I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Austin Channing Brown


Book Review

A must-read for white people seeking to be actively anti-racist.

"White people need to listen, to pause so that people of color can clearly articulate both the disappointment they’ve endured and what it would take for reparations to be made."

Austin Channing Brown's I'M STILL HERE: BLACK DIGNITY IN A WORLD MADE FOR WHITENESS rose to the top of my anti-racism reading list after I listened to her interview with Brené Brown (Unlocking Us, June 10, 2020).

One of the most convicting stories in the book is of a field trip Brown took in a college to explore Black history in the South. While most of the white students on the trip dismissed the evil they saw as "in the past" and having nothing to do with them, one white student stood up and said, "Doing nothing is no longer an option for me." This book is a must-read for all white Americans. It is way past time that we stand up and do something to fight for justice and equality for all Americans.

Here are a few take-aways from a white reader who has been convicted by Brown's writing & speaking:

• Offer empathy & action (not apologies & tears):
"But instead of offering empathy and action, whiteness finds new names for me and offers ominous advice. I am too sensitive, and should be careful with what I report. I am too angry, and should watch my tone when I talk about my experiences. I am too inflexible, and should learn to offer more grace to people who are really trying."

• Being a "nice" person does not make me anti-racist:
"When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it’s easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label racist should be applied only to mean-spirited, intentional acts of discrimination. The problem with this framework—besides being a gross misunderstanding of how racism operates in systems and structures enabled by nice people—is that it obligates me to be nice in return, rather than truthful. I am expected to come closer to the racists. Be nicer to them. Coddle them."

• Worry more about my actions that about being labelled racist or not racist.
"Sadly, most white people are more worried about being called racist than about whether or not their actions are in fact racist or harmful."

• Being around, working with, living with, and being friends with Black people is not enough. We need to push for deep, transformative, and just relationships. And we need to seek to be part of communities where Black people are in positions of power and leadership.

"They want to believe their proximity to people of color makes them immune. That if they smile at people of color, hire a person of color, read books by people of color, marry or adopt a person of color, we won’t sense the ugliness of racism buried in the psyche and ingrained in the heart. White people don’t want to believe that we sense the discomfort, hear the ignorance, notice the ways they process race, our bodies, our presence."

"But instead of pushing for relationships that are deep, transformative, and just—instead of allowing these efforts to alter our worldview, deepen our sense of connectedness, and inspire us toward a generosity that seeks to make all things right—we have allowed reconciliation to become synonymous with contentedly hanging out together."

"It [whiteness] wants to see a Black person seated at the table but doesn’t want to hear a dissenting viewpoint. It wants to pat itself on the back for helping poor Black folks through missions or urban projects but has no interest in learning from Black people’s wisdom, talent, and spiritual depth. Whiteness wants enough Blackness to affirm the goodness of whiteness, the progressiveness of whiteness, the openheartedness of whiteness. Whiteness likes a trickle of Blackness, but only that which can be controlled."

" A lot of white people have never sat under the authority of a Black teacher, pastor, professor, or supervisor."

• Jesus loved & sought justice for the marginalized, and so must I.
"I need a love that is troubled by injustice. A love that is provoked to anger when Black folks, including our children, lie dead in the streets. A love that can no longer be concerned with tone because it is concerned with life."

• I need to learn all of our history, not just the white-washed (in all senses of the word) version that we've been fed.
"Ultimately, the reason we have not yet told the truth about this history of Black and white America is that telling an ordered history of this nation would mean finally naming America’s commitment to violent, abusive, exploitative, immoral white supremacy, which seeks the absolute control of Black bodies."

"For only by being truthful about how we got here can we begin to imagine another way."

I'M STILL HERE is an important book, and reading it is one step towards having our hearts broken about the systemic racism, violence, and injustice in our country and taking action.