Austin Channing Brown speaks about race for Black History Month

by Solenne de Tassigny | Staff Writer

On the same night as President Trump’s State of the Union address, Whitworth students, faculty members, and members of the community crowded into the Robinson Teaching Theater to hear Austin Channing Brown speak out of the problematic nature of modern race relations. Brown spoke out on the “intersections of racial justice, faith and black womanhood.”

Author of the book “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness”, Brown is a leading voice in racial justice who is dedicating 2019 to traveling around the United States to “talk about what it means to pursue racial justice at this moment in history.”

She began her lecture explaining why her parents gave her the name “Austin”.

When she asked her parents at age seven why she had a boy’s name, she recalls her mother said “We knew that people who saw your name would assume you were a white boy… we just had to get you to the interview.”

Brown’s story struck a chord with several students of color on campus. Freshman Chauncella Koulibali resonated with her story, saying “I had conversations with my mom where she had expressed a slight regret that my parents have given me such an ‘ethnic’ name for the reasons [Brown] brought up.”

Brown continued her lecture using humor, personal stories and interactions with the audience to inspire students at Whitworth to engage in a conversation about race.

“The only reason we haven’t had that conversation is because we aren’t worth it.” Brown said.

Focusing on the Whitworth community, specifically the administration, Brown encouraged students to “make them explain” why more strides weren’t being taken toward increasing diversity on campus.

“All over Whitworth’s webpage there’s a lot of talk about diversity, but I haven’t seen how Whitworth as the institution is trying to promote that.” Said Koulibali after the lecture. “They’re essentially talking the talk but not walking the walk. Almost all of the diversity and inclusion efforts I’ve witnessed at my time here has been by the students, not by the institution.”

Brown also addressed issues surrounding religion and race, looking specifically toward white Christianity. Focusing on addressing racial perceptions, Brown said “I’m focusing on rejecting the assumption that ‘white is right’ in church.”

“How would it affect your spirituality when you closed your eyes and prayed to God and you pictured a black woman?”

Brown finished her lecture and opened the floor up to members of the community, saying “You’re going spill the tea and then I’m going to spill the tea.”

Students were eager to chime in. An international student shared his story, saying “they hear us, but nothing has changed.”

Brown left her audience with food for thought, saying “Y’all don’t need me. There are plenty of folks who know what the problem is and how it can be fixed.”

Brown’s lecture shed light on the racial injustices not being talked about by the Whitworth community by starting the conversation most students have been too intimidated by to have. It was Brown’s hope that her lecture sparked a conversation on race.