Reflective Thoughts about 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 wrestles 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 believing 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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Welcome to My Normal: An Identity Shaped by Tension and Injustice

First appeared on LoveseesColor

I remember the Saturday night that the Trayvon Martin verdict came out –not guilty. I had been attending Pilgrim Lutheran Church (PLC) for the past month but decided that would be my last service after that verdict. The people of PLC were great people but I couldn’t help but feel tension. It is a tension that resonates in the life and mind of black people who are in community with white people. It is the tension that is felt when something explosive and quite oppressive happens such as the Trayvon Martin murder. Michael Eric Dyson implies:

“So there are tensions and, in fact, these multiple tensions define my intellectual projects and existential identities: …But I think they are useful, edifying tensions, tensions that help reshape ongoing evolution as a thinker, writer, teacher, preacher and activist.”

It was that very moment when the verdict came down that I solidified, once again, that my identity was emblematic of an existential problem in America –racism. How would my blackness be affirmed at that moment? Would the gospel presentation address the racism linked with this decision? This was what plagued my mind and brought me to an unprecedented tension. This was not reflection of how the people of PLC treated me but it was more of an issue of identity. I needed to be around people I knew were grieving so that I could see how I should deal with the grief. I still remember the coldness that I felt when they let George Zimmerman walk out of the courtroom and gave him back the gun that killed young Trayvon Martin. I still remember the tears that I felt rolling down my cheek and how disconnected I felt, “God do you like black people?,” were the words that I screamed.

My identity called for something more than an exegetical sermon it called for some people to identify with me and my pain. Maybe, PLC could have done that but I was reluctant to even find out. (Truthfully, I stayed at home that Sunday and never attended another church for about 7 months.) I was making sense of what it meant to be diverse in a society that deems you the problem. I was wrestling with the notion if God had any affinity for the lives of black folks.

As a 41 year old black male there can be this intense feeling of impending doom around every corner –wrestling whether God is on my side is a normal reflection. To those who have not been kissed by nature’s son this may appear to be frivolous or trivial, but in my world it is a real issue. My identity is locked in how I see and experience God. Thus, when the verdict came down then God appeared to be unjust. The body of Christ appeared to be unjust because there was silence from many within the church. It is Dr. Martin Luther King who says,

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

The injustice of silence speaks through proverbial sounds of privilege. When we refuse to address the sin of racism, privilege and prejudice, we give credence to injustice. The murder of Trayvon Martin was an act of injustice that should have brought the church to a standstill with prayer –yet, we turned a blind-eye and accused the murdered teenager for looking like a “thug.”

(All of this entered my mind in that brief 10 seconds when Zimmerman was pronounced innocent.)

Conclusion

Eric Wolf said “The problem with being white in a world and in a denomination where being white is considered to be normal. When you’re normal, you don’t have to notice. It’s only if you’re not “normal” that you can’t help but notice; because if you don’t, many kind people will help to point that fact out.”

It becomes apparent that my “normal” and his normal are two different things. In my world, I am the norm but I also have to be vigilant and aware of the other norms in my space. And, the important thing about this reality is that it causes me to see and experience God differently. In all the places where Eric can walk with uncertainty on the Earth I have to be sure. I can’t be lackadaisical in my understanding of racism and privilege because it can get me killed. The moment that I forget that I am black is the moment, that, I think I can respond to a white police officer the same way that I have seen white guys respond. It is in that instance where my life will likely (be terminated.

The one place where I can wrestle with levels of uncertainty and feel a level of peace is in my view of God. Hopefully, God is just and will not destroy me if I forget that I am black.

Fruitvale Station: Grace in a Racist System

I watched Fruitvale Station after many months of trying to avoid the truth. This movie moved me to deal with issue of mistrust with the justice system. I mistrust the justice system but have to figure out a way to teach my children (especially my boys) how to conduct themselves in order to be safe even from the police. As a black father, I understand that there are two sets of rules for black boys and white boys. My son can’t hang out with his friends like white boys. My son can’t walk with a crowd of his black friends like white teens have the ability too. If a white person shoots my son it was out of fear for their life but if I shoot a white male then I was intentionally trying to kill him. Truth be told if I shoot a black male I will be placed in jail without any sort of hung jury.

To place this in the context of reconciliation moves me to a familiar place that ends with black folks having to give more to connect with a people group that continues to dehumanize the black community through acts of murder. The deliberate misuse of the anger toward the black body lives of the edges of toleration that the black community has always extended massive levels of grace. We have lost numerous black males to gun violence by black males and if the shooter is found justice is served. In the black community, we have dealt with this for as long as we can remember.

Race continues to be the pretense…

How does reconciliation come to bear in the face of an unjust system? My theology causes me to redress my anger into forgiveness but yet not to forget the atrocities. We have a system that highlights the black on black crime narrative for justice but finds a myriad of ways to excuse others from the murder of black males. The devalued ethos of black males bodies continues to plague a country that has never been fully convinced of the importance of black males people. As I think about the last scene in Fruitvale Station, the night of the Trayvon Martin verdict and now Jordan Davis verdict, I am stuck in a paradoxical dilemma. We love our black boys and we would suggest to you that they have so much to add to our world.

They are losing faith in the system… and quite frankly so am I.

RIP Jordan Davis

My Theological Necessity for the Black Church- I wrestle

I am not sure from a theological perspective or from a biblical perspective that I can justify what I am about to say-not that it is right or wrong but that it is plausible to consider. I value diversity as much as the next man but I deplore pastors who hide within theological doctrines. As Derrick Bell quotes in Faces at the Bottom of the Well : The Permanence of Racism,

“People looking to escape are not worried about solutions.”

Theology when practiced with skill and a global sense of humanity provides answers to the toughest issues we face. It provides solace or engenders the need to reform. So it saddens me that the church at large had decided to ignore this tension.

By now we have all heard the verdict of the George Zimmerman Trial but I am saddened that many in the evangelical world preach about a Jesus that does not involve a Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. I now without a doubt that it is a hard subject matter to tackle but it is the very thing that people of faith were developed to handle. Maybe I am over-sensitized to the plight of black men but if you as a pastor did not mention anything about Trayvon Martin then I perceive you as being wrong. It would be impossible for you to preach a Jesus that does not include the dichotomy of two lives that hung in the balance- Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. It would be impossible for you not to wrestle through the pain of two mothers who believed with all their hearts that the voice on the call was their son; For you not to consider how 6 jurors lives will be forever changed (whether you agree with the verdict or not). How this trial will forever impact the lives of those lawyers-for good or bad purposes. For you not to witness the mother of a slain child take the stand with grace and composure never defaming the character of the  very man that killed her son; A mother that just called for justice (whatever that looked like). A mother that proclaimed then very name that you preach about Sunday after Sunday.

I am sorry if you did not mention this case on Sunday you were by and large out of touch with your God and I am sorry we just do not serve the same God.

I can assure you of this one thing that the black pastors I know spoke about this. They have considered the implications of this trial since February of last year. They have toiled through many nights of mothers crying because their black sons were profiled. They have wrestle through the nights that their own sons were profiled. They have been to the jailhouse visiting innocent boys that were arrested for being black. Yes, I declare definitively there is a need for a black church.

It is within the walls of the black church where the very blood of Trayvon Martin continues to speak. The black church where we find godly solutions for situations that presents themselves as viable reasons for ungodly actions.  It is the black church where we search James Cone and see that there was a precise reason he wrote Black Liberation Theology, God of the Oppressed, and The Cross and the Lynching Treethis is out lives lived out in an everyday context. The black church is where you can come and see a million other young black males who look like Trayvon.

If we are a “nation of laws” that has described some as being greater than others then the only place for me to find refuge is in the black church.

My Lament for the Young Black Males- Peace Trayvon

Words escape my very sense of being civil. Civility awakes to imbedded anger that is ready to engage any and all who make comical commentary about the death of Trayvon Martin. For me this extends past Trayvon’s death into my own personal world and the world of many fathers with teenage sons. The reality is that this is and could have been the very same verdict that can so easily have befalling my 17 year son.

This morning I awake to more tweets and facebook post about Trayvon. The very souls of black folks are troubled and stirred. But for the first time I read a something that I overlooked last night for good reason-negative white tweets of support of Zimmerman. Though I may disagree with their thoughts on Zimmerman I give them the space to disagree without being rude or uncivil. But reading something this morning I learned –the more- that the life of a black boy is worthless in the eyes of many.  The quick comparison to O.J. is sophomoric and cantankerous.

Now 16 years later the experience of the Trayvon’s killing have me lost in a familiar place. I am stretching to understand the Why?. It is this very moment that everything Christian about me becomes contaminated with hatred. I want to find the white guy who made that racist comment about, “it is time to get some skittles.”  I want to ask the jurors how could you allow this man to get off. I want to ask God how long will the injustice toward black boys be perpetrated with such calculated insensitivity. I don’t want to be a Christian and extend peace where vitriol has been leverage as the thought of the day. I have a rage that is suffocating the very essence of peace for a myriad of reasons. It is getting tiresome to watch the extreme hatred toward our young black boys. (This is just not by media and white folks but black folks as well.)

 I am angered, hurt, and plain confused but not surprised. Yes, I hoped that this would be the time when we would see black boys win in the heart of the judicial system.  A 17 year old boy was killed by someone who “suspected he was doing something wrong.” The defense and Robert Zimmerman keeps saying Trayvon had 4 minutes where he could have gone home when it is more like George Zimmerman had 4 minutes when he could have went to Target. Trayvon was going home before Zimmerman profiled him.

I think back to the night when Allen Love and I were stopped and the car searched for no particular reason. I think back to the many nights we were questioned by black females and white people in general about being thugs. The many times we had to defend our reputations as well as those of other brothers because of people’s perceptions of us. A 17 year old boy was killed by someone who “suspected he was doing something wrong.” Can you believe this!-killed. My son is 17 and I have had this conversation with him many times about this very thing. I would want him to protect himself if he has too or run for safety-ultimately getting home safe.

My hope is that the kid that donned the hoodie, Trayvon Benjamin Martin, when he went to the store will be a symbol of change for young boys. The tragedy that happened to Trayvon happens weekly around the country but this time it was highlighted.  We stand once again asking, “Is there value for the young black male.” I answer unequivocally, Yes.

A 17 year old boy was killed by someone who “suspected he was doing something wrong.”