Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. By Kelly Brown Douglas. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2015. $24, Paper, xv+240 pps.
At this spring’s Festival of Faith & Writing, Kelly Brown Douglas said she did not want to write this book but felt compelled to do so. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida—and then in the wake of a series of other fatal shootings of black men and women—Brown Douglas believed she had to write this. She also dedicates the book to her own black son, Desmond, knowing that in the eyes of many, Desmond is Trayvon, is Jordan, is Jonathan, is Renisha (other killings she cites). As even President Obama said at the time, if he had a black son, he’d look like Trayvon.
Brown Douglas is an Episcopal priest who also teaches religion at Goucher College and is now a canon theologian at the National Cathedral. She does a highly intriguing historical study leading up the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida. She demonstrates that just behind “Stand Your Ground” is the notion of a man’s right to defend his own castle. Indeed, she traces the notion of property rights (and the notion of one’s own body as property) all the way back to the Roman writer Tacitus. His treatise Germania would prove to have a long historical reach, influencing things as far removed historically as the drive toward Aryan supremacy in Nazi Germany and white, Anglo-Saxon privilege in the Americas. But in and through it all, the black body was never considered as valuable, never seen as defensible, at least not vis-à-vis any white body that was present. This explains in part why the convictions in these shootings either fail to happen altogether or are for some vastly less serious charge than murder.
This is to be a short review notice so I cannot delve into further details other than commending the book for your own reading. Suffice it to say that along the way, Brown Douglas weaves in a few personal narratives of encounters she has witnessed involving her own young son—most of these vignettes will make you cry (or should). When a white child of only 6 or 7 years of age tells her 2-year-old son to get off a playground lest “they put him in jail where he belongs,” you begin to sense how deeply entrenched racism is in our country. In the end, Brown Douglas goes to Matthew 25 to ask the question, “Who is Trayvon, dead on the sidewalk? Is he not the least of these? Is he not Christ Jesus himself?”
In autographing my book a few weeks ago, Rev. Brown Douglas wrote: “Scott, know always the justice of God.” May that be so for us all.
Scott Hoezee is the Director of The Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.