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Saturday, February 24, 2018

I'M STILL HERE: BLACK DIGNITY in a WORLD MADE for WHITENESS by Austin Channing Brown



To be published in May of 2018 by Convergent Books.

The author, Austin Channing Brown
Let me address the title of the book for all of you that will get hung up on the word "whiteness."

Let me use a rough analogy to explain it.

I am an overweight person. I used to be even more overweight (I have lost 85 pounds). I weighed enough that I had to buy almost all of my clothes online or in special stores. Most major chains literally sold nothing that would fit me. Certain brands make it very clear that they refuse to make clothes for heavy people because they don't want them wearing their brand. Once, I had a salesperson yell at me from across her empty mall store when she saw me walk in that they didn't carry my size (I was looking for something for my daughter).

The normal (easy to find, available everywhere) clothing world was not made for me. I was living in a world designed for thinner people.


This is how the author, Austin Channing Brown, feels about modern America. It is designed for white people. Period. Everyone else makes large accommodations to the majority while white America makes small ones. For example, in media most television shows feature white characters with maybe a token non-white character. For example, just this month the Marvel movie Black Panther came out. It is the eighteenth Marvel movie. It is also the first one with a main character who is not a white man. 1 of 18 is not a very good ratio.

Brown grew up in White America in suburban parochial schools. She is not a stranger to the mostly white religious organizations that she has been hired to help with their diversity issues. But, too often, she has been hired as a token hire rather than a guide to how to truly embrace a different part of the body of Christ. It is not enough to get the numbers right.

I understand her first sentence of the book: "White people are exhausting." I am a white man who teaches at a majority minority school. The culture of the school is simply not mine (separated by race and at least one generation) and there are times when I leave school exhausted by the constant mental translating I have to do just to keep up. I understood her comment immediately.

There are weird things that Brown experiences that I also have experienced. For example, she has white people at work that want to touch her hair without permission - simply because they are curious about how it feels. I have that happen, too - on a semi-regular basis from my African American students. I had it happen the day after I read her a passage in the book in which she complains about it. But, I expect that kind of things from kids - they're impulsive and curious and that impulsivity and curiosity overwhelms proper social rules. She gets it from adults who should know better - that's truly inappropriate behavior.

At it's core this is a hard book full of hard teachings. I don't embrace all of them. I think that she takes offense at things that are not necessarily meant to offend. Sins of omission versus sins of commission, if you like. I try to teach my students and my own children to try to not to take offense if there was none intended. She addresses this in the book as well and calls it out as simple excuse-making. 
She may be right.  This I know - she has many more valid points than I would like to admit.

More than most anyone would like to admit.

The biggest and most successful argument she makes is that the church (not one specific denomination, but rather the whole of Christianity) should be the one place that is actively working for justice, not just grudging, half-hearted accommodation (when it is remembered at all).

It took me about 10 days to read this small book because I felt that I often just had to sit it aside for a while and let it digest. It has given me a lot to think about as I approach my own classes every day.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Note: I was provided an uncorrected proof pre-publication copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program.

This book can be can be found on Amazon.com here: I'M STILL HERE: BLACK DIGNITY in a WORLD MADE for WHITENESS by Austin Channing Brown.

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