"Doing Nothing is No Longer an Option.” – For The Love Live with Austin Channing Brown - Jen Hatmaker

“Doing Nothing is No Longer an Option.” – For The Love Live with Austin Channing Brown

Episode 01

Join us on a virtual road trip for our very first For the Love Live Podcast Tour as Jen criss-crosses the country to talk to some of our very best leaders, teachers, and entertainers about literally everything under the sun. We couldn’t think of anyone we’d want to kick off this series more than friend of the show, Austin Channing Brown. Austin is a writer, a speaker, and an advocate for racial justice. She helps schools, nonprofits, and religious organizations learn to practice genuine inclusion and equality. You’ll remember Austin from our For the Love of Exploring Our Faith series where she shared her beautiful and haunting book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. During this live conversation in Portland, Jen and Austin wrestle with some huge questions: What’s the best way to support people who have been systemically marginalized? How do we move voices and experiences of people of color at the center? And as we look at the vast landscape of social justice work, where do we even begin? Time and again, Austin forces us to ask ourselves, “What does loving our neighbor really mean?” and reminds us that justice work is hard—we’ll get doors slammed in our face. We’ll get our feelings hurt. But we’ll dust our shoulders off and keep on doing the work—because doing nothing is no longer an option, and peace and reconciliation is the end goal.

Episode Transcript
Narrator:  Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.

Jen:  Hey, everybody. Jen Hatmaker here. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast. Super glad to have you today.

All right, let’s rewind for just a sec, because I know you saw me talk about this series that we start today a few months ago, back when it was fall. We hadn’t had Christmas, we hadn’t had Thanksgiving, Parasite hadn’t won Best Picture of the Oscars yet (hey, Parasite, congrats).

I went on the road, which is one of my favorite things to do, especially for you. And I got to talk to some outstanding, smart, fabulous guests for our very first For the Love Live Podcast Tour. Do you remember that? Some of you came out for it. Gosh, we loved meeting you in all these cities. But if you didn’t, trust me, it was a good time. And because I know you cannot always drop your job and your babies and your people to come out with me on a school night, I thought I would bring the tour to you.

So in this series, you’re going to get to hear my conversations with every single guest on the tour that we recorded live, in a live room, because I want you to experience these conversations as much as I did at that moment in the room.

So on our very first night out, we had the privilege to talk again with one of my very best teachers. And that, of course, is writer and speaker, activist and leader Austin Channing Brown. If you’ve been listening to this show for a hot minute, you might remember Austin and the fire she brought to our For the Love of Exploring our Faith series a while back. And if you’re new, hurry over and listen to that episode after you get done here, because Austin is a truth-teller of the best sort, I promise you that. She is  a voice to listen to.

So sit back and relax. This is maybe the best kind of live event, because you get to press pause, and get more wine or snacks, and keep listening. This was a great night, and I will not forget it.

So please enjoy my live conversation with the brilliant, gracious, beautiful Austin Channing Brown.

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So tonight, we have Austin Channing Brown with us in the house. Yes. So, if you’re new to Austin, let me introduce her real quick. Let me tell you a little bit about her before I bring her up. She’s a writer, she’s a speaker, she’s a practitioner. She helps schools, nonprofits, and religious organizations learn to practice genuine inclusion, and equality, and equity. Her writing is everywhere. She’s [been in] Christianity Today, Relevant, Sojourners, Christian Century. She’s all over the place. Austin began her journey as a racial reconciler in college with a really huge experience that we’re going to talk about tonight. We will definitely discuss that, because you’re going to want to hear where this started for her. She wrote a book that for me, personally, was very groundbreaking. It’s called I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. Coming in hot. It’s coming in hot!

I wrote an endorsement for her book, and I truly have to say—I mean this sincerely—she’s one of my best, and most important teachers. I learned from her constantly. This is what I said my endorsement. I said, “This book is devastating, beautiful, and haunting, and it leaves no room for a tepid reaction. Her story will move you, push you, and break your heart.” So, y’all just buckle up, is what I’m trying to say to you right now.

So, after her undergrad work, Austin went on to earn her master’s degree in social justice from Marygrove College in Detroit. And she’s done some really cool work with short-term missions on the west side of Chicago, creating really cool opportunities for young people to engage issues of poverty, and injustice, and race. She’s worked on staff at Willow Creek, developing strategies and programming around multiculturalism. Here’s my point: she has receipts, okay? She has receipts. She’s involved in some really hard work.

She doesn’t pull any punches, you know this if you know her. She forces us into the notion of, What does it really mean to love your neighbor? Okay? It’s a good question, and she calls it out when the mark is being missed. She is really out there helping to dispel fears, and preconceptions, and assumptions, so that we can truly begin to live by the highest thing that we are called to as humans, no matter our history, which is to love one another well.

So, you are in for a treat. We are all in for a treat. Please help me welcome to the stage Austin Channing Brown.

Jen: Hi.

Austin: Hi, honey.

Jen: Welcome.

Austin: Thanks.

Jen: Welcome to the show. Welcome to Portland.

Austin: Portland.

Jen: We’re so happy to see you.

Austin: You are so cute and quirky. I love it.

Jen: I know. It really, really is. So, we were just talking backstage a minute ago like, when did we first actually meet? You know how the internet makes new friends? That’s real, which is why I feel like we’re all friends, too. When is the first time we met with our faces? What was it?

Austin: You walked in the door of my apartment. I said the word Baby, and you were like, “Yes, please.”

Jen: I did. That’s real. That feels on brand. I’ve been following Austin. I’ve been listening to her. I’ve been reading your work, and I was going to be in Grand Rapids, which is where you lived at the time, and then I just came to your house like a serial killer. Yeah.

Austin: My book had just released.

Jen: That’s right.

Austin: And you were kind enough to join me for this video discussion that I was putting together. And yeah, the doorbell rang, ding-dong. I was like, “Jen Hatmaker is at my house!”

Jen: Yeah. And I was like, “Oh, I’m so happy to see you in person. Where’s your baby?” Yeah.

I would love—you and I talked about this the first time on the first show, but I like when you tell the story, because I think it’s a good place to jump off for the rest of our conversation. Would you tell the story about how you got your name and why?

Austin: Yeah. So, I was really used to people assuming that I was going to be a boy, mostly because I grew up in the late eighties, early nineties, when we decided to personalize everything. Key chains, coffee mugs. You all know what I’m saying?

Jen: You know who won that game? Jennifer.

Austin: Listen, listen.

Jen: You better believe it.

Austin: “Austin” wasn’t getting me far, friends, it just wasn’t getting me far. So, I was super used to that. So, I go to the library to return some books and check out some new books. I’m like maybe eight years old. And the librarian takes my card, and she goes, “Is this your card?” I’m like, “I think.” Right, like, “I think so.” And she says, “This card says ‘Austin.’” And I’m like, Oh, I see what’s happening here. You thought I was going to be a boy. I’m not a boy. I have surprised you.  Right? People get really weird about gender. Somebody say hello.

Jen: Yeah. This is so real.

Austin: [People get] really weird about gender. So, I say, “Yes, my name is Austin. That’s my library card.” She says, Jen, “Are you sure?”

Jen: Oh, yeah.

Austin: I’m like, “Are we sure whether or not I know my own name? Is that what you’re asking me right now?” So, I march over to my mother because I’m just mad. I’m like, “Ma, why did you give me this name?” And she starts telling me about our family history, where my name literally comes from, and I’m like, “Ma, I already know all of this. I’m not asking you where it came from. I’m asking why you chose it.” Uh-huh. She sits down at the little library table, and she instantly dons the black mother voice, which is about two octaves lower than it should be, right?

Jen: Sure. I’m familiar with that.

Austin: So, it’s like, “Well, Austin,” you know? I’m like, Okay, what’s happening here?  And she says to me, “Austin, we didn’t have a name for you because you were a girl. If you had been a boy, you would’ve been a junior.” She said, “When one of us said ‘Austin,’ we knew immediately that anybody who saw your name would assume you are a white man.” And she said, “We just had to get you to the interview.”

Jen: Oh, man.

Austin: She was like, “One day, you’re going to have to apply for a home, or jobs, or school, or whatever.” And then she gave me like the black mama pep talk like, “But you’re so charismatic, and so funny, and so…” right? Like, all the things. But then, she repeated herself, and she said—I will never forget—”We just had to get you to the interview.”

Jen: Do you remember how you felt? That’s a lot to take in as an eight year old.

Austin: The only thought I remember having is, Huh. Every Austin I’ve met has been a white guy.

Jen: Oh yeah.

Austin: I had never realized that they were also white. I was only ever making this gender connection, because I was like, Huh. But I wasn’t entirely sure what I had learned about the world, except that the fact that the suspicion that I received when people didn’t expect a black girl to show up had to do with my race, and not just my gender.

Jen: That’s right.

Austin: But that’s all I knew at that point.

Jen: Yeah. So, fast forward a little bit. I would love our lovely audience, if they don’t already know, to find out a little bit more about your pretty strong move into becoming a racial reconciler, and justice seeker, and what that means to you. Can you talk a little bit about your experience at Sankofa?

Austin: Oh, my word.

Jen: I know you’ve talked a lot about this, but it’s important to the foundation of a lot of your work. Can you recap that story for everybody?

Austin: It was quite the trip, friends. So, Sankofa is a civil rights journey. I was living in Chicago, and we would get on a bus, and for three days, we would travel all the way to the South and tour museums and statues, just remembering history. We would read books together, we would watch movies together, and it was our job to process aloud as we’re on this bus. Everybody gets paired up. So, you get a white person and a black person together on a bus, three days, college students. Are you with me?

Jen: Oh man. Well, what could go wrong?

Austin: What could go wrong, Jen?

Jen: Yeah.

Austin: And they don’t tell us where we’re going. So, you just get on the bus, and you just go.

Jen: Oh, I didn’t remember that detail. Oh, wow. Okay.

Austin: So, I got on the bus, and the first stop was in Louisiana at a plantation. Mmhmm. And apparently, the tour guides for the plantation, it was their family plantation when it was a plantation plantation. So, they start the tour, and they’re pointing to a trough that a horse should eat out of, and they’re going, “That’s where the babies slept. Isn’t that wonderful? They were so genius…” You’re like, “That ain’t right.” It wasn’t.

Jen: It wasn’t.

Austin: It wasn’t. And here’s the thing, friends, it was so wild to us that we thought it was a joke. We thought irony was being used at first. They’re like, “Oh, they’re not kidding. They’re serious.” They were remembering how the slaves would sing their beautiful songs out in the field as they worked. The slaves never hurt themselves as they were picking cotton because they were so good at it. It was wild.

Jen: They were telling themselves a story.

Austin: Wild. But we’re dealing with college students, Jen, so all the black students on the trip are thinking, What is happening right now? And all the white students are like, Well, that doesn’t sound so bad. Right?

Jen: Yeah.

Austin: Like, there is a huge miseducation happening. So, we end that trip. Oh, my Lord. Well, first of all, at the end of that tour, the tour guides turned to all of us and they say, “Now, if you would like to go pick cotton…”

Jen: Oh, man.

Austin: Uh-huh. I was like physically dragging people away from the tour guides, friends. So, we get on the bus, we go to our next stop, which is a lynching museum in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s smaller than this room, friends. And on every wall, there is a photo of a lynching.

Jen: That’s traumatic.

Austin: And it was a lot to process. And I’ll tell y’all, the more that I have reflected on this, what really surprised me that day—I knew that lynchings had happened, right? I knew that lynchings were a part of the American story. The narrative that I had always concocted in my mind was that people were ashamed of it. Hence, the white robes, and the things in the middle of the night, right? But I’m walking through this museum, and there’s a postcard that has a lynching on the front, and on the back, it says, “Sorry we missed you at the barbecue.”

Jen: Oh, my gosh.

Austin: There are newspapers that are announcing that “There’s going to be a mob tonight.” There are photographs where people are smiling up at the camera with a lynched body behind them. So, it’s like this shocking experience where you think you know what you’re about to see, and you don’t realize what you’re about to see.

So, we got on the bus, and it wasn’t good, friends. Like, everyone’s worst fear about how a conversation about race is going to go, it was happening.

Jen: Exhibit A.

Austin: It was happening. So, it didn’t start explosive, but it got there real fast, friends. So, at the most explosive, a black woman stands up, because all the white students have been like, “But my family wasn’t there.” Right? “We were still in France or wherever,” right? Thank you for laughing. But deflection, right? Trying not to feel it. Trying to separate from it, which is quite understandable. If the black people could have separated ourselves from it, I’m sure we would have, too.

But then a black woman stands up. She’s a junior, I think. And she’s so calm, friends. She stands up at the front of the bus and she says, “You know, I think that white people are just innately evil.”

Jen: Oh man.

Austin: “You all rape, and kill, and steal, and commit genocide, and enslave people.” And she’s like, “I don’t think it’s your fault. I think there might just be something innately wrong here.” And then that child sat down.

Jen: Oh dear. Oh man.

Austin: She handed the microphone to the next person, and everybody on the bus is like mouths on the floor, What just happened here?

So, as you can imagine, that escalated things a bit. So now, we’re like back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, conversations as circular as it could be. And finally, a girlfriend of mine gets up—she’s a white girl—and we’re about to break for lunch. So, this is like a make it or break it moment, friends. And she gets up and she says, “You know, I am witnessing a lot of pain on this bus. There are a lot of black women on this bus that I love, and they are filled with pain over what they have seen between these last two stops.” She said, “I can’t fix the pain.” She said, “I can’t take it away. I can’t undo what’s been done.” She said, “But I can sit in it with you.” Right? She says, “I can sit in it with you.” And she said, “And I can determine that doing nothing is no longer an option for me.”

Jen: Yeah, that’s right.

Austin: And at that moment, I was like, “Me too! Doing nothing is no longer an option!” And I have been a proponent for racial justice ever since.

Jen: Yes, you have. Yes, you have, and [you’ve been] a good one, and a strong one.

You have said something that’s really compelling about how sometimes folks like me, white people of a certain age, of a certain economic standing and religion, are in the process right now of uncovering the lies they’ve been told about black history, about white history, race issues. And now that they’re learning correctly, or in some cases like me, also have black children—they’re, as you said, being forced to look at these issues in a much deeper way than the soundbite. The soundbite is sometimes palatable. The deeper dig is harder. And so, what’s happening is that so many are coming to you and saying, “Tell me what to do.” Right? “Tell me, what’s the next thing? Tell me what I need to know.”

And you have, on purpose, not spelled it out explicitly. You’ve not given a ten-step guide, you’ve not created a template. You’ve essentially said, “Well, is doing nothing an option for you?” More or less, can you do something?”

You’ve got really good reasons that have instructed me on why you insist that people chart their own path, and do their own work here. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Austin: Yeah. What I think is really beautiful about the work of racial justice is that there is so much of it to do. So, if you are passionate about education, there is so much to do.

Jen: Yes, there is.

Austin: If you are passionate about the criminal justice system, there is so much to do. If you are passionate about women, or health disparities, or homelessness, and housing, or a million other things, there is so much to do. And I believe this with my whole heart, Jen. I believe that any ten-step program I would create would be too damn easy.

Jen: Yeah, yeah.

Austin: It would be too easy. I need you to go do the hard thing, whatever that is. I need you to go do the hard thing. I need you to look within and say, “This is the thing that pisses me off, and I’m not going to be silent about it anymore. And I’m going to educate myself, and I’m going to read all the books, and I’m going to make all the mistakes, and I’m going to let this perfection thing go, and I’m just going to be out here doing the work.”

Jen: I know. I know. [There are] two things you just said that I appreciate. The first is that you regularly say, “You will do this imperfectly. You will say the weirdest thing. You will say the most wrong thing. You will get corrected, and no one’s going to die.”

Austin: Jen, can I tell you?

Jen: You can.

Austin: Can I tell you that white people are the only ones who think they could do this perfectly?

Jen: That’s so true! Oh, why are we like this?

Austin: All the people of color in your life are real clear that you are not perfect.

Jen: Yes. You’re so right.

Austin: You’re the only one who I’ve convinced that you might not do harm, but that you haven’t already.

Jen: Yeah, exactly.

Austin: Surely your silence has already created harm, so at least try, right?

Jen: Yeah, absolutely.

Austin: And you might get called out, and you might get your feelings hurt, and you might have to go lick your wounds. You’ll be alright.

Jen: Yeah, that’s right. Oh yeah.

Austin: Go take care of yourself, and come on back.

Jen: Oh yeah, totally. Austin, I have several black friends in my life who have full permission to always say whatever that they need to say to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a text like, “Girl, take that down off Twitter.” I’m like, “What? Why? I thought that was funny.” They’re like, “Take it down.” And I appreciate that so much. I love the correction, and I love that there’s enough trust among us to be able to be like, “You are getting this part wrong, so fix it.”

Austin: Right.

Jen: “Say you’re sorry, and don’t say it again.”

Austin: That’s right.

Jen: That’s where I’ve had some of my best lessons.

The second thing is something they were saying, which you were alluding to, but for a lot of folks in majority culture, like a lot of white people, this is really hard work. It’s always been hard work for the black community. They don’t get an opt-out. And so, when we opt-in, it’s hard—and there’s this very human reaction, which is defensiveness and guilt.

Austin: Ooh, child.

Jen: And that’s the first foot that we often put forward when we enter this conversation, at whatever place we are entering it. And so, it’s pretty predictable. Can you talk for a minute about navigating—and maybe even define the terms a little bit—white fragility, and then ultimately white guilt, and what is important for us to know about that? Just no big deal.

Austin: So, the other day, I posted almost this exact conversation on Twitter, right? So, I say, “White people, PSA: you’re the only one that thinks you could be perfect, so you can let it go. You could just do the work.” And people start responding, “Thank you for being so gracious.” And I was like, “No, for real, you’re not perfect.” Like, for real, I’m not being gracious. I’m telling you the truth, right?

Jen: Yes. Yes.

Austin: And there’s a person who responds to me by saying, “I can’t believe you would mock all of us like that. I do not feel safe. You said we would be safe, and now I don’t feel safe.” Friends, white fragility. We’re going to paint two pictures here.

A black woman in her house [was] supposed to have a wellness check done, and dies, right? Murdered by the police. I sent a tweet that did not include your handle, and you think you’re being attacked, and don’t feel safe. White fragility is the ability for white folks to continue to center themselves in the narrative as opposed to recognizing that white folks are not, in fact, in danger. You are not in danger. You might be uncomfortable, you might have your feelings hurt, you know what?

I’ll even give you this. Black folks ain’t perfect. So, you might actually get called out for maybe something that a whole other set of black folks wouldn’t have called you out for. It might actually be unfair, maybe. Oh well. Like, oh well, you are not dying in large numbers. You are not dealing with disparities. You are not wondering what you should name your kids in hopes that twenty years from now they can get a job, right?

Jen: Right. Yeah.

Austin: And so, what white fragility does—I’m sure there’s a really good definition that I don’t have for you. Google I’m sure was an excellent resource on this. But what it does is it re-centers white people as the primary audience for racial justice, as if this is not going to move forward without you. As if you need to feel safe, and you need to feel like the center, and you need to feel like the savior, and you need a pat on the back, and you need your hair brushed, right? So that you can feel like you are an active, and important, and inclusive member in this, as opposed to just being an active and inclusive member who is human like the rest of us are human.

I think white supremacy gets really tricky, because white supremacy is the notion that white people are better, but also that black people are inferior, right? It’s a twofold lie. It isn’t that people of color are neutral, but white people are better, right? It’s a twofold lie.

Jen: Yeah. Good point.

Austin: The other half of the lie that there is something inherently wrong with people of color. And so, sometimes what happens is that narrative around something being wrong with people of color doesn’t get destroyed. So, white people are busy trying to undo white supremacy, but they’re not busy trying to undo the idea that black people and people of color are equal.

Jen: That’s interesting.

Austin: Are y’all with me?

Jen: Yeah.

Austin: And so, what happens then is that black people still aren’t considered fully human, who are going to make mistakes, who are going to call things out, who are going to drop F-bombs, who are going to not always see what you’re doing, who are going to misinterpret what you’re doing. We are still fully human, fully human. There might be a day when I call out Jen for something where I’m like, “Take that down.” And Jen explains it, and I’m like, “Oh, never mind.” Right?

Jen: Right.

Austin: Because I’m human. And so, I think sometimes white fragility gets in the way of allowing all of us to be human and still get back to work.

Jen: That’s good. Yeah. Thank you for explaining it like that.

Jen: Let’s talk systematically for a minute.

Austin: Yeah. There’s so much we need to undo tonight.

Jen: Yes. We’ve got an hour. I mean, that’s enough. So, not just society, but if we wanted to also recognize, as a subgroup, Christian subculture.

Austin: Ooh, child.

Jen: Well, I’m just saying, here we are. We have demonstrated that we’re perfectly willing to make enemies of entire people groups, right? Is that fair to say? And one way that we do this—and you have said this—is that we create policy around our fears. And so, for example, as you have cited, because some subsets of the church are afraid of LGBTQ people.

Austin: That’s right. That’s right.

Jen: There’s policy around them to insulate from those sorts of specific fears. But you point out that what’s even scarier are the policies that no one actually writes down, that our fear is dictating our policies rather than our love. And so, some of this early work is resisting the narrative of fear in the first place. We’ve got to hear it. We’ve got to acknowledge it.

So, I wonder if you can talk about this for a minute, specifically about some of these unwritten policies that undergird racism, or othering, as you mentioned that other community in our society, but also in our churches.

Austin: Yeah. So, can I get real specific, friends?

Jen: Yeah.

Austin: So, I had a girlfriend who’s a black woman who used to sing, she was a vocalist for a church that may or may not have been mentioned earlier. Okay? And she was regularly expected to do spoken word if it was MLK day, right? Or sing the gospel song, make us all feel like we’re on a mountain high, right? Like, just, mmm.

Jen: But this is not in a traditionally black church.

Austin: This is not a traditionally black church. So, she was expected to put on her blackness, to go behind stage, put it on, bring it out for everyone to experience. And then she was supposed to go take it back off so that she could sing the regular songs. You know what I mean? Right?

Jen: Yeah. You know.

Austin: I know you all know.

Jen: You know it’s true.

Austin: But the white vocalists were never expected to go over here and do spoken word. They were never expected to try out the gospel song over here, right? It was always that, “We want you to be black when it benefits us, but otherwise, we would really appreciate it if you would just blend in, and make us feel really good about it.” That would be fantastic. And I wasn’t good at that, Jen.

Jen: I don’t believe that you ever were.

Austin: I wasn’t good at it.

So, yeah, you know what? The truth is that women understand this, because there are rules and policies. There’s the boys’ club, there’s the “Here’s when you’re allowed to speak, and here’s where you’re not. Here’s where you’re allowed to sit, and here’s where you’re not,” right? These rules exist for lots of marginalized groups. The problem is that often, too often, white women will trade on their whiteness as opposed to remembering what it’s like to be marginalized.

Jen: Talk about that a little bit more.

Austin: So, white women know what it’s like to be in a meeting. Y’all tell me if this has ever happened to you. You’re in a meeting, and you say something brilliant. Brilliant. It is creative, it is insightful, it is doable, and you have a budget for it.

Jen: Nice. Yes.

Austin: Right? And everyone goes silent when you say it. And then five minutes later, a white guy says the same thing. And all of a sudden, it’s the best idea at the table.

That same thing is happening with women of color, where women of color get silenced at the table. Their ideas get taken. They get interrupted all the time, right? If [only] white women could say to themselves, I know what it is to be marginalized, and I refuse to let anyone else be marginalized, too.

Jen: That’s good.

Austin: Right? As opposed to, Ooh, in this situation, I get to be powerful. So now, I’m going to be powerful.

JenBecause I’m not the lowest on the totem pole.

Austin: That’s right.

Jen: Yeah. Yeah. That’s good. That’s great. A similar idea, but I want to dovetail it over to your book, I’m Still Here. Inside your book, you talk about how in our time and in our culture, virtually all of our institutions, our schools, our churches, our universities, our businesses positively claim to value diversity.

Austin: Oh my God, everybody has a mission statement.

Jen: Right. In their mission statement.

Austin: Everybody.

Jen: Right. I mean, it’s buzz. It’s a buzzword. It’s definitely a hot term, but you assert that their actions often fall short of the words. So, I wonder where specifically, in any of those spaces, are you seeing this disparity between what people are saying and what they’re doing inside their systems, inside their institutions? What’s actually happening? Maybe [share a] personal story.

Austin: Sure. First, let me say, I am one person who does this work, right? And so, I have a very specific viewpoint on things, but there are others who would disagree, friends. So, know that you are listening to a person, and you can evaluate that against other people that you’re listening to.

Okay. I think that white people have a normalization problem. Meaning, all white folks think they’re normal. And therefore, their experience is universal.

Jen: I thought that for a long time.

Austin: So, white folks, I just had a black woman come up to me the other day, and tell me that she was so mad at her supervisor because they were on a retreat together, and their icebreaker was naming songs by The Beatles.

Sorry, I got nothing, like, nothing. This assumption that what is normal for you—that the music you play, the movies you watch, the things you reference—is universal is creating problems around being inclusive, for real. And so, I make this joke all the time, but I’m not really kidding. I have been in classrooms or sermons, listening to sermons where people will reference sailing. I got nothing.

Jen: Right. Blank.

Austin: Hockey, I got nothing. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I got nothing.

Jen: Oh, come on!

Austin: I did not see that movie until I was twenty-six. I was really grown by the time I finally saw it, and I was like, I don’t understand what the big deal is.

Jen: Right. Fair.

Austin: I feel like we could rename this to Ferris Bueller’s Privilege.

Jen: That’s hilarious.

Austin: I was like, “I don’t understand.” But people of color are constantly doing this work of translating what white folks assume is normal, is everyone’s experience, and having to do the work of, one, either pretending, or having to retreat, and not being able to be a full member of the community. So, if I can just run through examples—when I was in high school, there was a glee club, white, and a gospel choir, black. Which one do you think was more funded?

Jen: Sure, of course.

Austin: I go into a number of Christian institutions. I go to a number of Christian institutions that are predominantly white, and some part of the administration, or the board of trustees, or whoever, doesn’t think that there should be a black student union, or a Latinx union, or an opportunity for students of color to just be by themselves for a second. And they always go, “But we don’t have that for white students.”

Have you seen these hallways? Everywhere is like that for white students, it’s such a normal part of the system that you don’t recognize how often white students are in all white spaces all by themselves. So, it’s that normalization that becomes the water that we swim in, and you can no longer tell that it’s water, and that is impacting.

Let me tell you, it doesn’t just impact the student examples that I’m giving, right? It also matters when it comes to my performance review. Because if the standard is to be like all the white people, then I’ve got a problem. So, I remember, Jen, I may or may not have been fired from a couple of institutions in my life because I wouldn’t shut up about race. There was a moment, one particular instance, when I was told the rundown of reasons why I should leave this job. “So, has God really called you here?” White people always got to bring God into it. Anyway, all right. So, [they were] going through the list, and at some point, they said, “And your training.” And I was like, “Oh, hell no.” I am the only one who consistently gets a standing ovation after the volunteer training, you will not do me. Right?

Jen: Yeah.

Austin: But it dawned on me that it’s because I don’t wear the pencil skirt, and the button up shirt, and stand still, and give the lecture. I’m a daughter of the black church, so I move around, and I talk with my hands, and I tell crazy stories, and I make people laugh. But your benefits, your health insurance, your paycheck depends on you being like them, right? So, here’s what my supervisor used to tell me all the time: “Austin, you have so much potential.” And at first, I was like, “Thank you. I think so, too.” And what I eventually realized was what they meant was, If you would just try to be more like us, you could do it.

JenYou’re almost there.

AustinYou’re almost there, as opposed to seeing me as I am and saying, “This is how we’re going to further develop who you are.” And it can be very, very isolating when whiteness thinks that it’s universal, that it’s normal, and I genuinely don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I cannot participate in a game in which I’m supposed to name songs by The Beatles. I can’t.

Jen: Some of the instructions that I have received on normalization that helped lock it in for me—because again, it’s the water that we’ve all swum in. Swum, swam?

Austin: Sure. All the above.

Jen: I heard a teacher say, “If you’re struggling to wrap your mind around that, just imagine it reversed.” And just like that, it just locked in real quick. If ninety-two percent of your life, you are in a space that’s black majority, and it’s all the movie references, all the music references, all the cultural references, the language, all of it. And I’m just like, Oh, there, I get it. Yes.

Austin: Sometimes what I do for students is I will play Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, just like the first two minutes, not even the whole thing because it is so steeped in a very particular black culture, right? It is socks with sandals, it’s red wigs, it’s long acrylic nails, it’s wearing a fur in the South. It’s very particular. It’s hair stores, right? And I asked white students, “How would you feel if I just dropped you off in the middle of this ‘Formation’ universe?” And they’re like, “Well…” I’m like, “Friends, that’s culture.”

Jen: Yeah, that’s great.

Austin: And what you don’t realize is that you have one, too.

Jen: Yeah. You’ve dropped this in just a second ago, and I would like to hear you say more on it. For you, where does faith work in here for you? What role does it play in your convictions, in your path, in your instruction? Just all of it.

Austin: Yeah. My faith has changed so, so much. And I feel like particularly in white evangelical world, there are a lot of people who are using terms like, deconstructing and reconstructing right now. I feel like I am going back, but way back.

So, I think a lot about my grandmother, and my great grandmother, and my great-great grandmother, who had the nerve to believe in a loving God during slavery and during Jim Crow, who prayed every day to a God that they believe could see them, even though the whole world was against them. I find myself talking to my ancestors. I’m so blessed to have a number of pictures that have been recovered in my family tree. And especially as I’m writing, I’ll be like, Is this right, Nana? Am I getting this right? Am I being crystal clear about what it is that we have faced as a people? Am I haunting people? Will people remember this after they’ve put the book down?

So, in some ways, my faith is being deconstructed and reconstructed, but in some ways, it also just feels like it’s becoming fuller, and it is circling back to what was.

Jen: That’s good.

Austin: As opposed to me trying to build and piece together something new. I am really convinced that if I wasn’t a Christian, I probably wouldn’t be doing this work, friends. That’s the truth. I believe in a multiracial campaign for racial justice because I am a Christian. Personally, that’s where it comes from. If I wasn’t a Christian, I think I would be like, “White folks, yow and yow. It’s just going to be all black, all day, all around here. And I don’t really know what to tell you.” I think I’d be like that girl who stood up and was like, “[White people are] just innately evil.”

Jen: “Something’s wrong with y’all.”

Austin: “Just wrong.”

Jen: Yeah. “Unfixable.”

Austin: Right?

Jen: Yes.

Austin: “This cannot be redeemed. This right here. There’s no hope for that.” But my faith tells me a story of redemption, but it also tells me a story of anger. It tells me a story of overturning tables. It tells me a story of standing up for the most marginalized. I find so much rootedness in how I do this work in Christianity.

It is not that I’m trying to produce Christians, this isn’t something like evangelical proselytizing, like you have to be a Christian in order to do this work. I don’t believe that at all. But I am very aware that how I participate in this work is very much informed by my own faith.

Jen: Yes. I see that all over you. Let’s talk about another venture you have taken on recently. So, if you didn’t already know this, Austin is producing and hosting her own web series. It’s called The Next Question. Yeah. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t wait for you to look it up after this. It’s so good.

Austin: Do you think so?

Jen: It’s so good.

Austin: I’ve worked so hard, y’all.

Jen: I know you have, like in content, in production value, in discussion, in courage. It is so, so, so good.

Austin: Can I tell you a story about how this came to be?

Jen: Yeah, I definitely want to hear that, and I want to hear about your co-host, too, because it’s going to close the loop.

Austin: So, friends, sometimes I get a little upset by how circular mainstream media is when it comes to race. For example, how many times do we need to go over the fact black face is not okay?

Jen: Right. I guess every year. Yeah, I guess every year is your answer.

Austin: At some point, can we just all know and stop that mess? How many times do we have to repeat this? And there are a couple instances that came to me that I was just, Okay, I’ve got to do something about this. One, how many of you are familiar with Michelle Alexander who wrote The New Jim Crow? A few of you.

Jen: The book is just devastating.

Austin: It took me years to get through this book, friends. So, if you haven’t gotten there yet, no shame over here, okay? But it helps tremendously in understanding the history of the criminal justice system.

Jen: It does.

Austin: It’s so helpful. So, she is a preeminent scholar, attorney, and professor. This woman is B-A-D, bad. Okay? She wrote this book fifteen years ago, approximately fifteen years ago. So, this was like groundbreaking. This was before Just Mercy. This was before Ta-Nehisi Coates. This was early, early, early. And I’m listening to an interview that she’s doing that was maybe three months ago, and the first question, dear friends, to this preeminent scholar was, “So, your book is about The New Jim Crow. Can you just quickly go over what the old Jim Crow was?”

Jen: Oh no, I’m secondhand embarrassed.

Austin: That’s what we’re gonna do with the first twenty minutes of this woman’s time? I mean, thank you…

Jen: That is absurd.

Austin: That is absurd. So, I just got to this point where I was witnessing things like that that happen over and over and over again, where we have these brilliant minds before us, and instead, we are just asking them the same one-on-one question over and over and over again. And I want to ask the next question.

Jen: I see what you did there. The Next Question. And you are. Talk about your co-hosts.

Austin: So I have two amazing co-hosts, because when I jump off a cliff, I refuse to do so by myself.

Jen: Same.

Austin: Right?

Jen: Same.

Austin: So, I made two phone calls. My first phone call was to a black woman named Chi Chi Okwu, who was my first black supervisor. I was coming out of having been fired, and she put me back together again. She was like, “Oh sweetheart, you do have value. You should raise your hand during the meeting again.” Right? When I had gotten to the point where I was, I’m not saying another word anywhere ever again, she put me back together again. The second phone call I made was to a young woman named Jenny Booth Potter, who is the girl on the bus who said, “Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.”

Jen: Isn’t that great? That’s great. Yup.

Austin: And so, Chi Chi does all the content management. So, she makes sure that our questions are in order. She edits the videos. So, what you actually see is being produced by Chi Chi, and Jenny takes care of all the behind-the-scenes crew equipment. She helps set up, she helps tear it down, and she is…

Jen: I’ve seen her work.

Austin: …the voice between the technical staff, right? She’s brilliant. And she speaks enough of the language to talk to the people who speak a different language, a technologically advanced language I don’t understand.

Jen: I don’t know. Yeah.

Austin: I do not understand it. But she’s also still a normal, right? And so, she stands in the gap, if you will.

Jen: Yeah. She’s your translator.

Austin: She’s wonderful.

Jen: Talk about a couple of your guests on your show, and I know it’s chock full of content. It’s online. You can get it right now.

Austin: Right now.

Jen: I mean, this is available to you.

Austin: It’s free.

Jen: It’s free. [Talk about] maybe one of your favorite conversations that you’ve had on the show, or a bit of it or something that just blew your hair back.

Austin: So, Nikole Hannah-JonesOhhh. If you haven’t read the 1619 Project, yeah, that’s Nikole Hannah-Jones’ work.

Jen: Really profound stuff right now.

Austin: I just really wanted her to like me.

Jen: I know what you mean.

Austin: I bought so much bourbon, y’all. I just wanted her to like meeeeeee.

Jen: Don’t get it. Oh, when you try just a hair too hard. Yes.

Austin: I had to pull it back.

Jen: Yes. Be cool.

Austin: Be cool. I don’t know if it worked, friends. But the wealth of knowledge that this woman has, the truth telling that she brings to the work of education and equality, I’ve never seen anything like it. She very much reminds me of the body of work that Ida B. Wells produced. Right?

Ida B. Wells was talking about lynching when it was happening. First, she would be very journalistic and very statistical and say, “Here’s the data, here’s what is actually happening.”

But then, she would take it a step further, and she would be, “So the narrative that’s happening is that black men are being lynched because they are interested in white women. But let me tell you, it is actually white men who are raping black women. [That] is what’s real.”

Jen: She just went there.

Austin: I mean, y’all.

Jen: Yeah, it was courageous.

Austin: In 1902, I mean, this woman’s life was regularly at risk. Nikole Hannah-Jones reminds me of that level of truth telling.

Jen: It’s a real compliment.

Austin: She goes there. One of the ones that was the most transformative for me was talking to Maya Schenwar who is a prison abolitionist. And when people start talking about prison abolition, they get really uncomfortable. They’ll be like, “So, where are all the criminals going exactly?” Right? “And will they all be living next to me?” Right? So, it was fun to talk with her, because she didn’t just lay out statistics. She kept asking us over and over and over again, “How do we define a crime? How often are crimes not actually related to harm? And do we actually want to fix the harm? Or do we just want to do punishment for the crime?” Right? But [she was] just asking really solid, deep questions about the world that we want. [It] blew my mind.

Jen: It’s good.

Austin: I was re-watching the episode, taking notes, and I was there.

Jen: Totally. Yes.

Austin: You know?

Jen: Yeah, I’ve done that.

Austin: It’s a lot. [The] third person that I must mention…

Jen: Of course.

Austin: …is Brené Brown! I still can’t believe she said yes.

Jen: That’s awesome.

Austin: Friends. What in the world?

Jen: Yes, she was here.

Austin: Because she’s amazing.

Jen: She is.

Austin: She’s so wonderful. So, I’m really proud of our conversation with her, because we didn’t just, again, have her repeat the definitions for shame and vulnerability. Hello, somebody?

Jen: Yup. Totally. Yup.

Austin: The crux of our conversation was essentially—I’m going to boil it down, I’m not this cut and chase on the episode—is being brave and being vulnerable only for white women?

Jen: Ah, there it is. Yeah.

Austin: Do women of color get to be brave and vulnerable too? Because so often when we are, it’s used against us. Or it’s a trope, like the strong black woman, as opposed to genuinely being able to be brave as myself. And so, it was really fun to unpack where her work meets the work of those who are active in racial justice, as opposed to just a sort of ethereal conversation about all of us trying to be brave.

Jen: It’s really good.

Austin: Thanks.

Jen: And it’s an amazing resource that you have made available to us at no cost.

Austin: I’m really proud of it.

Jen: And you should be. So that is easy for you to find, you guys, as soon as you leave here.

Jen:   We both lost a good friend this year. You and I both loved Rachel Held Evans so much. And I know a lot of her did, too. She inspired both of us. She advised both of us. She kicked us both into gear. She told us what to do and we obeyed. She was a better friend than you could even know. You see the surface of things, and then there was a hundred layers underneath that. I have always aspired to be like her in so many ways.

Austin: Me too.

Jen: And now, I feel it in my bones, we’ve got to carry her load, too. What a real loss. So, I know that she is somebody that we both admire and respect. Who’s somebody else in your life that you aspire to be like?

Austin: I find myself trying to figure out what it means to be more like Austin.

Jen: Oh, I love that.

Austin: And it’s not because there aren’t really wonderful people to aspire to, like Oprah and Michelle, but I’m never going to be Oprah or Michelle. And so, I try really hard to figure out what it is about them that draws me to them, right? So, the confidence, the creativity, right? And as opposed to idolizing the person, I try really hard to get to, What is it that keeps me coming back to this woman’s words?

Jen: That’s good.

Austin: Right now, Ava DuVernay is really important to me because of the stories she’s telling, right? That she has all this success and she could be doing anything, and she’s producing movies like When They See Us. You know? And so, I’m just trying to be brave like the women that I see being brave. And it’s harder without Rachel.

Jen: It is, isn’t it? But you are being brave like the women you’re seeing being brave. And you are that example to me, and to so many other people watching you right now, and learning from you. And I see you do your hard work. I see you with the heavy lifting, and I know there’s a cost. I know it, we’ve talked about it. It’s heavy, and it’s big, and we’re grateful that you’re doing it.

I want to ask you one last question before we go to Q&A, you’ve answered it before, and you can answer it however you want. But it’s what we do. What is saving your life right now?

Austin: This work, and being able to do it differently and creatively.

I was talking to our friend Jo Saxton the other day, and she said to me, “Austin, if we had tried to chart out our careers fifteen years ago,” she’s like, “we couldn’t have done it, because there was no such thing as podcasting.”

Jen: Right. What’s a podcast?

Austin: What’s that? And she said, “We have no idea what opportunities lay before us because they might not even be created yet.”

Jen: Right. Yeah. Exciting.

Austin: And I feel I’m living in that, right? I’m creating a web series. I am writing again. I just feel this is a moment of such significant creativity and teamwork and women doing this together and looking out for one another. And I can’t imagine what I would be doing if I had to go get a real job.

Jen: You know how I feel. You know. I would be immediately fired. Yes.

Austin: First day.

Jen: Immediately. And it would be fair.

Austin: When I asked for my nap, right?

Jen: Right. Where’s the morning snacks?

Austin: Where’s my nap? But I need to eat my second breakfast…

Jen: Exactly. Right. So real.

Austin: Yeah. This work, I would be lost and lonely and anxious if I wasn’t pouring my heart out in this work.

Jen: Well, we’re lucky that you are, aren’t we? Thank y’all.

Okay. This is your moment to be on the podcast.

Awesome Question Asker #1: Hi. I am a high school teacher, I am white. I teach mostly white students. My question is, what do you feel is important for me to know and for me to be aware of as a public educator in a school that’s primarily white?

Austin: Oh, I already know the answer.

Jen: Good.

Austin: Diversity in the classroom. Diversity in the curriculum. Diversity in what you’re teaching. Diversity and the voices that you’re bringing into the classroom is important for everybody, right? Everybody. As a little black girl, it definitely makes me feel great when I’m in a classroom that is reading not just Edgar Allan Poe, but also Maya Angelou, right? It matters to me.

Jen: Of course.

Austin: But everybody needs to know who Maya is. Everybody. Everybody needs to know who Toni Morrison is. You know? So, I would say to incorporate diversity [in the classroom], not because you have a [minority] student, but because you genuinely believe that the voices of people of color are so important that they have something to say to everybody, too.

Jen: That’s good, Austin. That’s a great answer.

Awesome Question Asker #1: Thank you.

Jen: Yup. Thanks, good question.

Laurie: Hi, Austin. I have a question for you. My name is Laurie, and I work at a large software company, and I do regular presentations around the world, and I am a speaker oftentimes with people from various parts of the world.

Austin: Sure.

Laurie: And I often hear comments about African-American women not being represented.

Austin: Sure.

Laurie: And in IT, women are not represented period, but African-American women and minorities as a whole are not represented. And I have a really hard time with people saying, “We should have fifty percent women,” or, “We should have fifty percent minorities.”

Austin: Oh sure. I’m with you.

Laurie: I’m all for that, being a woman. But at the same time, the pool is not that big. And so, I do my best to bring young women to shadow me and things. But what can we do as a community, and just in IT, to bring more minorities and African-American people in, right? Humans, not just women and not just, whatever. How can we bring more non-white humans into the community and give them opportunities and make it a diverse community?

Austin: Totally.

Jen: Yeah, that’s deep. Yeah.

Austin: So, I’m going to make it more broad than just IT, if that’s okay. Because there are multiple industries…

Laurie: Please, yes. No, it applies to more.

Austin: …[like] doctors and nurses. Dude, I mean, [there are] so many industries where this is true.

Laurie: Please.

Austin: So first, I would say that the pursuit of racial justice is never just one thing. And wouldn’t it be nice if we could just flip this one switch over here?

Jen: Have that one thing.

Austin: Right? And then fix it all. Never. It is always a layered conversation, because it is always both interpersonal and systemic, right? So, what you are doing right now is the interpersonal work. Having someone shadow you, the actual pursuit of people of color, right? But there is also a system problem. So let me give you an example.

I was just recently watching a Twitter thread unfold, where a black woman was talking about the report cards that she used to get when she was a kid, and she was saying that she was told that she asked way too many questions, that she’s disrespectful, that she needs to tone it down, that she’s too aggressive. And all these black women started talking about the terrible report cards. They were good students, their grades were excellent. But the teachers didn’t appreciate their own curiosity and inquisitiveness, and it turned them off from school. Are y’all with me?

Jen: Yeah.

Austin: There are so many things in the system that we have to fix. How girls see themselves, how girls of color are being demonized in ways that white girls are not, being assessed in ways that white girls are not. Access. Where does someone who grows up in the hood go to learn coding?

Jen: Exactly, right.

Austin: You know what I mean? There are so many things…

Laurie: Girls Who Code.

Austin: …right? I’m just glad you said that, right?

Laurie: Yeah. There’s places. Yeah. We need more.

Jen: Yeah. We need more.

Austin: So, what activists always say is that—and this is where I’m going to make it more broad—when you have figured out what it is that bothers you, go find the people who are fixing it.

Jen: That’s good.

Austin: Right? So, my question for you would be to continue the interpersonal work, to do what you can on an interpersonal level, but also go call Girls Who Code and say, “What do you need from me?”

Jen: That’s good. That’s great. That’s great advice.

Laurie: Thank you.

Jen: Love it.

Awesome Question Asker #3: My lovely sister and I grew up in Podunk, Washington, and it’s as white as white gets. And [my sister’s family] moved to Texas, and they transracially adopted. I have a beautiful nephew who’s amazing, but he’s black, and he’s part of a very, very, super-duper white family.

And when he was tiny, there were jokes, and it was inappropriate, and we quashed most of that. But he’s six now. So where do we go moving forward? What’s the most important thing for him to hear from us as family members to make sure he maintains his identity without being marginalized within our family?

Jen: You want to take that?

Austin: He already is. He already is marginalized within your family. This is so hard for me, friends, because I don’t want to be misunderstood. Let me say it this way. It’s really hard to be the only black girl in the classroom who still goes home to a black family, to be the only black girl for a school day is difficult. Being the only black person in the family? That is a level of onlyness—I’m just going to make up more words—that’s a level of onlyness that I honestly cannot comprehend. It is really difficult for white folks who believe their experiences [are] universal to take black culture seriously, and the importance of black culture [seriously]. We really do have a language beyond Ebonics, all right?

Black women, y’all going to help me out? I see a couple of you in the audience. Y’all going to help me out? If I do this, who am I referencing? Color Purple, right? But that’s a reference that for the most part only black women get, right? And there’s a million things like that. There are a million conversations.

We talk about the talk, right? The talk became a huge thing when there were just all these brutal things happening to black boys. And can I share with you all another secret? There’s not just the talk about police that’s happening. There is also a talk that many black boys get, particularly black boys growing up in predominantly white schools that we shorthand, “Don’t catch a case.” Which means you need to make sure that the white girl that you’re dating actually cares about you and is not going to turn around and accuse you of something you didn’t do because she got mad at you. There are stories and experiences and a history that gets passed down in black culture that white folks are almost completely unaware of, and it puts kids of color in danger.

So, the thing that I would say is that the family must stop thinking of itself as this kid’s only family. This beautiful boy needs black people in his life: black role models, black teachers, black worship, all things black. And the family must actively destroy this narrative that we talked about earlier, which is that if it’s black, it’s inferior. So, if it’s hip hop, it’s inferior. If it’s a black church, it’s inferior. If it’s Tupac, it’s inferior. Right? Somebody in this family has to say to this little beautiful boy on a regular basis, “You are beautiful, your culture is beautiful. Whatever you’re into is beautiful. Hip hop is beautiful, right? The political leaders are beautiful. Obama’s beautiful.” I don’t care about your politics. Do you know what I’m saying? “This is amazing!” Somebody has to be the cheerleader of black culture, that’s what I’m trying to say.

Jen: That’s a great answer.

Austin: The cheerleader of black culture.

Jen: Thank you for that honesty.

Christie: My name is Christie. And I’m wondering how you keep going when there’s a thousand little things that are said, that a white person says to you and doesn’t even realize. This week I got asked if I was going to the Teaching While White Conference, and just looking at me, I’m not white. So, I mean, those little things that aren’t as overt. I’m sure the intention was not there, to be racist or rude. But all those million little things or thousand little things you hear, how do you keep going?

Austin: So, one, I really do consider myself a part of a legacy. So, those little things hurt. And if I were to go to my great-grandmother and say “Nana, that really hurt,” she would be like, “Child, try getting kicked off the damn bus.” You know what I mean? She would be like, “Okay, chick.”

So, I try really hard to remember, not as a way to minimize what I experienced, but as a way to say, if my great-grandmother could make it through that, then I can make it through this, right? So, it’s empowering.

The other thing that I would say is that I’m really clear about who my white friends is and who they isn’t. Ooh, I’ve never said this out loud before. Okay. There are white people that I love, but the number of white people that I trust is much smaller. And the reason that I can survive those paper cuts is because you ain’t my friend, right? I don’t have time. I don’t have time to teach you. I don’t have time. No, I’m not going to the conference.

Jen: Thank you.

Austin: Ask somebody else. Why not, right? Instead of you feeling like you have lost your mind, you need to start looking at other people like, “You might need to rethink all of that.”

Christie: Thank you.

Maria: My name is Maria. And Martin Luther King is famously quoted as saying, “The arc of the universe bends towards justice.” I am the priest at a historically African-American Episcopal church, and I think it is fair to say that my people do not experience the arc of the universe as bending towards justice. And I notice that you don’t use the phrase reconciliation or racial reconciliation, which is very popular in Christian culture, but you talk about racial justice. And as someone who preaches to a mixed congregation, where the African-American folks are older, and it is a congregation that is struggling with what justice really looks in their lives in a highly gentrified—which means white, or has now become white—neighborhood. Could you just reflect on what justice means, and is there a difference between reconciliation and justice?

Jen: That’s a great question to end on. Thank you.

Austin: It’s often really helpful to start defining terms when we start talking about any of this, justice in any sense for any people. Because often, what happens is our language reveals what we mean, regardless of what the actual definition is. So, people say reconciliation. And what they mean is “Can we all just hold hands and get along?”

Jen: That’s right.

Austin: Right? Because that’s what people usually mean, I don’t often use the word reconciliation. Because we are not ever going to hold hands and just get along until there is justice, at least for me. There may be other people in your life who are more than willing to sing “Kumbaya” with you. And that’s great. That is every one’s prerogative. But you and I? We are not going to be singing “Kumbaya” together until we have rectified some things, right?

And so, I focus a lot more on justice, because I believe that reconciliation piece happens as you work for justice together.

Jen: I agree.

Austin: I think it’s all part of it. The problem is that people try to skip over justice and just say, “Can we all just have the status quo and you smile at me?” And I’m, “No. No, I cannot do that.”

We are going to pursue justice together. And as we do that, we are both going to be transformed. We are both going to discover new things about the world, about each other. And if we stay in the work, we will find ourselves in a deep, authentic relationship in which if I lost a braid right now, Jen would not be afraid, because she knows black women. Y’all with me, right?

The reward is in justice work. What does justice look like? I have no idea. I think the answer to that changes depending on what area, what industry we are looking at.

Once upon a time, my people were enslaved, and justice meant freeing those who were enslaved. And then justice meant getting rid of the stupid Jim Crow signs, and actually producing a court system that has the potential to treat everybody as equal. Right? The definition of what justice has required of us changes over time. And it is our responsibility to decide what our generation right now is going to do to pursue justice today.

Jen: That’s good.

Austin: But that question cannot be answered by previous generations. Each generation had its own work to do, and now we have our work to do. And in some ways, it’s more complicated, friends, because we know more because we have Twitter and Facebook and twenty-four hour news, and we know so much more about what’s happening in the world and that can be wildly overwhelming. It is still our job to pursue justice, because while we have more information, we also have more tools.

Jen: That’s right.

Austin: And we can’t forget about the other side of the equation. More problems, more issues, but also more tools. And so, we get to decide. We get to decide what justice looks like.

If I can give one more thought: I have started using the term institutional neighborliness, because so often white folks think about just the interpersonal, right? So, who am I friends with? Who is in my family and who are the people I’m looking in the face, right? And I think white folks—or particularly white communities, predominantly white churches, probably white schools, predominately white families—would find that they have a lot to contribute as a community if they thought about what it would mean to be an institutional neighbor. So, when you go vote, you don’t vote your own interest, you vote for the most marginalized interest, right? When they try to close the one black school in your neighborhood, you show up and say, “Oh no. No, no, no, no. We’re going to keep this school open. And we also want to see more equity and more funding,” right? So, what does it mean to show up for other people to practice institutional neighborliness, as opposed to just trying to invite people for coffee dates?

Jen: That’s great.

Austin: Coffee dates aren’t going to get us to justice.

Jen: They’re not. Thank you for being here.

Austin: My pleasure.

Jen: Thank you.

Austin: Thanks, Portland.

Jen: Delighted to be with you tonight.

Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!

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