Moreover, race and racism involve a sense of “group position”. White supremacy demands that non-whites, and Blacks in particular, “know their place”.
The South developed elaborate rituals and social conventions that ranged from segregated public facilities to the social norm that Black people would step off the street if Whites approached, avert their eyes to the ground, and assume a natural position of subordination relative to White people.
George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida–a community that was once a “sundown town“–followed a Southern cultural logic that the Black body was in a space where it did not belong. Thus, Zimmerman, a man who overly identifies with Whiteness and White Authority, felt empowered to stalk, confront, and kill Trayvon Martin.
Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis because the African-American teenager, was to his eyes, disrespectful, arrogant, and “talked back”. White privilege has socialized White male adults to expect a level of natural subordination and deference from Black youth. Michael Dunn’s honor was insulted, and his sense of Southern White manhood infringed upon, because Jordan Davis did not follow his commands.
From the lynching tree, to the present with its Stand Your Ground laws, Black “arrogance” is a “crime”–one punishable by death.
Dunn’s perception of insult and “reasonable” threat from a Black teenager who was “armed” with rap music echoes the research on interpersonal violence and how violent aggressors may actively try to provoke conflict in order to defend their perceived sense of honor.
Randall Collins’ Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory offers a chillingly accurate description of the motivations driving White street vigilantes such as Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman–men who are now empowered by Stand Your Ground laws to kill:
The second source of evidence is that in honor code situations, individuals often go looking for trouble. They are not merely defending themselves against slights, peacefully minding their own business otherwise. These are precisely the scenes or recurrent situations where people are hyper-sensitive, where they do things to provoke others, to drive them to the edge. The typical micro-scenario of honor confrontations revealed in contemporary ethnography is where someone uses a repertoire of half-insults, insolent gestures, and verbal games to provoke someone into a fight. The rhetoric and the idiom is that of honor, but here the honor code is being used provocatively, not defensively; it provides an excuse for fighting while putting the onus on the other for having behaved outrageously and thus deserving the violence that follows.
Stand Your Ground laws are a script for wanton violence in which the aggressor and bully can provoke an outcome where the victim is somehow transformed into the guilty party.
In a society where Whites are 350% more likely to be found innocent of killing Black people under Stand Your Ground laws, and Blacks are much more likely to be given the death penalty than Whites, informal Southern codes of White manhood, honor, and racial violence now have the power and protection of law.
Historian and political scientist Glenn Feldman has written extensively about what he describes as the “Southernization” of American politics where the rise of the White Right, the Tea Party, and the Republican’s “Southern Strategy” have had profoundly negative consequences for the country’s civic culture. In keeping with Feldman’s thesis, Stand Your Ground laws are exporting the South’s culture of racialized violence and “honor” to the rest of the United States.
If advocates of Stand Your Ground have their way, all of America will be the new/old South. Is that a country which most Americans would want to live in?
By: Chauncey DeVega