Recently I was asked by the Racial Justice ministry at my church to co-facilitate a Book Group. Fortunately for me, I said yes, as it turned out to be a great learning experience.
My co-facilitator for the Book Group (Milli) suggested the book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. It is an excellent book and I strongly recommend that you read it. I am grateful to Milli for suggesting it and for structuring our Book Group meetings. It was very fulfilling to be her accomplice for this project.
The book tells the life story (so far, she is still young) of the author, Austin Channing Brown, an African-American woman. Wait – a woman named Austin? Yes – and that is an early part of the story.
When Austin was seven, her mother told her that she and her father had named her Austin so future potential employers would think she was a white man, and she would not be discriminated against. And the story goes on. It is a very personal story in which she authentically shares her life experiences and feelings.
Recently I saw this quote by Isabel Wilkerson, author of the book Caste: The Origins of our Discontents:
“Radical empathy, on the other hand, means putting in the work to educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another’s experience from their perspective, not as we imagine we would feel.”
Our world needs more “radical empathy.” Black lives matter (check this link for my blog on that topic). And white people need to better understand our Black brothers and sisters if we are going to create real community – a world that works for everyone with no one left out. Reading books like I’m Still Here is a good start to developing that kind of empathy.
But it is just a start. I am reminded of an article in The Washington Post from two years ago, just after George Floyd was murdered: “When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs.”
We need to make sure that we are not JUST joining Book Clubs. Tune in to next week’s blog for more on that topic.