A few months ago, I posted this article on Facebook with the caption "Book club?" -- little did I know that a few months later I'd be leading that very thing. I was surprised by the immediate interest among my Facebook friends to participate in a book club focused on topics of race and identity. About a month after this Facebook post, I heard about Austin Channing Brown's new book, "I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness" and I knew that it was time for a book club and this would be our first selection. Within an hour of posting this on Facebook, I had 10 women express interest - exciting!
Last night we had our first virtual book chat. We all read or listened to Channing Brown's book and met via Zoom to discuss. There were seven of us on the call - all self-identified White women! - and we had a great conversation about the book. One of the major takeaways was that the author highlighted the profound pervasiveness of Whiteness in school and at work through her brilliant storytelling. She offered examples that highlighted how difficult a day at the office can be for a Black woman in a world of Whiteness. I think that her chapter entitled "Whiteness at Work" should be mandatory reading for White folks! Channing Brown's experiences aligned perfectly with the experiences that I found in my research - pervasive, ongoing microaggressions and office cultures that are completely wrapped up with Whiteness. The book gave all of us a lot to think about, especially as it relates to "Nice White People", another chapter in the book.
I highly recommend this book in general, but especially for White folks who are interested in better understanding how Whiteness and racism shows up in daily life for folks of color. The author is Christian and writes about her experiences with Whiteness in Church, which is also powerful. There are some Christian themes that may be a turnoff to some, but we all moved through those portions without being put-off, regardless of our feelings/beliefs about religion.
In our 1 hour discussion, we considered two main questions: 1) our takeaways from the book and the parts that jumped out to us the most, and 2) how we say ourselves reflected in the book.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the book. What were your favorite parts? If you decide to read it, I'd encourage you to find a couple of friends and facilitate a dialogue about it! If you do I'd love to hear how it goes!!
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
"White institutions are constantly communicating how much Blackness they want. It begins with numbers. How many scholarships are being offered? How many seats are being 'saved' for 'neighborhood kids'? How many Black bodies must be present for us to have 'good' diversity numbers? How many people of color are needed for the website, the commercials, the pamphlets? But numbers are only the beginning. Whiteness constantly polices the expressions of Blackness allowed within it's walls, attempting to accrue no more than what's necessary to affirm itself. ...It wants to see a Black person seated at the table but doesn't want to hear a dissenting viewpoint. ...Whiteness wants enough Blackness to affirm the goodness of whiteness, the progressiveness of whiteness, the openheartedness of whiteness. Whiteness likes a trickle of Blackness, bu only that which can be controlled." (pg. 70)
"This is partly what makes the fragility of whiteness so damn dangerous. It ignores the personhood of people of color and instead makes the feelings of whiteness the most important thing. It happens in classes and workshops, board meetings and staff meetings, via email and social media, but it takes other forms, too. ...White fragility protects whiteness and forces Black people to fend for themselves." (pg. 89)