Monday, February 22, 2021

Book Review - I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Published: May 15, 2018
Publisher: Convergent Books
Received: purchased
Read from January 11 to February 11, 2021

Synopsis from Goodreads:

From a powerful new voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America.

Austin Channing Brown's first encounter with a racialized America came at age 7, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, Austin writes, "I had to learn what it means to love blackness," a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America's racial divide as a writer, speaker and expert who helps organizations practice genuine inclusion.

In a time when nearly all institutions (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claim to value "diversity" in their mission statements, I'm Still Here is a powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words. Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice, in stories that bear witness to the complexity of America's social fabric--from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.

For readers who have engaged with America's legacy on race through the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, I'm Still Here is an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God's ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness--if we let it--can save us all.


Memoirs can be hit or miss for me, and because of this, they're not the first genre I reach for. However, I thoroughly enjoyed I'm Still Here. Brown shares stories from her life in an engaging way that held my attention the whole way through.

Brown has a career working on inclusion with various organizations, and she lays out ways in which those organizations have repeatedly failed at what they claimed to be doing. The book provides a look at common situations that happen every day in offices across the United States. Brown does an excellent job of highlighting how white and Black people have completely different perspectives in a wide variety of interactions and occasions. Because of this, white people often do not stop to realize how their or their organization's actions are affecting Black people.

Much of what Brown writes could apply to any organization in the United States, but she also focuses quite a bit on churches. Not only does she highlight differences between Black and white churches, but she lays out ways that white churches claim to be spaces for everyone while also excluding Black people, despite not being conscious of this. I found these sections some of the most interesting because, as Brown explains, much of what these churches do in practice does not fit with what they claim to believe.

Throughout the book, Brown is clear that the biggest problem here is white people not imagining non-white perspectives. The white perspective is considered the default in the United States, and most white people don't acknowledge (or accept) that whiteness isn't universal. This leads us white people to assume that people of color are coming from the same viewpoint as us despite their vastly different life experiences, and we fail to realize the full scope of the situation. When Brown provides her own personal stories of being in these situations as a Black person, it goes a long way towards illustrating just how deeply ingrained in American society that this is.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Star Trek Discovery Review: 2x05 "Saints of Imperfection"

 At the start of this episode, the Discovery is chasing a ship that they believe has Spock on board. It turns out to actually be Georgiou/the Terran Emperor. Captain Pike doesn't know about the Discovery's trip to the Terran universe, so he's clueless as to who Georgiou really is, which added a bit of fun to their scenes together. The fact that Pike knew Georgiou in the past made it even better.

Georgiou being one of my favorite characters, I love getting to see her more in this season, and this episode does a great job of continuing to show that she's the perfect character for Section 31.

Leland and Pike also speak to each other for the first time in this episode, and I enjoy their dynamics was well. The two of them as individuals illustrate the tensions between Section 31 and Starfleet. Just like Georgiou, making them previous acquaintances was a good move storytelling-wise. It's a great rivalry.

Discovery makes a plan to go into the network to save Tilly. It's good that the storyline with Section 31 added a bit of comedy because the storyline about the network was emotionally heavy. You feel for the JahSepp having their home destroyed and all of them being killed, but once you learn the truth, of course you feel even more deeply for Doctor Culber, who's a character you've gotten to know.

It was a good look at how the way you view a situation can make a huge difference and how there isn’t always a clear cut villain in a situation. I did find it a bit odd that May never once mentioned to Tilly that the "monster" was a human even though she should have been able to tell after her time spent in Tilly’s head.

Stamets and Culber together was heart-breaking, especially when you briefly think that Culber won’t be able to make it back. Ressurecting dead characters can often be overdone, but this is a case where I appreciated it. Back when Culber died, I wasn’t thrilled about Discovery foraying into the Kill Your Gays trope. I don't know if they planned this all along or decided to do it later, but it does make me feel much better knowing that Star Trek's first same-sex couple gets a chance at a happy ending.

The Admiral arrives at the end of the episode to talk to Leland and Pike. She tells them that they have to find Spock together. This is exciting because I find the mystery of Spock to be the most interesting of the open storylines, and I'm excited to have the Section 31 characters stick around. (I've watched all of this season, so I know where it's going, but even re-watching, it's what I find most interesting.) I look forward to talking more about that as I keep re-watching.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Book Review: How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? by Moustafa Bayoumi

Published: August 14th, 2008
Publisher: Penguin Press
Received: purchased
Read from December 30th, 2020 to January 10th, 2021

Summary from Goodreads:

The story of how young Arab and Muslim Americans are forging lives for themselves in a country that often mistakes them for the enemy

Arab and Muslim Americans are the new, largely undiscussed “problem” of American society, their lives no better understood than those of African Americans a century ago. Under the cover of the terrorist attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the explosion of political violence around the world, a fundamental misunderstanding of the Arab and Muslim American communities has been allowed to fester and even to define the lives of the seven twentysomething men and women whom we meet in this book. Their names are Rami, Sami, Akram, Lina, Yasmin, Omar, and Rasha, and they all live in Brooklyn, New York, which is home to the largest number of Arab Americans in the United States.

We meet Sami, an Arab American Christian, who navigates the minefield of associations the public has of Arabs as well as the expectations that Muslim Arab Americans have of him as a marine who fought in the Iraq war. And Rasha, who, along with her parents, sister, and brothers, was detained by the FBI in a New Jersey jail in early 2002. Without explanation, she and her family were released several months later. As drama of all kinds swirls around them, these young men and women strive for the very things the majority of young adults desire: opportunity, marriage, happiness, and the chance to fulfill their potential. But what they have now are lives that are less certain, and more difficult, than they ever could have imagined: workplace discrimination, warfare in their countries of origin, government surveillance, the disappearance of friends or family, threats of vigilante violence, and a host of other problems that thrive in the age of terror.

And yet How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? takes the raw material of their struggle and weaves it into an unforgettable, and very American, story of promise and hope. In prose that is at once blunt and lyrical, Moustafa Bayoumi allows us to see the world as these men and women do, revealing a set of characters and a place that indelibly change the way we see the turbulent past and yet still hopeful future of this country. 


How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? is the story of a group of Arab Americans in the 2000s after 9/11. These young people don't know each other, but all of them live in Brooklyn. Despite all being Arab and living in the same place, they each had unique circumstances and experiences, which kept the stories from feeling repetitive.

However, all of the young people being from Brooklyn did mean that the book was slightly limited in the experiences showed. New York City is vastly different from other areas of the country, so I would have loved to get stories about young Muslims from all over the United States. That would have been a great look at an even more diverse group of experiences.

That being said, it was an enjoyable read. I liked some of the stories more than others, which is to be expected in a book like this, but I appreciated the variety of perspectives on what it was like to be young and Muslim in Brooklyn in the 2000s.