Book Review: I’m Still Here

91FY1VdV+HLI have a confession to make. I am a racist. It is not that I want to or intent to be one. It is just when I now look back on the life I have had I see how I have benefited from being white and I gave into fear and misunderstanding about people of color throughout my lifetime. I have grown up in predominately white middle class suburbia. I grew up in a predominately white conservative church. Any interaction with people of color was on my terms in my environment. It wasn’t until I went to college where I had a history professor teach us in graphic detail what the European settlers did to the indigenous people and what white America actually did to Africans enslaved in our country. The ramifications of what was done in the past still have powerful reverberations into our present reality. I remember thinking that slavery and racism was a thing of the past and something I would never be a part of in the present. But what I failed to see were the systemic ways that our country continues to judge, villainize, criminalize and punish people of color so that white America stays in control.

In the book “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made For Whiteness“, Author Austin Channing Brown explains how she has survived as a black African American women in America. Her parents named her Austin for the very fact that people would assume when they see the name on a resume they would think it was a white male. They wanted her to have the chance of at least getting her foot in the door. Austin begins her story in stating that “I learned pretty early in life that while Jesus may be cool with racial diversity, America is not. The ideology that whiteness is supreme, better, best, permeates the air we breathe – in our schools, in our offices, and in our country’s common life. White supremacy is a tradition that must be named and a religion that must be renounced. When this work has not been done, those who live in whiteness become oppressive, whether intentional or not.” (p. 22-23). When I think of a white supremacist I think of the worst case scenario that would obviously not include me. Yet I have benefited greatly by this ideology permeating our country. And I am naive to think I am not complicit or responsible for its existence in our country.

Brown goes on to explain her experiences within the workplace as a minority African American. She says that “White institutions are constantly communicating how much Blackness they want. It begins with numbers. . . . But numbers are only the beginning. Whiteness constantly polices the expressions of Blackness allowed within its walls, attempting to accrue no more than what’s necessary to affirm itself. . . . It wants to pat itself on the back cor 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.” (70-71). It is vital to realize that we can all learn from each other and that multicultural is not a negative thing but something to be celebrated and shared as an experience of lives connecting with each other. Brown concludes with hope for the workplace explaining that “We must remind ourselves and one another that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, arming ourselves against the ultimate message of whiteness – that we are inferior. We must stare at ourselves in the mirror and repeat that we, too, are fully capable, immensely talented, and uniquely gifted. We are not tokens. We are valuable in the fullness of our humanity. We are not perfect, but we are here, able to contribute something special, beautiful, lasting to the companies and ministries to which we belong.” (p. 80). It is imperative that we never look at someone as inferior but see them just as fearfully and wonderfully made in the eyes of God.

Brown recognizes that there are a lot of “nice white people” who mean well and not realize that they are still acting in ways that are harmful to people of color. She says that “White people desperately want to believe that only the lonely, isolated ‘whites only’ club members are racist. This is why the word racist offends ‘nice white people’ so deeply. It challenges their self-identification as good people. Sadly, most white people are more worried about being called racist than about whether or not their actions are in fact racist or harmful.” (p. 104).

Brown then goes on to talk about the history of racism in America. She comments that “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 seek the absolute control of Black bodies. It would mean doing something about it.” (p. 116-117). We as a nation have yet to seek reparations or at the very least apologize for our history of racism and abuse of people of color. In fact we are currently living in a time in which our own government has blatantly stoked racism and white supremacy.

Further in the book Brown talks about having creative anger. She points out that “Anger is not inherently destructive. My anger can be a force for good. My anger can be creative and imaginative, seeing a better world that doesn’t yet exist. It can fuel a righteous movement toward justice and freedom.” (p. 125-126). Righteous anger can be a really good thing as we look at the problems in our world and see ourselves as a force used by God to help bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth over the powers of darkness. We need to be seeking justice when it comes to how people of color have and are currently being treated in our world. We need to understand our history and not sugarcoat it with white supremacy. We must recognize our sins as a nation and lament and ask forgiveness for what happened and what is currently happening.

Brown goes on to recognize the disparity of how even blacks are seen differently when it comes to the way we judge them. She says that “At the end of the day, Blackness is always the true offense. Whiteness needs just a hint of a reason to maintain its own goodness, assuring itself that there’s no reason to worry, because the victim had it coming. He was a drug dealer. A criminal. A thug. We don’t talk about white drug dealers this way. We don’t even talk about white murderers this way. Somehow, we manage to think of them as people first, who just happened to do something bad. But the same respect is rarely afforded to Black folk. We must always earn the right to live. Perfection is demanded of Blackness before mercy or grace or justice can even be considered. I refuse to live this way.” (p. 146). I have seen this happen so many times. We have even seen this with how immigrants have been characterized at the Southern boarder. We make them less than human. We assert our whiteness and take away their humanity in the process. This happens all throughout the recent occurrences of police brutality and quick-trigger shootings of black people throughout our nation.

Brown has seen through her experiences with white people that many of them want to at least be proud of the progress we have made over the years when it comes to racial issues. But Brown says that “I am grateful for my ancestors’ struggle and their survival. But I am not impressed with America’s progress. I am not impressed that slavery was abolished or that Jim Crow ended. I feel no need to pat America on its back for these ‘achievements’. This is how it should have always been. Many call it progress, but I do not consider it praiseworthy that only within the last generation did America reach the baseline for human decency.” (p. 151). I remember in college thinking that I am a good person because I never had slaves or treated black people as inferior. But the truth is IT REALLY WASN’T THAT LONG AGO when our nation did institute slavery and Jim Crow laws. We still are dealing with the repercussions of those days. We still have racism and white supremacy woven into us from past generations. It is time to deal with it.

Brown wrestles with what reconciliation may look like to set things right. She states that “Here’s another misconception. A great many people believe that reconciliation boils down to dialogue: a conference on race, a lecture, a moving sermon about the diversity we’ll see in heaven. But dialogue is productive toward reconciliation only when it leads to action – when it inverts power and pursues justice for those who are most marginalized.” (p. 169). She goes on to state that reconciliation is “a ministry that belongs to Jesus. Jesus, who left the comfort of heaven and put on flesh, experiencing the beauty and brutality of being human. Jesus, who dies on a cross and rose from the grave, making a way for all humanity to be joined in union with God.” (p. 172-173). Through Jesus, we ought to feel empowered to bring the message of reconciliation and justice to a world that is out of control. We are call upon God to do His will “on earth as it is in heaven.” And I believe this is the problem with most White America. Do we find our primary identity in our country and its history? Or have we renounced that, in order to seek instead to be Kingdom people who are instruments of His reconciliation throughout our country and throughout the world?

Brown concludes her book in looking at the present state of affairs. She says that “She looks at the present – police brutality, racial disparities, backlash against being ‘politically correct,’ hatred for our first Black president, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and the election of a chief executive who stoked the fire of racial animosity to win – and I ask myself, Where is your hope, Austin? The answer: It is but a shadow. . . . It is knowing that God is God and I am not. This is a cool place from where I demand a love that matters.” (p. 181-182). It is scary to see where we are at as a country and to see how racial and religious minorities are being treated all the time. It is time that we as the church stand up to this evil, call it for what it is, lament, make reparations, seek justice and allow God’s love to supernaturally bring us all together. The church cannot survive being a mere reflection of the culture of hate and racism, but instead we need to be a force for unity, love and a peace that passes all understanding.

My encouragement to you if you are a White Christian is to understand our history. Not the white-washed version of it. But understand what really happened to native Americans, and Africans who were brought here by force to serve as slaves. Pay attention to what is happening at our Southern boarder and how those people are being characterized as sub-human by our government. It is time that we stop going along with the culture we are in. We need to fight against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness that continue to divide us with hate and fear of the other. It is time we recognize this as demonic. We are called to be peacemakers. We are to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Only then and there can we turn the tide of darkness and evil in our country that divide us according to race, gender, sexuality, generational and socio-economic levels. Our faith needs to stop just being an accessory to our lives as White Americans. If we are true to our faith, we are called to be kingdom people that are very different that this present darkness. We are to be the light of the world. It is up to us to come to the table and live out a life of love and justice for ALL.

With all that said please read this book! It must be read and taken seriously as Christ followers.

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