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Stand Your Ground in Context: Did the South's Culture of Racialized Violence and Honor Encourage Michael Dunn to Kill Jordan Davis?


The South is part of the United States; the South is a country within a country.

The Michael Dunn-Jordan Davis Stand Your Ground murder case has been the focus of a great deal of micro-level analysis. Dunn's racist letters and claims of "victim" status have been been highlighted as evidence of his racist intent towards Jordan Davis.

An interview with Dunn's neighbors exposed his sociopathic and rageful character. Jordan Davis's family has courageously shared how they have dealt with the horror of having their teenage son stolen from them by an impulse control lacking adult--and then how the same adult was found "not guilty" of committing murder.

What do we make of African-American young people, one of which who was on Dunn's jury, that have so profoundly and deeply internalized white racism that  they excuse-make for white vigilantism?

And I have wondered about how  black folks should deal with a de facto state of affairswherein Stand Your Ground laws act as legal permission for white people to shoot us dead in the street?

By contrast,  there has been little if any discussion of the macro-level cultural motivations that drove Michael Dunn to shoot and murder an unarmed teenager, and to feel right and legitimate in doing so, because the latter's music was "offensive" and he dared to "talk back" to a white man.

History and context are important here. Stand Your Ground laws were  birthed in the South and other parts of Red State America by the National Rifle Association and the  Koch Brothersfunded Right-wing lobby group ALEC.

Zimmerman killed Trayon Martin in Florida. Dunn also killed Jordan Davis in Florida.

Florida saw the highest documented percentage of African-Americans lynched in the United States.

Red State America is the Confederacy reborn. One cannot marshal the language and imagery of the Confederacy (the Confederate flag is in fact the American Swastika) under the guise of the Republican Party without channeling its ugly history of racial violence and white on black racial tyranny. White supremacy is not a buffet of attitudes and values that can be cherry picked from at one's own convenience. No. White supremacy is a philosophy and lifeworld that colors and infuses all that it touches.

The white racism--and accompanying white on black street vigilantism--that is channeled and legitimated by Stand Your Grounds laws is part of this ugly legacy.

There has been extensive research about "Southern Culture" and its relationship to notions of "honor", "manhood", race, class, and violence.

For example,  Whet Moser describes how:

The U.S. is simply much more violent than other developed countries. And the region that brings up the national average is the South...

It’s not exclusively Southern states with high assault-death rates; a third chart by Healy shows that some Western and Midwestern states have higher rates than some Southern states. But by region, the difference is dramatic.

This has been the case for many, many years, and many causes have been proposed: hot weather, economic disparity, the legacy of slavery and the Civil War. In 1996, four psychologists from Midwestern universities, led by UIUC’s Dov Cohen and Michigan’s Richard Nisbett, designed a lab experiment to test if Southerners were more prone to violence, and in particular violence stemming from a “culture of honor” endemic to the region.

They ran their subjects through a battery of tests designed to provoke: bumping the subject in a hallway, calling him an “asshole,” forcing a game of “chicken” in a hallway (anecdatally, I am more likely to bump rude people on the bus or sidewalk than my friends, and am also Southern), and other subtle manhood challenges. The researchers then took qualitative and quantitative data (emphasis mine)...

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