By Nadine Matthews, Special to the AFRO
Being pregnant is hard enough for any woman. Trying to write a book while you’re pregnant can feel positively unbearable.
Austin Channing Brown tells the AFRO, “It was physically difficult. I was so tired. I just wanted to take a nap all the time. Trying to write when you’re nauseous, the baby’s little foot would be all up in my rib cage. You just can’t get comfortable. It was the biggest obstacle every time I had to sit down and write.”
Fortunately she feels incredibly passionate about the subject of her book, which helped her to push through and complete it. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In The Face of Whiteness is a memoir of a Black woman who has navigated White spaces since childhood. The book is also an intriguing chronicle of the not often enough explored realm of the Black Christian experience in White Evangelical churches and associated organizations. “I wanted to write a book that said to other Black women in particular, you’re not alone. As you give of yourself to these ministries and institutions I just wanted to affirm the experience and our perception of reality.”
Activist writer and speaker Channing Brown became interested in making this her life’s work while in college. “In college I had a mentor who was doing this same exact work. She would travel, preach and speak and do consulting for organizations that really wanted to be diverse,” she says. The exposure made her realized that her challenges were in fact universal. There were many Black women facing the same issues as her.
She eventually moved on to working with Evangelical organizations. Presumably with Christianity as a unifier, those spaces would have been safer for her to occupy. However, that wasn’t the case. In the book she says, “Being a Black woman in the professional world of majority-White non-profit ministries was far more difficult than my younger self could imagine.” She writes of her first-hand experiences with church organizations who couldn’t see past race.
Some of her recollections makes the reader flinch. In one instance, after completing a training class and closing with a prayer, a White male participant raged at her for no less than twenty minutes repeatedly charging, “Trayvon Martin was no victim.” When Channing Brown could not be persuaded to his way of thinking, he demanded to speak to whoever was “really in charge.”
Unlike many around her, Channing Brown expected Trump’s rise to political power. “I was not even a little bit surprised,” she says. Her experiences in a diverse church, were like the canary in the coal mine. She recalls “I encountered racism on a regular basis because of this work. Racism didn’t rear its ugly head during the Trump campaign. It started as soon as Obama took office.”
Coinciding with Obama’s victory, she observed a rise in evangelical circles of doomsday scenarios. “I heard conversations where Obama was referred to as the anti-Christ,” she recalls. “I remember going to a new church right before the election when it was looking like Obama was going to win, and a woman stood up and said God told her that there were going to be earthquakes, basically the world was about to explode. There was almost a decade of anger [at Obama’s presidency].”
She is still optimistic about the church. “I am still proud that there is a segment of the church that is still focused on justice. And yes, a majority of evangelicals support Trump, but there are lots of organizations that do read the Bible differently. There are churches at the borders trying to keep families together, folks who are raising money to pay attorneys to help people. There are still a lot of churches fighting to be on the right side of history,” she says.
She is the first to admit that her work is psychically exhausting, as it is for many Black women in similar situations. For survival she laughingly suggests, “If you find that you’re really the only one, get out. Everybody needs a friend.”
On a more serious note she offers, “Find other like minded folks. I don’t think I would have made it through my college experience if it wasn’t for Black women; as professors, as teachers but also my peers.” She also encourages women to “Remember you’re a whole person. So fight, but also dance, twerk in the mirror, eat good food, fall in love. Be a person, don’t give your whole self to the fight.”