allowed them to affirmed, even as their enslavers said otherwise, that God did not choose them to chattel but to be free.  However, with the narrative of Manifest Destiny, the theological paradigm of black people as the Israelites is contested….

In the context of the Anglo-Saxon Manifest Destiny, the black body is not the chosen Israelite body.  Rather, it is more like the scorned Canaanite body. This is not the body that God frees.  It is instead a body that God allows to be destroyed.  Again, the God of the exodus becomes a God of Manifest Destiny. Such a God sanctions the “extinction” of a people.  At the least, this God subjects people to conquering violence.”( 105-106)

D. “The narrative of Manifest Destiny inevitably flows from America’s exceptionalist identity. As earlier mentioned, if a race of people believes itself to be chosen by God because it and its way of life is superior to others, then a sense of Manifest Destiny becomes inevitable. It is only right, in other words, to make the world “better” by investing it with a superior way of living, especially if that way is considered a reflection of eternal law. This is what is in the “best interest” of the world. Manifest destiny presumes to be a way to “serve the common good.” In many respects, then, the narrative of Manifest Destiny is the culmination of the numerous discourses and productions of knowledge generated by America’s grand narrative of exceptionalism. It reflects the Anglo-Saxon natural law theo-ideology that sanctions white supremacy. In fact, Manifest Destiny is an expression of that ideology as it assumes both the supremacy of whiteness, the shelter for Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, and the inferiority of non-whiteness, a threat to Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism. This narrative further exonerates white people from taking moral responsibility for certain immoral, dehumanizing, and even deadly actions they might perpetrate against nonwhite bodies, all in the name of Manifest Destiny. Extermination, for instance, is read as a natural process of extinction, rather than the result of a violent imposition upon a people’s life. True to the constructions of the narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, the nonwhite body becomes responsible for its own fate, even when it is a deadly fate. In effect, the narrative of Manifest Destiny is that which ultimately legitimates the deadly use of subjugating power. The narrative of Manifest Destiny is a declaration of war.” 107

  1. Speaking more broadly before digging into the quotation: From your time in school, what have been your impressions about Manifest Destiny?  Have you learned about this term/ movement in different ways? How do you interpret land, life and race woven into the narrative of Manifest Destiny?
  2. Reflect on the above quotations. What would you draw out?  What questions do you have?  What surprises you? What do you see anew?  What do you disagree with?
  3. How have you experienced the idea of “white supremacy?”
  4. Do you interpret Manifest Destiny as a declaration of war? Why or why not?

II.Stand Your Ground the Black Body

A. “It is no accident that stand-your-ground culture has been most aggressively if not fatally executed after every period in which certain “rights” are extended to black people, ostensibly bringing them closer to enjoying the “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This pattern of “white backlash” began with the emancipation. After emancipation, Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, and the heinous “punishment” of lynching was enforced. The “law and order” mandates of the post–civil rights era continued this pattern. White backlash surely is reflected in the virulent stand-your-ground reality that has followed the election of the first black president. In each instance, stand-your-ground culture has asserted itself in an effort to “seize” the rights of whiteness and to return the black body to its chattel space. Essentially, the more the black body is free, the more intense the war against its body. We will now look to see how this is the case.” 117

B. “The moon doesn’t run.

Neither does the sun.

In Chicago

They’ve got covenant

Restricting me—

Hemmed in

On the South Side,

Can’t breath free.” – Langston Hughes’s 1949 poem “Restrictive Convenants” (123)

  1. Reflect on the above quotation. What would you draw out?  What questions do you have?  What surprises you? What do you see anew?  What do you disagree with?
  2. How do you see Manifest Destiny affecting black codes, Jim Crow laws, Lynching, and the War on Drugs?
  3. How would you compare the death of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin? (121)
  4. “Essentially, the more the black body is free, the more intense the war against its body.” How would you apply this quotation to today’s context?

C. “Today, the Manifest Destiny stand-your-ground-culture war is fueled by the presence of a black man living in the White House. There is no greater challenge to America’s grand narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism than a black president. This represents a complete encroachment upon the space reserved for cherished white property. It is no surprise, therefore, that stand-your-ground culture has asserted itself in an aggressive and unrelenting manner. All of the weapons that have been used over time have been brought to bear in the current climate of stand-your-ground culture. The “Stop and Frisk laws,” which are disproportionately applied to black and brown bodies, harken back to the Black Code vagrancy laws. Once again, you can be stopped and arrested for living black. The dismantling of the 1965 Voter’s Rights Act, as well as racialized gerrymandering, is reminiscent of the white backlash that followed Reconstruction, the first time that black people ascended into white political space. And most troubling of all, the Stand Your Ground laws, in conjunction with the Conceal and Carry gun laws, have made legal a murderous act that was extralegal, that is, lynching. Our black children are falling victims to the twenty-first-century version of stand-your-ground-culture lynching.” (130-1)

  1. Reflect on the above quotation. What would you draw out?  What questions do you have?  What surprises you? What do you see anew? What do you disagree with?
  2. Kelly Brown’s Douglas asks us this question to end the chapter. How do you respond? “What is the meaning of God’s help in the context of stand-your-ground culture that would deprive the black body of a home?”
  3. What is the role of the church in this war against the black body? How does the role of the church change depend on who attends the church? Or, does the role of the church change?

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?