Thursday 10 September 2020

I'm Still Here : Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown @austinchanning @ViragoBooks @GraceEVincent #ImStillHere

This book is my story about growing up in a Black girl's body. It's about surviving in a world not made for me.
Austin Channing Brown's first encounter with a racialized America came at age seven, 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 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 helping organisations practice genuine inclusion.

In a time when nearly every institution (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claims to value diversity in its mission statement, Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice. Her stories bear witness to the complexity of America's social fabric and invite the reader to confront apathy, recognise God's ongoing work in the world and discover how Blackness-if we let it-can save us all.

I'm Still Here : Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown was published in hardback on 20 August 2020 by Virago. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

This is a very short book but it evoked such a wide range of emotions in me. There were times I had to put it down, walk away and think about the themes within it. It's a book that will make the reader think about themselves, about the world and about how we treat other people.

Imagine you are new parents and you are considering what to name your new baby. You have a much welcomed baby girl, you want that girl to have the very best life, you want her to succeed and to be happy and confident. Imagine realising that if you give her a family name, or a name that represents your own culture, you are probably setting your child up for hardship in the future. 
When Austin Channing Brown was seven-years-old, she realised that her parents had given her a name that most people would assume was that of a white male. 
Austin is black and her parents knew that just a name, without a face, can cause division and discrimination. This is one of the saddest things that I've read.

As a white woman who grew up in a very white area, with just one black boy in my school (he was adopted by and lived with a white family), it has not been until I've reached adulthood that I really became aware of how differently black people are treated.
Austin has spent her entire life being aware. As she's grown older, she has spoken out. She has examined the implications of how white people judge her and her peers and she has done everything that she can to raise awareness and educate those around her.

What is striking within Austin's narrative is how many white people appear to take on board what she says, they put things in place to create an impression of inclusivity and diversity within their workplaces and education settings, yet it has become very clear to Austin that these are usually a 'tick box' exercise. Done purely so that these white people can pat themselves on the back and tell everyone how they are transforming their areas. 

There's a sense of anger in Austin's writing as she gets toward the end of the book. Despite spending so much time trying to explain what inclusivity really is, she has found that lots of white people make excuse after excuse. They will listen to her when she gives a presentation and they will speak with her afterwards; admitting that they've been judgemental or prejudiced in the past. They think that by admitting this, they are absolved, yet Austin is well aware that this is often just talk, and they will go away and continue to do as they've done before.

I cannot begin to imagine what it must feel like to go to a job interview wondering if I will be unsuccessful purely because of the colour of my skin. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be a mother who worries when her children leave the house purely because of the colour of their skin.

I look around at the world at this moment, especially in the US and I wonder where we are headed. I don't know what I can do except read more and listen more to black people. I know that I need to ensure that any preconceived ideas I may have are not acted upon. I honestly believe that I am not prejudiced, but I know that I need to read more books like this.

I'm Still Here is an important and powerful book. Austin Channing Brown is brutally honest in her writing, it can be uncomfortable as a white reader, but nowhere near as uncomfortable as life can be for a black person.

Austin Channing Brown is a speaker, writer, and media producer providing inspired leadership on racial justice in America.

She is the author of I'm Still Here : Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness and the executive producer of the web series The Next Question.
Her writing and work have been featured by outlets such as On Being, Chicago Tribune, Christianity Today, Sojourners, Shondaland and WNYC.

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