Reading and Reflecting on "I'm Still Here" by Austin Channing Brown

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I’m not done with my series Let’s Read “End of Policing” by Alex S Vitale, but this past week I’ve focused elsewhere. I found that I needed more context and perspective.

A few weeks ago, our family decided to purchase a broad spectrum of anti-racist books. This had a multi-faceted goal: 1) buy from a black owned book shop; 2) learn from others that have done the emotional work of communicating their experiences; 3) have a shared corpus within our family from which we can talk and discuss; and 4) support non-white authors.

First, we ordered from Brain Lair Books in South Bend, Indiana. Using Bookshop.org, we found the titles we wanted from This List is Anti-Racist List and placed our order.

On Sunday I read Austin Channing Brown’s “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness”.

Brown’s book was warm yet uncomfortable. She spoke her truth.

One way I honored that truth was to read it in one sitting. Normally when I read, I grab a pencil and mark away in the book. Its a way to engage with the author; to interrupt them after each sentence or paragraph. However, I chose not to do this. I instead chose to read it in one sitting. To listen as best I could.

[White fragility] ignores the personhood of people of color and instead makes the feelings of whiteness the most important thing. It happens in classes and workshops, board meetings and staff meetings, via email and social media, but it takes other forms, too. If Black people are dying in the street, we must consult with white feelings before naming the evils of police brutality. If white family members are being racist, we must take Grandpa’s feelings into account before we proclaim our objections to such speech. If an organization’s policies are discriminatory or harmful, that can only be corrected if we can ensure white people won’t feel bad about the change. White fragility protects whiteness and forces Black people to fend for themselves.

Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here

A poignant reminder that black people (body and mind) are valued less than white emotions.

Read that again. In our white-oriented society, my fear or love or anger has higher value than the life or death of a black person.

Brown shows this over and over, in different contexts. Never repetitive, instead driving towards her personal liberation from a world structured on white supremacy.

The interlude, in which she writes a letter to the child gestating in her womb, brought me to tears. Reading of the hope of an expectant parent. Knowing on the fringes looms the dangers of being black in a world made by and for white. This is a future pain she knows is coming; And in her sharing, I know it is coming as well. Yet she proceeds with a “shadow of hope.”

Conclusion

In this short book, I see going forward two critical things.

First, stop confessing short-comings to those impacted by my failings. I think I do okay at that, but this book is a reminder to do better. Instead, I plan to look at the moment when I feel the reflex of confession. Then take that moment and trigger and ask “What will I do different next time?”

Second, be vigilant for favoring white feelings over black lives and liberties. Each person is responsible for their feelings. That is to say: no one makes you feel that way. I see this also as being aware of the tendency to favor a man’s feelings over a woman’s life and autonomy.

That almost certainly means listening more. Slowing down conversations to give space for people to process and catch up.

I’m not looking to “extend the table” or “be an ally.” That phrasing implies that an ownership of something worth sharing.

The table of whiteness is fucking toxic. It’s grotesque and takes up way too much space on this planet. Let’s not invite people to that table. Instead, let’s mulch it. Let’s clear space to help grow a better world.