Book Review: I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Austin Channing Brown’s engaging and eminently readable book describes growing up, coming of age and how she developed her own capacities for survival as a Black Christian American woman.  Austin is currently a well-known media producer, author, workshop leader and speaker on racial justice in America.

The reader will be quickly become immersed into experiences of casual, everyday racism from white people, who might have thought they were ‘just being nice’, as well as encountering more dramatic and vicious, personally directed attacks in educational, youth outreach, church and work contexts.

Austin was born into challenge, having specifically been given a white male-sounding name by her parents, in order to help her secure job interviews, rather than automatic instant rejections. It worked. Yet securing a job in a white-led organisation, proved only the start of a long and perilous journey towards eventually achieving a stable sense of security, self-worth and independent strong voice as a Black woman.

Through vivid, descriptive examples of the relentless daily impact of being treated differently, because of how white colleagues and bosses see her skin colour, hair type and gender, Austin draws the reader deep into a thought-provoking and reflective journey, whatever their own personal background. Readers who might themselves have suffered non-inclusion, prejudice and stigmatisation because of their own differences from majority societal norms, will probably find much in this book that will resonate with their own experience.

This relatively short book is to be commended for its concise and lively style.  It packs in lots of fascinating material, with chapters such as: ‘Whiteness at Work; White Fragility; Nice White People and Creative Anger’, so would be an ideal book for a discussion group or book club. As a practicing Christian, Austin has plenty of references to God, but secular reading groups would also find this book a most stimulating and worthwhile read.

Although at the end of the book, Austin describes her position as living in ‘the shadow of hope’… ’not knowing if anything I do will ever make a difference’… ‘speaking anyway, writing anyway, loving anyway.’  However, ‘I’m Still Here’ is anything but depressing and it left this reader with a renewed sense of purpose.  However tough the struggle for justice, truth and love, finding our own place of solid ground and continuing to develop our own strengths and capacities for meaning-making, might enable us to find new ways to move forward in ‘the shadow of hope’.

Susanne Griffin is a regional ambassador for Inclusive Church.