January 28, 2020 | NEWS | By Susie Dummit | Photo by Daniel de Koning
On Monday, Jan. 26, 2022, the second semester of classes commenced at Colorado College. To kick off Block 5, the college virtually hosted Austin Channing-Brown as the First Monday speaker in an event titled “Finding Joy in the Resistance.”
Channing-Brown is a media producer, author, and speaker focused on inspiring leadership in racial justice, celebrating Black womanhood, and finding humanity in the midst of struggle. She is the author of the New York Times’ bestselling book “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” and the executive producer of the web series “The Next Question.”
Channing-Brown was joined by Dr. Manya Whitaker, who guided the conversation with questions while drawing connections to her own experience as a Black woman. Dr. Whitaker is the college’s recently appointed Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff, as well as an associate professor in the Education department. She is a developmental educational psychologist with expertise in social and political issues in education, and her research has generated numerous publications.
Whitaker began the conversation by discussing with Channing-Brown how to personally define joy, and what it means to live in the “shadow of hope,” a topic mentioned in Channing-Brown’s work. Channing-Brown explained that the reason Black women can consistently produce work despite the unseen exhaustion is because they know how to live in this shadow of hope.
“We know that things aren’t always great. We know policies we like are going to disappear. We know policies we don’t like are going to be instituted. We very rarely have an expectation that the world is going to bend to us.” Channing-Brown said. “So the only option for us, if we’re going to participate in this work, is to recognize that there are going to be some happy days, some wins, but most days we’re just going to live in the shadow of hope. It’s possible, it’s out there somewhere, but we’re going to be sitting in the dark for a while.”
Channing-Brown then spoke candidly about her experience with her recent chronic illness diagnosis and how it affects her work, asking herself the question: “Am I willing to die for this?”
“The expectation is that we are willing to die for this work, that we are all willing to be Martin Luther King Jr., that we are all willing to be legends for the work.” Channing-Brown said. “And is there room for us to live for justice as opposed to dying for it?”
Channing-Brown and Dr. Whitaker shared a mutual perspective on the need to look out for oneself and one’s livelihood in the process of resistance and seeking justice.
“Sometimes the enemy comes from within. I’ve been raised in a culture, as have many African-Americans in the US, to push, push, push, no matter what.” Whitaker said. “Sometimes, you have to define for yourself what the ‘what’ is and erase the ‘no matter.’”
Whitaker and Channing-Brown also discussed navigating white companions and colleagues, exploring the difference between a friend and someone who’s an ally or an accomplice. Channing-Brown said when it comes to friends, you have to learn to be able to say, “I enjoy being with this person, but I don’t have high expectations of them when it comes to the work of justice.”
Channing-Brown spoke about how her sense of renewal comes from making other people of color feel seen, included, and affirmed. She knows what it’s like to be isolated and made to feel invisible by a speaker, and her goal is to create changes so that others can have a more positive experience.
She then connected the importance of self-definition to anti-racist work. “I think self-definition is the antithesis of racist thinking.” Channing-Brown said. “Too often what happens is that we are expected to affirm whiteness and what it wants and what it desires and to ignore what we want and we desire. Or we are actively told what we want and what we desire is wrong, is toxic, is divisive, is somehow less-than. If there is an individual project against racism, self-definition is probably it.”
The concept of finding joy through resistance and hardship was reflected in the nature of Whitaker and Channing-Brown’s conversation. Through the difficult topics navigated, the pair continued to laugh and bond over their shared experiences, struggles, and perspectives.
Channing-Brown ended with a quote from her book: “I offer this story in hope that we will embody a community eager to maim whiteness, celebrate Blackness, and in a world still governed by systems of oppression, begin to see that there is another way.”
If you missed this session and are interested in learning more, you can find the recording of the event on the First Mondays page of the CC website.