White People Are Exhausting – Review of “I’m Still Here”
“White people are exhausting.”
Maybe we hear statements like this, and react with, “Another white-bashing.”
But maybe it’s because we just haven’t listened, really listened, before.
If we dare, we listen again. Or maybe really hear for the first time.
And then do something more than listen.
Listen to Austin
One of the voices we need to hear is Austin Channing Brown’s voice. Austin isn’t a man. Or white. Austin is a black Christian woman who speaks from her heart in her new book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. “White people are exhausting” is the opening line in the first chapter.
She speaks powerfully.
“In too many churches and organizations, listening to the hurt and pain of people of color is the end of the road, rather than the beginning.. . .
Too often, dialogue functions as a stall tactic, allowing white people to believe they’ve done something heroic when the real work is yet to come.”
Sometimes it hurts to hear her speak. She tells stories that are gut-wrenching about racial inequality. She speaks truths that we don’t want to swallow.
“In every previous classroom, I had been responsible for decoding teachers’ references to white, middle-class experiences. ‘It’s like when you’re sailing’ . . . or ‘You know how when you’re skiing, you have to’ . . . My white teachers had an unspoken commitment to the belief that we are all the same, a default setting that masked for them how often white culture bled into the curriculum.”
But our discomfort shouldn’t stop us from listening. It is holy work.
“Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy. It is haunting work to recall the sins of our past. But is this not the work we have been called to anyway? Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth and inspire transformation? It’s haunting. But it’s also holy.”
But just listening is not enough.
Austin relays a story about her field trip as a student visiting a history museum in the south. They saw the “happy slaves” who sang in the fields. Back on the bus afterwards, conversations grew heated between the black students and white students.
The next stop was at a lynching exhibit. Again, emotion was heavy when the students climbed back on the bus. Tensions were climbing high as white students defended their family histories and black students expressed how it felt seeing the photos of lynchings.
Finally, a white girl stood to speak. Instead of talking about not being responsible for the past, she said this:
“I don’t know what to do with what I’ve learned,” she said. “I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don’t have to experience the pain of racism.”
And then she said nine words that I’ve never forgotten: “Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” Those words changed the air on that bus.
Doing nothing isn’t an option.
Austin talks about white people who use her as a confessional. They want her to tell them “it’s okay” and make them feel better about what they’ve said or done, a “self-indulgent desire for relief.”
But her comeback is a challenge instead: “So what are you going to do differently?”
And what are we going to do differently?
“Reconciliation chooses sides, and the side is always justice.”
We have to keep working. For justice. For inclusion. For peace.
“But reconciliation is not about white feelings. It’s about diverting power and attention to the oppressed, toward the powerless. It’s not enough to dabble at diversity and inclusion while leaving the existing authority structure in place. Reconciliation demands more.”
I don’t know the answers.
But the problem is becoming clearer and clearer: Maybe we are exhausting. Let’s begin there.
* * *
My thanks to Net Galley
for the review copy of this book
- Are Your Words Bullets or Seeds?
- Dinner for Dinos – Children’s Book
Wow, Lisa! I’m having a summer break from blogging and don’t pressure myself to read every blog post that comes in my email unless I feel the nudge to do so. I feel the nudge to also respond to this one. This book sounds like an eye-opener. Tears pool in my eyes as I read this, especially of how that white girl spoke up. I love that and hope I may have such courage and conviction. The other day a pastor said something about how we are maybe quick to pray, “Lord, please protect them,” but we don’t always realize that sometimes God uses us to protect. It was related more to when women may be in harm’s way, but it surely can be applied in every situation where someone is hurting. Not that we shouldn’t pray and not that we can always “fix” things, but like the girl said, doing nothing isn’t an option. Thank you, Lisa, for your compassionate heart for any person created by God, regardless of their color. Blessings and hugs to you! Have a beautiful summer!
I’m glad Austin’s words touch you too, Trudy. I’m grateful she shared in her book about the girl on the bus. That story has a way of reaching many of us, many more than she will ever know! I hope you’re having a blessed summer and enjoying your blogging break!
As long as person has feelings, they’re real, regardless of what others think. So for those hurting we need to practice the old adage, “Seek first to understand than to be understood.”
Good for that girl who stood up by herself to voice her new opinion. That takes guts and stiffens the spines of the weaker.
I could go on a rant, but I won’t. Being born into privilege almost always leaves the person more blinded to truth than the ones born into strife.
And the blind are to be pitied.
Lots of good, good stuff in your comment here, Floyd. One of the saddest parts about being blind is we often aren’t even aware that we are blind, and don’t realize the disadvantages it brings. Praying God will continue to shine light in the dark places so we can all understand each other better.
I’ve bumped into Austin on a couple of podcasts, so I’m really intrigued by her message. She and Deidra Riggs and Amena Brown have been formative for me in understanding a perspective that would otherwise be unattainable.
I’m glad Austin is making the rounds. She has an interesting perspective and one that I hope will continue getting attention. I listened to her and a friend on a Facebook live video as I was reading the book. I like that we’re able to hear and see our authors these days in addition to reading their words!
Wow, Lisa! I admit I was not sure what to think when I read this title. I’m glad I continued to read your post. It brings up a few painful memories for myself. I remember my Senior trip to the Washington D.C. area. I was the only black student in a small class. I got to visit the White House, but on one of our “off” days, we took a field trip down to a plantation in Virginia. I still remember my skin crawling as they took us into the “master’s” house. When the tour guide referenced the slave quarters underneath the stairs, everyone looked at me for confirmation. I left the tour and went and stayed in the van. Anyway, sorry for rambling. I look forward to reading a copy of this book. So glad to connect with you today-it’s been awhile. Have a wonderful weekend, and God bless you and yours.
Thanks for reading this post, Horace, and for sharing this story. It makes me cry. And makes my skin crawl too. I can’t imagine how that felt, or even how it feels today to relieve the memory. I so want us to make better progress in racial reconciliation, but it seems we still have such a long way to go. 🙁 Living in Alabama, I see some signs of progress but not enough. I don’t know if you’ve ever read or heard Bryan Stevenson speak, but he is an attorney that works in Montgomery for the Equal Justice Initiative. He is helping make headway here and across the country. I pray for the Lord’s mercy on the past sins of our country and for our repentance of the ones we’re still making.
It’s good to reconnect with you, even though I also cried reading about your father on your father’s day post. Blessings to you too, friend!
Wow, what a powerful and necessary message. I admit I’m ignorant about these issues, even though I live only 100 miles away from Ferguson, MO where much of this discussion erupted a few years ago. I’m curious and open to learning new things, though. Thanks for bravely sharing this, friend.
Being curious and open are traits that we all need, Sarah! It’s important to have hearts to learn more, even when it’s painful. It’s more painful to stay in the dark. Thanks for sharing here.
Lisa, another book added to my TBR list! This sounds powerful and right up the alley I did not want to go but will because inaction is not my choice either.
I think you can appreciate this author’s writings, Linda! You have a tender heart and that’s what she asks for. Blessings to you.