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.

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