Kelly Brown Douglas begins her book with the story of Trayvon Martin. In 2012, Trayvon, a Black teen, was killed as he walked home one night in Florida. The killer, a twenty-eight-year-old man named George Zimmerman, was found not guilty. According to Douglas, Zimmerman, whom Douglas refers to as "the...
killer," was protected under Florida's Stand Your Grand law. In other words, Zimmerman claimed to be acting in self-defense.
For Douglas, Martin's death is an example of "the stand-your-ground culture." In her book, Douglas explains how the mentality behind Stand Your Ground can be evinced in slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, and the general brutality of America's racism. For Douglas, racism is a product of social, political, and religious factors.
In chapter 1, Douglas illustrates how Pilgrims and Puritans utilized their race and religion to establish themselves as authorities on matters like virtue and freedom. Using writings from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and other Founding Fathers, Douglas describes how leading Americans embraced the Anglo-Saxon myth and depicted their country as exceptional and fulfilling a "divine purpose."
In the next chapter, Douglas details how the Black body was designated chattel to maintain "America's Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism." As chattel, Black people could not be called "cherished property." They would always "belong to another"—the divine, exceptional Anglo-Saxon American. The chattel category imposed on Black people left them open to lethal exploitation and countless stereotypes.
In chapter 3, Douglas articulates how the concept of Manifest Destiny was used to legitimate the inhumane treatment of Black people. In Douglas's view, Manifest Destiny furnished American leaders with the power to determine how to handle land, race, and life. Douglas highlights the religious aspect of Manifest Destiny. She links Manifest Destiny to America's "quintessential identity as the new Israelites."
In chapter 4, Douglas shows how Black people's faith can be seen in the story of the Israelites. With Black people, God helps liberate the Israelites from a place where their bodies are "devalued and destroyed." With the American nation, God is with a people who "bring unexpected death to many others." Through spirituals and music, Black people forged a healing faith that countered the violent faith promulgated by America.
In chapter 5, Douglas compares the murder of Trayvon Martin to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Douglas describes what happened to Jesus as a "first-century lynching." She sees it in the context of stand-your-ground culture. She explains how stand-your-ground culture is a sin because it "alienates humans from the very ways and will of God." It devalues life and turns people against one another.
In the final chapter, Douglas discusses notable Black leaders who confronted stand-your-ground culture and provided "the parameters for perhaps moving beyond it." These figures include Martin Luther King, Mary Church Terrell, Frederick Douglass, and Ida B. Wells.