I'm Still Here

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown
Review by Tiffany Behmer

The death of hope begins in fury, ferocious as a wildfire. It feels uncontrollable, disastrous at first, as if it will destroy everything in the vicinity--but in the midst of the fury, I am forced to find my center. What is left when hope is gone? What is left when the source of my hope has failed? Each death of hope has been painful and costly. But in the mourning there always rises a new clarity about the world, about the Church, about myself, about God. —Austin Channing Brown

Maybe like me, you're a white person who has been challenged in the last month to pick up a book by a black author. And maybe like me, one book turned into half a dozen or more. As I've continued to read the work of black authors it's been humbling to learn the extent of my ignorance of the experience of black people in my community and across the country. A month ago, if you had asked me about racism I would have said, "I know. I understand." Now I realize that I don't know at all, and I can't even begin to understand what it's like to have black or brown skin here in Seattle in 2020 or any other time or place. So, I thank God for authors like Austin Channing Brown who have related their experience in writing so that I might know better and, as Maya Angelou would say, do better.

While there are so many wonderful books on the bestsellers list, "I'm Still Here" is the one I've read that has impacted me the most. It's a nonfiction, autobiographical book by Austin Channing Brown, who grew up attending Catholic school and has worked in the church. The book focuses on her personal experience of racism and her faith as a Christian. As I read her life story, I could picture myself across the table from her in the same kinds of schools, office places, churches, and missions that she describes. It's not a flattering picture of myself, but it is a true portrait. It's the kind of portrait that has forced me to stop and reconsider the things I've believed about myself and to question who I am and who I hope to become. But more important, much, much more important, than my own reaction to her writing, is Brown herself and the value of her words.

The most important part of this cultural and political moment are the people--the black people and people of color whose voices have been silenced or ignored for too long, whose experience has not be valued, and whose lives have not been respected. I owe them more than my personal self-reflection. I owe them recognition, respect, and power. I understand that discussions about race can get painful and political very quickly. While there's no real way to avoid the pain of racism past and present, I hope any response here will focus on our responsibility as Christians to work toward the reconciliation of all people in Christ. That is what Austin Channing Brown is working for in her book. I encourage you to read it and consider her story as she weaves together her experience of racism and her relationship with a God of peace, hope and love.
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