LETTER: …the attitude of the writing just makes me want to close the book
The entirety of this assigned book discussion has been led by those outside of the classroom. As one student who has read the book, I can assure you that Mr. Davis, Mrs. Mann, and the English class are on the same page (pun intended).
I’ll outline the basic premise of the book for those reading these exchanges without any context. “I’m Still Here; Black Dignity for a World Made for Whiteness” is a personal memoir from author Austin Channing Brown. She recounts a myriad of experiences in which she feels marginalized, discriminated against, or just downright frustrated. She juxtaposes these personal struggles against great family history or personal triumphs.
Based on a letter to the editor in last week’s issue, the individual suggests that there is absolutely no hate speech towards white people. I’ll provide a few examples of the clearly anti-white rhetoric:
• “White people are exhausting.” (p.1) Not necessarily hate, but rude. It would be racist had it been towards a black person.
• “We know them; we know they are racist.” (p. 105)
• She quotes a senior from her college, “I just want to say that I’m having a hard time even being mad at you white people anymore. I think I’ve just been convinced that white people are innately evil. You can’t help it. You steal and kill, you enslave and lynch. You are just evil.” Brown goes on and recounts that “The white students hadn’t appreciated her words, but the Black students on the bus could have kissed her feet.” (p.57)
Last week’s editorial cites a chapter completely dedicated to reconciliation. I can agree that the author alludes to the topic numerous times throughout the book. However, when we reach those points, Brown concludes that reconciliation is impossible; that any sort of apology will never be enough. She refuses to forgive, rather turning the apology around and asking what can be done differently the next time. (p. 109, 111) That is a constructive way to think, but not a way to forgive. For if we were to always do that, no atonement would ever be enough. It would be a constant, vicious cycle in which the quasi-victim continuously demands more and more. By any standard, that’s not a solution.
There are numerous other books regarding race relations and prospective solutions that are far more productive, such as “Race and Culture” by Thomas Sowell. For that matter, our textbook, published in 1994, approaches these issues from a middle ground, giving us excerpts from both sides of the aisle. “I’m Still Here” does nothing in the way of offering solutions or insightful questions that encourage constructive discourse. In that aspect, the book is utterly futile. Instead, it goes as far as to suggest that there is no hope. That there will always be a deficiency that will taint us. In one sense, that is correct. We will never be perfect. And if an individual or group expects perfection, they will always be dissatisfied. That’s the reality.
I’d like to address one of Mrs. Mann’s statements about the school board serving no role in curriculum decisions. Quoting MSBA/MASA Model Policy 706, section IV, “The school board may accept a gift, grant or devise of real or personal property only by the adoption of a resolution approved by two-thirds of its members. The resolution must fully describe any conditions placed on the gift.” That text was quoted from a document on the district’s website and was reviewed by the board on April 12 of this year. In the November 9th, 2020 school board minutes, it says “10. Books from Ely Empower to be used for the library and English Department.” It is also important to note that Mrs. Mann was still on the school board and present at the meeting, via teleconference when the book donation was approved.
Here is one of my largest objections to the book. It presents Brown’s personal experiences as if it is the universal experience for ALL black people. These are her own struggles and background. Not only does the book present it this way, but the one-sided discussion in the classroom also reinforces that. Not only is it experiential writing, but much of it is also assumptions. For example, she spends a chapter talking about her workplace. She breaks the day down, and her various exchanges with managers and colleagues. Following each time-stamped description is an italicized sentence or two, outlining what she thinks or assumes the coworker is thinking, or what their motivation is. Speaking with such authority about what others are feeling, without actually knowing, is a tricky spot to put oneself in.
Another issue I have with the book is the author’s tone. I’ve read enough literature to detect how an author/poet/writer feels about their topic. This memoir is no exception. I feel confident in saying that Brown is nearly always condescending, patronizing, or downright facetious. I don’t know if Brown thought that it would be an appealing way to approach her subject, but the attitude of the writing just makes me want to close the book.
The point of education in this country is not to create robots who can regurgitate. Isn’t the goal to create critical thinkers? Isn’t part of our founding principles to be free to express how we feel, how we think? If the hope is that the students are just going to stay mute and comply with whatever they are taught, that isn’t the case. That’s why my writing is on this page. Because some of us refuse to stay silent. You can agree, or you can agree to disagree. That’s how it works under our wonderful Constitution. Remember, I’m a human with an opinion, just as you have yours. This is my first editorial, and I’m sure it won’t be my last.
Junior at Ely Memorial