Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Stand Your Ground - Chapter Two - The Black Body: A Guilty Body

This chapter begins with another intriguing question: "Why are black murder victims put on trial?" (pg 48). Lower on that same page, Dr. Douglas writes, "Black victims of fatal violence are presumed guilty of bringing their deaths upon themselves. Their white killers are given the benefit of the doubt. It is readily assumed that the white killer acted as a reasonable person would who is in fear for his life."

In helping us to understand how this has historically developed,  Dr. Douglas revisits the Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism and how it lead to the belief that black people could be excluded from consideration as being human (pg 52). She then tracks the concept of "Black Body as Chattel" (pgs 52-56). She shows how the church and state affirmed that not only were black people not equal to white people, but that "equality with white people - and certainly not to speak of superiority over them - is immoral" (pg 57).

I found it hard to read the "Hypersexualized Black Body" section (pgs 64-68). It makes logical sense that in this terrible way of perceiving black bodies, the charge of rape would be unfathomable; I had never allowed my thoughts to wander that far. The sexual abuse of slaves was another way to de-humanize them, force a higher birth rate, and set them apart as "other," specifically the blacks males as threats to white women.

"The Dangerous Black Body" was illustrative for me for what seems to be happening over and over again in the killings of black bodies by police officers right now in America (pgs 68-76). "When black people step into [white/public] social space, they do so as intruders, and thus they have created a dangerous situation because white people are compelled , by divine law nonetheless, to protect their space from intruders" (pg 69). A lot of the calls to the police in the instances of the killings that have necessitated the Black Lives Matter movement, incorrectly identify black bodies as threatening in some way: carrying a weapon. threatening property, threatening suicide, etc. The police then respond with preconceived notions of danger and act without truly assessing the situation.

The dangerous black body then becomes the "Criminal Black Body" for the rest of chapter two (pgs 77-89). If you have not yet read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, it should be the very next book on your White Person's Reading List on Racial Reconciliation. It is a dense read, and as well-researched and well-written as Stand Your Ground, in my opinion.

As Dr. Douglas traces how the anti-vagrancy laws came to reinforce a new type of forced labor for the males (pgs 77-82), she also shows how black women are dismissed as "criminally immoral" or "mean and angry" (pg 83). In the week or so since I read this section, I have noticed the stereotype of "Angry Black Woman" (pg 85) more then I ever have before in my lifetime.

So then, if black men are criminal, and black women are so angry as to be irrational and then become criminal, then Dr. Douglas' last stories in chapter two show how "free black bodies have to be guilty of something" (pg 86). Therefore all black murder victims are ultimately put on trial for their own murder. The story Dr. Douglas tells of her toddler son's interaction with an elementary-age white boy at a playground is heart-wrenching (pgs 86-87).

**Aside for Chapter Three: I may not be able to post again next week, so there may be a two-week lapse until the next post. There are some program-year tasks I need to get accomplished to get the Sunday School year started well at Trinity.**

1 comment:

  1. One small thing that really stuck with me after reading this chapter is the concept of the white body being able to go anywhere with an assumption of safety. All encounters include the assumption that the white body is blameless. Like you noticing the 'angry black woman' stereotype, I've become aware of how I am deferred to in random encounters out in public. I had never realized the extent of this, or the possible reasons behind it, before.


Please be graceful with me and others!