Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stand Your Ground - Chapter One - America's Exceptionalism

Dr Douglas begins this chapter with the question, "If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?" (pg3). In the next 44 pages, she presents a well-researched position that traces writings concerning Anglo-Saxon superiority to 98 CE (pg4). Those writings are quoted in the founding documents of our country, and are used to strengthen and legitimize white "as Cherished Property" (pg 23). Thus, white as supreme: skin color, cultural norms, etc. The very foundations of culture and religion are built on white supremacy.

The rights of white supremacy include the rights to exclude, the rights of property ownership and the rights of personal space. These are only some of the privileges I have been historically able to hold as a white person. While those first two may be lessening, it is the third one that I see causing the clashes more and more in our society today. It seems like the calls to law enforcement go something like this, "There is a Black person outside with a gun." Law enforcement shows up, assumes the truth of the call and a Black person is detained, arrested, or killed = a Black person in a white space is seen as the problem. Public streets, even in Black neighborhoods, are seen as white space.

Dr Douglas has opened my eyes to how I travel trough daily life. I do not feel safe everywhere, but I certainly expect that my body and my rights will be protected everywhere, as a white person. I now see how our forefathers could write about the rights of all, yet truly mean only those of white heritage. This is a suspicion I held before this, and I am thankful to have such a tightly-researched chapter to trace the lineage of influence.

What are your thoughts as you digest chapter one and ponder what exceptionalism means? Where are you and your family history weaved in and out of this story? How have you noticed your privilege differently since reading this chapter?


  1. I remember being explicitly taught by my parents that all races were equal. But I also remember grandparents and other family members who re-affirmed that God loves all races, but we were not to date or intermarry, or even fully trust those who were not white.

    I remember church people who could smile and nod on Sunday morning when the preacher talked about God's love fore all of humanity - "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight." - but could engage in racist behavior and expectation of white privilege for the rest of the week without seeing it as ANY sort of a conflict.

    The history of American exceptionalism was a history I've never heard before. Like you, I now understand how we could live in privilege while professing to believe in equality and never comprehend the paradox.


    1. You and I had such similar upbringings. I was explicitly told by my dad that I was never to even date a person of color, or a Catholic :). He was never shy about showing his racism to groups of people, but seemed fine with individual people of color once he got to know them. As you said though, they were never to be fully trusted for some reason.

    2. My grandparents were the same way - running down the groups of "others" but had many acquaintances of different races that were well respected. I don't think there were any that would be classified as real friends, though. I remember my grandfather questioning me, when listening to me talk about my friends at work, as to whether or not there were any white people who worked with me. He was uncomfortable with my close friendships being with people who were "other".

  2. Interesting and well written. I never knew the real meaning (or at least Douglas' meaning) of American Exceptionalism. I always assumed it was "Americans are great, our country and accomplishments are exceptional, we can get things done that others can't manage to figure out".

    Also interesting concepts and explanation of Stand Your Ground.

    Sorry I don't have more erudite comments, just giving some impressions. I should sit down and capture my thoughts better.

    Certainly my family struggled with racial issues, how to be fair to others while "protecting" the family reputation, etc.

    1. I do not feel equal to writing anything after reading Dr Douglas' such well-researched, thoughtful and encompassing chapters. I believe it may even be a few years before I will feel like I have digested this well.

      I also thought of American Exceptionalism differently. As I listened to our national political parties each address or skirt around those ideas of exceptionalism, I realized that it is still the same concept, just much deeper than I had ever pondered it before this. Because America was civilized by whites, because America was a New Beginning, because America was begun as a democracy from that New Beginning...


Please be graceful with me and others!