BKMT READING GUIDES

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

Published: 2018-05-15
Hardcover : 192 pages
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From a powerful new voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America. 

Austin Channing Brown's first encounter with a racialized America came at age 7, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive ...
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Introduction

From a powerful new voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America. 

Austin Channing Brown's first encounter with a racialized America came at age 7, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, Austin writes, "I had to learn what it means to love blackness," a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America's racial divide as a writer, speaker and expert who helps organizations practice genuine inclusion.

In a time when nearly all institutions (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claim to value "diversity" in their mission statements, I'm Still Here is a powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words. Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice, in stories that bear witness to the complexity of America's social fabric--from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.

For readers who have engaged with America's legacy on race through the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, I'm Still Here is an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God's ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness--if we let it--can save us all.

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Discussion Questions

Official Discussion Questions from the publisher:

CHAPTERS 1 and 2:
1. Austin begins the book with a story about how her parents gave her the name Austin in hopes that it would help her bypass racial discrimination. What’s the story behind your name? Did your parents have to consider race when you were named? If you have children, did you consider race when choosing names?

2. Though Austin was aware of race as a little girl, learning about her name was the first time she began to realize the implications of race in America. When was the first time you realized what your race means in America?

3. In chapter 1, Austin discusses how it generally feels to be the only black woman in a predomi- nately white organization, especially one that uses phrases like “Is this person a good fit for our organization?” How do you think the language of being a “good fit” impacts racial diversity in hiring, performance reviews, and work experiences?
4. What was the racial diversity like at your elementary or middle school? Was there diversity among teachers? Administration? Was there diversity in your library? Artwork? Curriculum?
5. Have you experienced being in the racial minority? Have you experienced being in the racial majority? How were the two experiences different?
6. Have you ever been in a space where you experienced belonging (even if it was imperfect in other ways)?

CHAPTERS 3 and 4:

1. Austin notes that there weren’t any major racial incidents when she was in high school. Were there any major racial incidents in your high school?
2. Austin first read the poem “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar in a high school English class. Have someone read “We Wear the Mask” aloud (on the previous page). What do you think he was trying to convey? How does this poem resonate with you?
3. How might you begin to explore what lies behind the curtain of “racial harmony” where you work, worship, or attend school?
4. Professor Crendalyn McMath was an important person in Austin’s life because she was her first black teacher . . . in college! When did you have your first black teacher, supervisor, or pastor?
5. There came a major turning point in Austin’s life on a college trip called Sankofa. On this trip?she committed her life to pursuing racial justice when a friend of hers declared that doing nothing is no longer an option for her. When did you decide that “doing nothing is no longer an option”?for you?
6. Traveling through the markers of black history greatly impacted Austin, especially her time at a lynching exhibit. How has learning the history of people of color impacted you? Has it changed your worldview? Your politics? Your theology?

CHAPTERS 5, 6 and 7:

1. Read the selection on pages 71-76 describing one day in the professional life of a black woman. What stands out to you within this section?
2. Austin spends a little bit of time naming just a few things she loves about being a black girl. Tell the group about something you deeply appreciate about your culture?
3. In dominate culture, it can be hard for people of color to find representations of themselves. Has it been easy or difficult to find positive representations of your ethnicity/culture?
4. In chapter 6, Austin shares a couple stories about navigating the emotional fragility of white people who did not respect her authority because she is a black woman. Share an instance when you encountered white fragility. Have you ever been overcome by your own fragility? How can white fragility be resisted?
5. In chapter 7 Austin writes “Sadly, most white people are more worried about being called racist than about whether or not their actions are in fact racist or harmful.” Has this been your experience?
6. Austin recounts a handful of times when white people have come to her to confess ways they’ve been complicit in racism. If you are white, how do you handle white guilt? If you are a person of color, what do you do when you encounter white guilt?
7. What action steps do you hope the white people in your life will begin to take to move beyond “niceness” and create real change?


CHAPTERS 8 and 9:

1. Austin opens chapter 8 discussing the importance of being honest about American history. Can you share some examples of “aha moments” you’ve experienced learning about American history? Below are some examples: The Middle Passage Slavery, Black Codes, Trail of Tears, Bracero Program, Jim Crow, Internment Camps, Indigenous Tribes Reservations, Chinese Exclusion Act
2. Understanding our racial history gives us context for current racial disparities. How much do you know about the racial disparities in the following systems? Education, Home Ownership Health/Health Access, Criminal Justice, Wealth,Wages. How can you learn more?
3. Even as we focus on learning more about the country’s history, we also should understand the history of our own communities. Do you know the racial history of your church? Denomination? School? Neighborhood?
4. Anger is an appropriate reaction to injustice, but Austin shares that she really struggled to be- come comfortable expressing that anger. How can white people do a better job of listening to the anger of people of color? How can white organizations make space to respond in supportive ways to the anger people of color express?
5. In the chapter on Creative Anger, Austin shares that she has become intimate with her anger. How does listening to the anger of people of color honor their dignity?
6. Why would Austin include a list called “How to Survive Racism in an Organization That Claims to Be Antiracist”? Why can problems at organizations committed to antiracism be difficult to name and change?

CHAPTERS 10, 11 and 12:

1. In chapter 10, Austin writes about her concerns related to random police encounters. Have you experienced the fear of police encounters? What have you (or your family’s) interactions with the police been like?
2. Read Mark 14-15 about Jesus’s arrest, incarceration, and execution. Can you identify parallels between Jesus’s experience and the black experience inside the criminal justice system?
3. In chapter 11, Austin writes about her cousin who was incarcerated. Has your life been touched by mass incarceration?
4. The Black Lives Matter movement has helped define the collective events regarding the recent killings of unarmed black people. How have the events collectively known as the Black Lives Matter Era impacted you?
5. Though Austin was incredibly joyous by the election of the first Black president, Austin wasn’t convinced that America had become postracial. Were you hopeful that America had become postracial with the election of Barack Obama (even if you voted for another candidate)?
6. Because Austin was pregnant as she wrote this book, she includes a letter to her son where she talks openly about the difficulties her son may face in his future. Did your parents openly teach you about race? What did they convey and how?
7. Take fifteen minutes to write a one-page letter to a child in your life expressing how you hope America will change for the better. Share with the group if you are comfortable doing so.

CHAPTERS 13 and 14:

1. Austin writes that justice must precede reconciliation. What does she mean by this? Do you use the term “racial reconciliation”? Why or why not?
2. How can paying attention to diversity numbers be a beginning goal, rather than an end goal for pursuing racial justice and reconciliation? How else could your organization begin to measure the health of racial justice and reconciliation?
3. Other than dialogue, how else might you pursue racial justice and reconciliation?
4. What do you do when an organization has disappointed you in their efforts to pursue racial justice or reconciliation? Where do you find healing?
5. Are you still hopeful for racial justice and reconciliation in your organization? Church? Neighborhood? The country?
6. How do you nourish hope?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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