SYNCHROBLOG: We Are The Other

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By Austin Channing | Twitter: @austinchanning

O_Austin-750

Too Black

I grew up immersed in white culture through private education. I attended predominately white schools from preschool through college. Though I successfully navigated the ins and outs of school, there, I was often too black.

My ponytail didn’t move like the other girls. My father was a step ahead of the hairstyle scene, so I was wearing cornrows the decade before they became super popular again. My hair choices regularly confounded those around me, and I quickly learned to dodge wandering fingers touching my hair without permission.

I was called a nigger and told I look like a monkey. My parents taught me to never place my hands in my pockets or in a purse after touching something on a store shelf and to always hold my receipt until I’ve made it safely to the parking lot. Along with driving lessons came a tutoring session in dealing with the police.

I was questioning what we learned in history class and used every opportunity I could (book report, art project, research paper) to study black history. I learned that I had a choice growing up, I could give the answers teachers were hoping to receive or I could risk the F and speak my truth (ie- Christopher Columbus discovered America? Nope.) Though I succeeded in school, that success was not indicative of sameness. I was regularly negotiating my identity and establishing demands for respect.

It is a negotiation that continues as I move through America. Reactions to my person can be completely normal or quite startling. I never know which until I show up, but as I navigate white spaces there is always negotiation, always a pinch or a punch of otherness.

Too White

Because I attended predominately white schools, my parents worked really hard to reflect myself back to me through books, history lessons and music, but like many parents they missed a crucial component—pop culture. When I was, for the first time, immersed in black culture at summer camp, I had a number of realizations:

I didn’t know how to do the tootsie roll or any line dance besides the electric slide.

I didn’t have an opinion on whether or not Whitney should’ve married Bobby because —I didn’t know who New Edition was. I was forced to mouth the words to “Weak” when the whole bus broke out in song on the way to the community pool.

I didn’t know what was supposed to happen after I whispered “Candyman” into the mirror five times, so I just mimicked the screams of the other girls. My slang was as old as my parents.

Some kids ignored my existence since I didn’t live in the neighborhood, but others were only too happy to point out my otherness. I heard the common slights, being called an Oreo (white on the inside, black on the outside) and was told I talk white. But typically my feelings were not hurt by the words of others because I was always my biggest critic. It was my own feelings of otherness that hurt the most. My own disappointment in not knowing all the black things.

But I learned. And as I learned, I was welcomed. Sometimes I even surprised myself—the butterfly came far more naturally than I expected. I almost won our summer contest on who could do it best!

Deceptively Female

Though there are many Austins in the world, I learned pretty early in life that the name is typically reserved for white males. I was not aware of this rule as a child and often bore the brunt of questioning stares when my brown hand shot in the air during roll call. The older I became, the more startled a response I received.

For the most part people pause to consider my name and decide my parents are brilliant. But every now and then. Every now and then someone will decide I have deceived them and lash out in ways that are rude and painful. They thought a white male would be leading the trip, and I have deceived them. They thought a white male would be teaching, and I have deceived them. They thought a white male would be coming to the interview, and I have deceived them.

But I have learned to wear my name with confidence, to resist the reflections of others—good or bad. I have determined to love the tension my name creates without letting that tension define who I am. Reactions are not mine to own, but reflections of the person before me.

I have been considered too white. I have been considered too black. I have been considered deceptively female. If I kept writing, I imagine I could come up with many more ways of being “othered” because there are so many identities we negotiate and navigate every day.

It isn’t just me.

These experiences are not mine alone.

And that’s why it’s so important to listen to the voices at the margins.

Because our experiences are not just isolated moments when the world turned upside down in our individual lives. They speak to a larger narrative of trauma being experienced around our identities, our bodies, our personhood.

These stories remind us that the trauma continues until we succeed in becoming radically inclusive people of God.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the ways we have felt less than and the ways we have been told we are less than. Let’s ask how our society reinforces who is in and who is out. Let’s ask ourselves how we participate, how our friends participate or even how our church participates in othering.

Won’t you share?

JOIN THE SYNCHROBLOG:

We’re inviting you, our readers and friends, and as many people as we can reach, to share your experience of being “othered” or of “othering,” via a link-up. This is a place of grace—no judgement—we want to hear your hearts and stand with you. 

Do you have a story you feel is important to share? Simply write your post, publish it to your usual blog or site, and then come back to add the link to this post, using the form below. (Remember to copy and paste the link to the specific blogpost and not the link to your homepage.) We also hope you’ll read and comment on the other posts too, especially the person right before and after you on the link-up. 

Can’t wait to read your posts!

XOXO

_________________

About Austin: 

AustinI am a resident director and multicultural liaison at Calvin College where I manage a dormitory for 240 students. Its pure joy actively participating in the development of students as they become leaders. Prior to this position, I worked in Chicago, focusing on racial reconciliation and socioeconomic understanding. I have a bachelor’s degree from North Park University and a master’s degree in social justice from Marygrove College. I’m pretty obsessed with books and bookstores. After 5 years of marriage, my husband, Tommie, still makes me laugh harder than anyone else in the world. Its really exciting to be writing regularly on my blog austinchanning.com and over at Todays Christian Woman.

_________________

Image credit: Erin

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  • Austin, so glad to have your voice here at SheLoves. Thank you for sharing your stories with us and offering us a nudge to do the same.

    • Austin C Brown

      Thank you for having me 🙂

  • Bev Murrill

    How bizarre – too black too white too woman … yet here you are, strong and confident and helping us see what it looks like to be empowered by who you’re called to be. Great post! Thanks Austin. (Great name too!)

    Here’s my synchroblog… great opportunity to think this through.

    http://bevmurrill.com/othering-or-brothering-living-in-peace-on-this-small-blue-planet/

    • Suzanne Burden

      Smart analysis, Bev. So grateful for your clarity and your journey.

      • Bev Murrill

        Thanks Suzanne. It was interesting to have to think it through.

    • Austin C Brown

      Thanks, Bev! My name has definitely grown on me 😉

  • Like Bev, this was a great opportunity to really hold up to the light things we normally get along with. Here’s my reflection: http://findingflapjack.blogspot.com/2014/10/unique-we-are-other.html

    • Suzanne Burden

      Becca, I’m tweeting this just now. Beyond admiring people to LOVING them.

      • Thanks, Suzanne. I think that really does apply to every group of people we may consider “others” in our lives!

  • Austin, thank you for sharing your story! Thank you for your voice in speaking out about “othering” and the need to be radically inclusive. Here’s my post for the synchroblog: http://julieannemauno.com/how-to-really-connect-a-story-of-un-othering/

    • Suzanne Burden

      “We have so much un-othering to do.” Your sweet story shows us how this is possible, one friendship at a time, with just one soft, safe place to begin.

    • Julie-Anne, I love your story! It’s so real and open. I was blessed reading it!

  • Donna-Jean Brown

    Thankyou for this, Austin. BTW I love your gender neutral name.
    You sound like one strong and wise woman. I’m more of a chicken but here’s my post for the synchroblog. http://everydaylight-dj.blogspot.ca

    • Suzanne Burden

      “We can do better at building two-way bridges.” This line works in so many scenarios! I’m sorry for the ways you feel marginalized in these settings, but I’m so grateful for your journey and your wisdom. “What you do now” sounds amazing. What’s a better question for building these two-way bridges?

      • Donna-Jean Brown

        Thankyou, Suzanne.

    • Austin C Brown

      Thanks, Donna Jean. It has taken some work to love my name, but I confess I really, really do!

  • Nicole A. Joshua

    I LOVE this post. I love your confidence, which I am sure has been hard earned, and your courage to be fully who you are, laced with grace, in the face of hostility. This quote jumped out as I read the post, “Reactions are not mine to own, but reflections of the person before me.” Thank you.

    • Austin C Brown

      It has been a hard learned lesson to not let the reactions of others define me. It takes practice but it is so freeing! Thanks for commenting!

  • Suzanne Burden

    Thank you for this Austin. So many forces pushing and pulling; your story helps us to listen in to the larger narrative of trauma you mentioned. And I hope, to become radically inclusive people of God. And here’s my post for the synchroblog: http://suzanneburden.com/acknowledging-disability/

    • Donna-Jean Brown

      Thankyou for your story, Suzanne. It’s an example of feeling othered that I hadn’t thought of when I drove by empty handicapped parking spaces to find one where I can park. Now I will pray for you every time I see those spaces. It was so good to read the way our tender God redeemed your painful feelings around applying for the disability car sign.

      • Suzanne Burden

        Thank you so much, Donna.

    • Great post! Thanks you for highlighting this reality. Love your openness and how you found a sense of solidarity with others through your story!

    • Austin C Brown

      Thanks, Suzanne! we have such a need for healing from our traumas. I hope that speaking them is a good start!

  • Sandy Hay

    “These stories remind us that the trauma continues until we succeed in becoming radically inclusive people of God.” YES Austin. These stories are critical to hear. Many of us don’t even realize we have been “othered” especially in my generation (the over 65 white female). We struggle expressing what goes on inside us. So reading what’s been written here helps us to stop “giving the answers that are expected” and become the women beyond the margins.

    • Austin C Brown

      “become the women beyond the margins” <— LOVE that!

  • Dorothy Greco

    I love the question you leave us with – How do we participate? it takes such courage, grace, mercy and commitment to go there. Here’s my exploration of some of these questions: http://www.dorothygreco.com/friday-soul-food-bridging-racial-divides-by-listening-beneath-our-shame/ (Random: I’m so happy to learn you’re at Calvin where my son and his wife are. Will ask him if he has met you.)

    • Austin C Brown

      So cool! I am super new at Calvin, but I am really enjoying building a little community here!

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  • Anne-Marie

    Learning to wear our name with confidence and resist the reflections of others – WOW. Austin, that is a powerful thing and such a challenge- I’m not all there yet by any means! and the wisdom of this: “Because our experiences are not just isolated moments when the world turned upside down in our individual lives. They speak to a larger narrative of trauma being experienced around our identities, our bodies, our personhood.” Powerful. Thank you for your example and your voice, and welcome.

    • Austin C Brown

      Practice helps 🙂 I’ve been practicing for a long time, but Id be lying if I said I’m not still aware of the trauma. Im just trying not to add to it!

  • There is so much division. So much fear. We need to speak out and let the truth do it’s work. Here is my blog link up post: http://patriciaannerider.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/how-the-schoolbus-divides/

    • This sentence, Patricia: “Why do we isolate each other just because we don’t agree on something or because we are different.” ABSOLUTELY.

  • Your experience captures the in-between that our categorized world has a hard time understanding. My post is a reflection on a similar in-between-ness I came to embody being a Christian in a Muslim land for so long and then taking so much of it back to America, only to feel out of place at “home” too: http://bethbruno.org/we-are-the-other-when-i-stopped-belonging-everywhere/

    • Beth, I loved your post. Felt like I was there feeling “othered”, I went to India for one month in my teens, and it was eye opening and life changing…and I was ofcourse the “foreigner”. Thanks for sharing!

    • Dorothy Greco

      I loved your piece Beth.

    • So good! Loved reading your story!

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  • Mindi Ferguson

    I’m grateful for the radical love of the SheLoves community and for the bold sharing done here. I wrote a poem about being fat and othered. It’s not the only othering I experience, but I found that this is what really bubbled up to share. http://wp.me/p4rqfr-3G0

    • Mindi, your post is amazing. Your writing so clear and … POWERFUL. Thank you for sharing!

  • Oh, Austin, thank you for this amazing peek into your world. I so identify with your call here: to acknowledge the larger systems of abuse and trauma helps us recognize our own wounds, and empowers us to have empathy for people have been traumatized too. Othering hurts everybody by miring us in denial and isolation. Thank you for your leadership.

    • Austin C Brown

      “othering hurts everybody” is sooo true. We all lose when we cast people out.

  • cjdeboer

    This is such a powerful piece Austin – it was a privilege to work with you on it. You open up the conversation on “othering” so well and invite us all into a new perspective. Thank you!

    • Austin C Brown

      Thank you for your help and clarifications 😉

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  • Austin, I just love who you are and how you are bridging divides with your life. Thank you for sharing your story here and leading us out today … So appreciate you.

    • Austin C Brown

      Thanks for the invite, my friend! <3

  • I am so proud to know you, Austin. Grateful for who you are and the ways in which you confidently walk.

    • Austin C Brown

      <3 Grateful for your continued support, Leigh! So very grateful!

  • I loved this post Austin. Thank you, thank you for sharing so openly with us.

  • Simone Dankenbring

    Wow! I didn’t know anyone else that has lived my story other than my twin sister and now, you! Thank you for expressing so eloquently, my life. I share every sentiment from not being Black enough or being an Oreo. I faked my way most of the time, pretending that I knew and had it all together. It was a very confusing time for me as a child. Acceptance wasn’t easily felt. Ridicule came from both sides. I don’t talk much about it because I have a hard time expressing what growing up on both sides was really like. But you did and I appreciate it!!!

    • Austin

      <3 I was definitely that girl faking it! You are far from alone, my friend.

  • Radically inclusive people of God–yes! That’s who I want to be, who I want the Church to be…and I totally agree that starts with sharing stories. Sharing them honestly and listening graciously. Thank you for sharing yours.

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  • Erin Wilson

    So grateful for the wide table here. Room made for all. Love.

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  • pastordt

    So well done. I am grateful for your voice wherever I find it, Austin, and grateful for the fine work you do everywhere.

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