“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
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