Growing up in predominantly white neighborhoods, schools, and churches, Austin Channing Brown had her first brush with racism at the age of seven when a librarian questioned if she was genuinely the owner of her library card. It was then that she discovered her parents had deliberately given her the name Austin to give her a leg up with potential future employers by making them think she was a white male. As a writer, speaker, and organizer, she has spent her life navigating the racial divide and trying to teach others, particularly businesses, churches and organizations how to enact genuine inclusion and diversity. As she's worked for racial justice, Austin has also been on a journey to finding her own self-worth and a love of Blackness. In I'm Still Here, she give readers insights into her compelling journey, as well as highlighting the ways in which white Evangelicalism has been complicit in racial tensions and shedding light on ways in which we can do better.
I'm Still Here is part memoir of an African-American woman, part treatise on racism and social justice. Throughout it's pages, Austin Channing Brown discusses her own life and what it's like to live inside her brown skin, while using these experiences to explain what it's like for an African-American living in, as the sub-title says, a world made for whiteness. As a white person, I think I'd subconsciously come to believe that racism had improved over the years I've been alive, but with recent events and the resurgence of more overt forms of racism, it had gone back downhill. But in reading this book, I've come to realize that was only a perception on my part, or really a misperception. Racism has never left us, and it's always been alive and well in basically every walk of life. I've read several books with themes centering around racial issues. I always enjoy them and tend to come away from reading them, learning something new. However, I think this is the first time I've read a book that was written solely from a first-person African-American perspective.
I very much appreciated it, because it allowed me a little glimpse into the mind and life of an African-American woman, and it helped me to better understand what it's like for her and others like her. I don't ever want to discount or underestimate the difficulties faced by persons of color and so reading books like this is very important to me for that reason. I've learned that there are so many things that white people take for granted that persons of other races simply can't. Otherwise, bad things might happen, up to and including their lives being in danger because of actions they take that would have been perceived differently if it was a white person doing that same thing. This is so very wrong and something that hurts me and makes me wish I had better answers for overcoming racism, because I know that my brothers and sisters of color in the human race are suffering.
This book was chosen as the latest read for our book club and many of the points made in it were driven home in stark relief at our monthly discussion as it's message played out right before our eyes. The club's only African-American member was essentially forced into educating us just as Ms. Channing Brown discusses having to educate her white colleagues. But what was even more distressing to me was her being placed in a position to have to defend herself against the ignorance of one of our white members. I could sense her pain, frustration, and the sheer exhaustion of having to deal with this nonsense yet again. It was admittedly a great object lesson for the rest of us, but at the same time, I wished she hadn't had to go through that. I can only imagine what it must be like to feel the need to essentially justify one's existence on almost a daily basis. Or perhaps, worse yet, to have to worry about the safety of yourself and your loved ones every day. When she said that she just hopes her son will live long enough to be able to have conversations like the one she was having with white people, it broke my heart. I've never had to face the idea that my kids might someday lose their lives merely because of the color of their skin, and I've never had to have hard discussions with my kids about the types of things she has to talk with her son about. It was definitely an eye-opening moment for me.
I really struggled with how to rate I'm Still Here. It certainly contains a message that every white person needs to hear and take to heart, while also being very affirming for African-Americans. I enjoyed the book, but there were times when I felt a little something was missing, like I wanted it to go a bit deeper. It's a pretty short book with each chapter being kind of an essay on different times in, and different aspects of, the author's life. I'm not sure what she could have done differently, but I'll admit there were parts where I wasn't quite as engaged. But at the same time, there were other parts that nearly brought tears to my eyes at their poignancy. One of my favorite parts and one of the most moving was the author's letter to her unborn son. In any case, I do recommend the book. I firmly believe that those of us who are Caucasian really need to step up to the plate and work to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Most of all we need to genuinely listen and accept what persons of color have to say with regards to their struggles, and expose ourselves to more literature like this book and more people in real life who are different from ourselves. Maybe then the true work of racial reconciliation can begin.
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