people can be exhausting.
work to be the only person of color in an organization,
bearing the weight of all your white co-workersí
questions about Blackness.
work to always be hypervisible because of your skin ó
easily identified as being present or absent ó but for
your needs to be completely invisible to those around
work to do the emotional labor of pointing out
problematic racist thinking, policies, action and
statements while desperately trying to avoid bitterness
frankly, the work isnít just tedious. It can be
dangerous for Black women to attempt to carve out space
for themselves ó their perspective, their gifts, their
skills, their education, their experiences ó in places
that havenít examined the prevailing assumption of
white culture. The danger of letting whiteness walk off
with our joy, our peace, our sense of dignity and
self-love, is ever present. As a black woman working in
white spaces, my perception of racial dynamics has been
questioned, minimized, or denied altogether."
words are from Austin Channing Brownís new book,
"Iím Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made
for Whiteness," released earlier this month.
words are about the black experience in America ó
about "being calm in a world made for
whiteness"; where "half-baked efforts at
diversity are enough because the status quo is
lest readers think this book is about condemning white
people, itís about surviving in a world not made for a
woman of color. "Itís about standing before
roomfuls of Christians and challenging them to see
Blackness without the baggage of racist bias,"
Channing Brown writes.
talked with the former Chicago resident, North Park
University alumna and former staffer with faith-based
service organization DOOR about what she hopes readers
will take from the book.
following conversation has been edited for space and
Is this book a lesson for the white population, or is it
an affirmation to the black community?
I really, at the forefront of my mind, had black women
reading this book. I really want black women to feel
seen; I want black women to feel heard. I feel like
there are a lot of books out there on the black male
experience, but they really made me think about those of
us who have a different experience, those of us who didnít
grow up in the íhood, those of us who have always been
around white spaces, and I really wanted to uplift that
story because we so often feel alone and isolated
because there is only a handful of us where we work or
worship or volunteer. So I just wanted to write a book
that said: I see you. And I affirm what youíre
experiencing. You are not alone.
"Letís start a conversation" has become the
new catchphrase on race. But whatís the truth of the
I agree. The truth lies in being honest about the system
and the structure that we are in. Why is it every time I
speak and say something, someone at the table feels the
need to translate what Iím saying before people can
appreciate it? Thatís the truth. If weíre going to
sit around and talk about race, thatís what I need us
to talk about. I need for us to talk about how
inappropriate it is for white folks to think that they
can touch me or my hair. Thatís the truth. The things
that really impact our lives, our emotions, that impact
whether or not you and I can go to work and just have a
"normal" day. It is so frustrating.
How did the book unfold when writing it?
I knew I was going to start with the story of my name
because it was the first time I realized what race means
in America. I knew I was a little black girl, but I didnít
know what that meant until that moment (in the first
chapter). I wanted to show that I didnít just go to
sleep one day and wake up the next as an activist and
advocate for black lives ó this was a journey. This
has been a journey even for me, and itís a journey for
all of us.
Is the bookís goal to kick-start folksí activism?
Honestly, I think this book is probably not for folks
who are just beginning their journey on racial justice.
I did write this book for people who are already
committed to racial justice, to whom I wanted to say
hereís where we still have some improvements to be
made. So stop patting yourselves on the back for having
a black woman on staff, stop being proud of yourself for
having a whole 20 percent people of color ó you need
to move on. Like good, Iím glad you started, Iím
glad youíre committed, but weíve got to keep going.
So I was trying to paint a picture of what it might look
like to keep going without being prescriptive.
In the book you say you donít think you or your
grandchildren will see racial equality in their
lifetimes. Where can one find hope?
I do find hope in change. Iím really encouraged by the
advocacy efforts, particularly around mass incarceration
right now and changing laws related to the criminal
justice system, so there are definitely places where I
am still hopeful that we will see change. I just think
the elimination of racism just feels really big; I donít
know if in a couple or few generations weíll manage
that, but Iím definitely still hopeful, supporting and
cheering on real changes toward that end, and I hope to
raise my son to be a part of that change too ó whether
he gets to partake of the fullness of it or not. I hope
that he will fall in love with the work, the same way I