I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown Read Online (FREE)
Read I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown online free here.
White People Are Exhausting
White people can be exhausting. Particularly exhausting are white people who don’t know they are white, and those who need to be white. But of all the white people I’ve met—and I’ve met a lot of them in more than three decades of living, studying, and working in places where I’m often the only Black woman in sight—the first I found exhausting were those who expected me to be white.
To be fair, my parents did set them up for failure. In this society where we believe a name tells us everything we need to know about someone’s race, gender, income, and personality, my parents decided to outwit everyone by giving their daughter a white man’s name. When I was growing up, they explained that my grandmother’s maiden name was Austin, and since her only brother didn’t have children, they wanted to make me the last Austin of our family line.
Sounds beautiful, right? Well, it is. It just happens to be half the story.
How did I discover the other half? Through my exhaustion with a white person. We were in my favorite place—our local library, built in a square with an outdoor garden at the center. At seven years old, with books piled high in my arms, I often had to be reminded how many I had already checked out when it came time for our next visit. I am certain my family singlehandedly kept our library funded. We checked out so many books at a time, we would find them under the car seat, between the cushions of our couch, or hiding under the mail on the table.
On this sunny Saturday afternoon, as I stepped up to the front desk to check out my books, I remember the librarian taking my library card and scanning the back as usual. I braced myself, expecting her to announce the fine I owed for the week.
Instead, she raised one eyebrow as the other furrowed and asked, “Is this your card?”
Wondering for a split second if I’d mixed up my card with my mother’s, I nodded my head yes, but hesitantly. “Are you sure?” she said. “This card says Austin.”
I nodded more emphatically and smiled. “Yes, that’s my card.” Perhaps she was surprised a first-grader could rack up such a fine. But when I peered over the counter, I saw that she still hadn’t opened the book covers to stamp the day when I should bring them back (emphasis on should). I waited.
“Are you sure this is your card?” she asked again, this time drawing out sure and your as if they had more than one syllable. I tilted my head in exasperation, rolling my eyes toward the popcorn ceiling. Did she not see all the recent books on my account? Surely this woman didn’t think I didn’t know my own name.