Midland hosts national bestselling author Austin Channing Brown in diversity discussion

We’ve seen some seismic shifts in our world lately around diversity, equity and inclusion. If we’re listening, we’ve also heard the call to confirm which side of history we want to be on.

In that spirit, last year, the Midland Business Alliance helped to form the Business Inclusion Council focused on just those subjects.

Last week, the Midland Business Alliance, the Midland Business Inclusion Council and the Midland Center for the Arts hosted a call highlighting the work and thoughts from Austin Channing Brown, New York Times Bestselling author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.

The event was part of a broader, ongoing effort to bring DEI principles into the conversation of our daily lives.

Offering thoughts on the approach, Dr. Amy Beasley, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) consultant for Dow, who is serving a one-year term as a consultant to Midland Public Schools, offered comments on how an inclusive environment will help us be stronger together.

“We knew that creating this environment was not only the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do,” says Beasley. “When we call for opportunities for everyone to succeed, when we choose to co-create, and co-own a culture where everyone is safe and everyone belongs, and when we recognize that our differences and our diversity is our strength – that is when our communities will thrive. “

Karen S. Carter, Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Inclusion Officer for Dow led the conversation with Austin Channing Brown, which was one of the most powerful discussions Midland has seen in a long time, not just in the author’s nationally-known profile, but for her simple, relatable message.

The comment section running the side of the Zoom call was a constant flow of hundreds of questions, feedback, comments and instances of attendees taking the author’s words into consideration.

Which means the hunger for more information is there, as well as the appetite for creating a community where everyone is able to feel welcome.

If you haven’t read it, the first line of Austin Channing Brown’s book is this: “White people can be exhausting.”

Discussing that topic and specific line, she noted in The Hollywood Reporter, she starts the book in that way to make a few things clear.

“Part of the reason I start with that sentence is to be clear about who my audience is."

She explains, laughing, "If you open that book and you read that first line and you laugh, this book is for you. If you open the book and you read that line and you're curious, this book is for you. If you open it and you read it and all you want to do is put it back on the shelf, you might need to pick up a different book."

With that same sentiment, her talk was incredibly and equally as impactful.

This is a partial excerpt of that conversation. Replay is not available for broad and public distribution.

“I really wanted to be clear that this book is for Black women. Because so often, when books on racial justice are written, they really are written with white people in mind. The assumption is that a white audience needs this and a white audience is going to read it and the white audience is going to be changed by it. And maybe the white audience will get it together,” she says.

“I wanted to carve out a place for Black women to be able to read a book on race, because we're the ones who are experiencing it,” she says. “So, first I wanted to make sure that Black women knew that this book was for them.”

“And second, I wanted to make it really clear who my audience is. So, that first sentence is in some ways meant to weed out people who are not ready to read about our experience,” she says. “But it’s not just for Black people and this isn’t about condemning white people either. If you’ve been involved in the racial justice conversation for more than 15 seconds, you’ve seen or experienced road blocks. So, this isn’t people of color that are exhausted by white people, there are white people who are exhausted by other white people and so it clarifies who the book is for.”

“I went to a predominantly white elementary school. And at that predominantly white elementary school, it was constantly assumed that the experience of the teacher was universal. We would be told there are certain things you must do every day. You must brush your teeth every day. You must change your clothes every day. You must wash your hair every day, etc,” she says.

“And I remember thinking…’Wait, what?’ and looking around to find other people like me. And I remember sitting there thinking, not only do I not wash my hair every day, I should not wash my hair every day. That there is a cultural assumption of universality that does not exist. But, it is expected that I will bend, shift, contort and move, so that I can fit into a narrative that does not include me. It can be in small ways like education, or big gigantic ways like systemic injustice.”

In her book, and during last week’s session, Channing Brown discussed having ‘the talk’ with her son about being born a black man. But unlike some who have it with their kids when they're older, she wrote it to her son before he was born.

From page 162 of I’m Still Here:

“We have avoided talking about the first time someone will call you a [expletive]. We have been avoiding talking about the first time you will be pulled over by a cop because you look suspicious. We have been avoiding talking about the many assumptions people will have of you, simply because God kissed your glorious skin and it blushed at the attention. We have avoided discussing how we will tell you about the world.

Of course, we will, but we don't like to think of it yet. We would rather wonder if you'll be precocious or subdued, bold or shy, funny or serious, adventurous or introspective. We would rather wonder about your humanity than ruminate on the ways the world will try to take that away from you.

They will first think you are beautiful, innocent and you will be. But as your baby fat disappears and your height comes to match ours, they will start to see you as dangerous. So, we will be here to refute the lies. We will be here to remind you that you are worthy of joy, and love and adventure.”

Channing Brown described on the call the process of going to the hospital to give birth to her son, and discussing strategies with her husband.

“When I was on my way to the hospital in labor with my son, my husband and I were not talking about who he might look like. We weren't talking about how our lives are about to change. We weren't talking about how to get the key to our babysitter so that somebody could come take care of our dog. What we were talking about was what we would do if something went wrong during my labor and doctors didn't believe me. We were making a plan for how to combat the possible presence of racism, and how that could impact my life or the life of our child.”

That is why I wrote a book called ‘Black dignity in a world made for whiteness,” she says. “Because I think what gets lost and all these conversations about whether or not you support social justice, whether or not you support Black Lives Matter, what you think should happen to the police, etc. In all these explosive conversations, what gets lost is that I am afraid that one day – I, or someone I love – will fall prey to this system.”

“The reason I wrote this book isn't because I'm trying to bash white people. It isn't because I want white people feel overwhelmed with shame and guilt,” she says. “The pursuit of racial justice is ultimately asking the question: Do you really believe that I am a human being who is worthy of the same treatment you receive by the world? Do you believe that I'm worthy of a good education? Do you believe that I'm worthy of being able to say when I'm in pain and receiving the appropriate medication? Do you think that I'm worthy of being treated well by police?"

“That is the question at the heart of racial justice.”

For more information about Austin Channing Brown see http://austinchanning.com/ and for more information about diversity, equity and inclusion in Midland see the Midland Business Inclusion Council and the Midland Area Community Foundation’s Cultural Awareness Coalition.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.