Reflective Thoughts from Kelly Brown Douglas’ Stand Your Ground

There is a rage that brings a serious critique to bear while simultaneously providing indiscernible places of healing.[1] This is a distinctive place that is not entered into with brevity or lackadaisically, but serves as a breeding ground for internal change. This rage or anger is not some misguided excuse to lose control, but a lamented response to injustice, which presses one to action and answers. In her quest to find answers, Kelly Brown Douglas’ Stand Your Ground, presses truth in the face of readers with the intention of finding answers to the continual killing of unarmed black bodies.[2] This truth is represented in three particular spaces: black rage, black fear, and black faith.

Douglas’ black rage is visible throughout the book, but most noticeable in the mood from whence she writes in her work. Once again, it is not a rage that causes her to lash out in violence, but one that causes her to think critically about the death of those blessed with black bodies. Her black rage is visible in her constant references to her young black son. She writes, “Why is it becoming increasingly acceptable to kill unarmed black children, I wondered? Why are they so easily perceived as a threat? How are we to keep our black children safe? As a mother of a black male child, I find these to be urgent questions.”[3] With compassion and diligence, she writes with the hope of finding some sort of clarity for the death of the young black bodies. This black rage is a real presence with real consequences, which she understands, vividly, because her son could be the next victim of such a travesty. Her press is to find theological answers and raise hard questions to a terrorism that the “underside of modernity” appears to be facing and the modern church ignores.[4]

The notion of black fear is not one that is placed in black bodies, but a fear that it thrust upon black bodies. This constant fear that in some fashion or form black bodies will enter into designated white spaces, these “undesirable strangers” or “unloved strangers,” who enter into places that their privilege has not availed to them.[5] This ill-informed identifier instantly places black bodies in danger. This intrusion of the sacred white space alerts fear that “makes for a dangerous situation because white people are compelled, by divine law nonetheless, to protect their space from intruders.”[6] The blinding that is represented in black fear is the direct result of a racial lens that symbolizes black with crime. Brown Douglas equates this with a heighten sense of awareness that the black body does not have the “presumption of innocence” that is afforded to whites.[7] The black fear is a manufactured emotion that serves as another example of the numerous ways that the black body is continually is danger.

Black faith has been the pedestal of triumph which the black body was able to lean upon for strength. “Born in the crucible of slavery,” black faith galvanized the people in the long fight for liberation.[8] It was this black faith that enabled an oppressed people to redefine an image of God that resemble freedom instead of enslavement.[9] Black faith gave black people the opportunity to wrestle with illegitimate presentations of God with the hope of finding power in a free God. Freedom is a power within the black faith that is found in the freedom of God and is stronger than any other human power that seeks to destroy the black body. [10]  Black faith allows for transcendence, an opportunity to get past the pain –“the contradictions of black living.”[11]

Black rage, black fear and black faith make up the three emotive adventures that I traveled through as I read, Stand Your Ground. Some may find it problematic that I specified, each thought with a black identifier. The identifier provides an intentional marker that highlights the racial component that is so prevalent in America. There is an ownership of the term that must be located in black spaces to counteract the negativity. Paulo Freire, Audre Lorde and Kelly Brown Douglas all explore the need to break away from the oppressors.[12] The ownerships of rage, fear and faith represent change; Brown Douglas for me represents change. She makes it alright to stand against the system and demand that change be in the forefront of the agenda. She makes ownership available in spaces that have been deemed inaccessible. No longer can rage, fear and faith be disassociated from the black experience as if it is unattainable, unnecessary, and unwelcomed. We have made strides to freedom, but there are still more steps that need to be taken to make the black body a fully invested citizen.

 

[1] Rage and anger can be changed, intermittedly, but should be used to draw the same conclusion.

 

[2] Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, New York: Orbis Books, 2015.

 

[3] Ibid.,ix.

 

[4] J. Cameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.,379.

[5] Joy DeGruy explains that the impact of extreme racial systems have left a mark of the minds of blacks as well as whites. She denotes that these racist power structures have made the life of black folks with little “time to catch our collective breath.” As these undesirable strangers, blacks are brutalized at the hands of the very people that were/are charged to protect and serve. Joy DeGruy, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, Portland, OR: Joy DeGruy Publications, 2005., 107-108.   James Baldwin’s use of the “unloved stranger” unearths the hatred that is levied on the backs of black bodies in America. He believes that all blacks have this “paradoxical adjustment” where we must come to grips with the unalienable fact that we are dark, dangerous and unloved strangers –simply niggers. Now, this is not a personal identifier but his perception of what he believes white people perceive when black people enter into sacred white spaces. James Baldwin, Notes of Native Son, Boston: Beacon Press, 1955., 42-43.

 

[6] Ibid., Brown Douglas.

 

[7] Ibid., 86.

[8] Ibid., 138.

[9] Ibid., 151. Brown Douglas wrestle with a God concept that is emblematic of an enslaved African. In her description a God of such a stature had no power or authority to offer freedom to enslaved African people.  That God would be the very image that the slave master has depicted from the beginning, so the conscious African could not possible assert freedom with God while simultaneously believe that enslavement was a viable avenue in the image of God. I contend that the slave master’s god was not the same as the enslaved Africans’ God.

[10] Ibid., 155.

[11] Ibid., 172.

[12] Ibid., 155; Ibid., Sister Outsider,123. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continuum,1973.

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