Five Reminders and Reflections from the White Privilege Conference

We need allies in the struggle for racial equity.

Applying the Analysis

Abbi Heimach has a B.A. from the College of Wooster in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Religious Studies. After a year teaching elementary special education, she worked in young adult related ministry at the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Currently, Abbi is working on her Masters of Divinity at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is an intern for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, a member of the National Committee of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and is pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In her free time, you can find her dancing and cooking vegan food.
Abbi Heimach has a B.A. from the College of Wooster in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Religious Studies. After a year teaching elementary special education, she worked in young adult related ministry at the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Currently, Abbi is working on her Masters of Divinity at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is an intern for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, a member of the National Committee of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and is pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In her free time, you can find her dancing and cooking vegan food.

At the end of March, I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin for the White Privilege Conference (WPC). If you’ve never been to WPC before or never heard of it, WPC is an annual conference that promotes racial equity and justice through educational plenaries and workshops, caucusing, and networking. As a first time attendee, it was refreshing to…

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Who Decides? Race, Skin Color, Ethnicity – Part II

book cover

Chimanandu Ngozi Adiche, Nigerian born writer and activist uses Ifemelu a character in her book Americanah to talk about race. She writes, ” I became black when I came to America.” This character tells about her experience as an African National in America and how her race consciousness was developed. I suppose growing up in Nigeria this character never had to think about the color of her skin, but coming to America her blackness, her race was ever present.

This is the same thing that Abdou said to me as he told me the story of coming to the US in the 1970’s. He was born in Senegal and he never had to think about the color of his skin. This changed  when he came to the US to go to college in Louisanna. There he learned how the color of your skin sets you apart from others. Abdou was taught this by way of a painful lesson. He ran track for the university and liked to run everyday through the same neighborhoods that his white team mates often ran through. As he ran he was attacked by a dog and while he was being attacked people in the neighborhood stood around and watched. No one came to his aid. As a matter of fact, some of them pointed and snickered. He made it back to the university, got treatment and was scolded by his coach. His coach told him that he should have known that because he was black that he could not run in that neighborhood. How could he have known? No one had ever explained.

Abdou’s real life lived experience, the reality Adiche’s puts in the mouth of her character is the experience of many who grow up in Africa and come to the US. Until they are here there is no consciousness about the color of their skin. This experience is a much different experience then being born a descendent of Africans on US soil. For those of us born in the US— very early on in our lives—race, the color of our skin is an ever present reality.

I do not remember a time when skin color was not a topic of conversation in my growing up. Whether we were playing sidewalk games and reciting “if you’re brown stay around, if you’re black get back.” We learned to judge each other according to skin color. Our folklore, our history, our stories are full of this. Everyone growing up “black” in the US knows about the paper bag test. If your skin tone was the shade of a paper bag or lighter you were offered access to clubs, and institutions that your darker cousins could not gain access. Whether I was at work where my slightly darker hue set me apart from my co-workers, or standing with my friends where my lighter skin was noticed, I have always been conscious of race and skin color and thus my place in the scheme of things.

                                                                                                                        Bag test

” They tell us race,” Adiche writes as Ifemulu, “is an invention, that there is more genetic variation between two black people than there is between a black person and a white person.”  I wonder is this really true. I have read scholars who say that race is a social construct. If race is simply a social construct then why can’t we deconstruct it? How do we overcome some of its affects? Besides that, how should we define who is related to whom? And who is Black?

Throughout history the answer to the question, “Who is black? varies depending on where you are in the world. In the United States of America, it is clearly defined. There is what is called, “the one-drop rule.”  According to F. James Davis in his book, Who Is Black? One Nation’s Definition, “. . .  a black is any person with any known African black ancestry or. . . a single drop of “black blood” makes a person a black.”  As time has passed all who are born and raised in the United States have come to accept this. Broadly this is a concept that has been internalized through socialization. Whites and Blacks alike adhere to this concept.

So what does this mean as we move around the world? As we become a more global community? As people of all hues and shades visit the shores of the US?

Let’s keep talking. As always, I am westafricabound.

Race, Skin Color, Ethnicity …. Across Continents Part I

Bantoura, Toubob, Pulaar…..

I have been called each of these things in the last few months. Bantoura means white person in Hausa. This is what a group of children yelled as Dana and I visited a school in Nigeria. I thought they were just talking about her, until they ran up to me rubbing my skin.

Andrea and Dana in Nigeria

Andrea and Dana in Nigeria

In Senegal, I was referred to as Toubob, that means foreigner and most often is used to talk about those of European ancestry. But not exclusively, it can mean someone from somewhere not Senegal. I didn’t mind this so much once I understood.

In Senegal, I am also sometimes mistaken for someone who is Pulaar. This happens especially when I am dressed in brightly colored African clothes. I was in a fabric market in Dakar with Rebecca and Anne buying cloth and a man came in and began speaking to me in Pulaar. Of course, I didn’t know what he was saying and Anne laughed because she understood him and engaged in a dialogue. I have been given the name Penda Baa, by my Pulaar cousins in Linguere. They have owned me, adopted me and said I belong.

The issues of race and belonging are issues that I struggle with as I do this global work. I believe these are struggles of many of us of the African Diaspora. Am I African? Am I American? Am I both? Can I self define?

Who am I?  What I am? are questions I have been asked while on the continent of Africa. I have shown photos of loved ones and some are surprised, others say of course….because my loved ones come in varying shades from the lightest, light to the deepest brown…..My son and grandson are a perfect pecan brown, while my beloved grandmothers are one a deep coffee color and the other the color of the cream for that coffee.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to speak to those gathered for the synod meeting of the Lutheran Church of Senegal. As I spoke to them about their strength to overcome the obstacles they faced, to be self reliant. I talked about my experience. I told them about my coffee colored grandmother and the strength of a community descendant from those enslaved.  I told them I was a descendant  of those who were taken from Africa’s shores. I said that those who survived the middle passage, my ancestors, were known for the strength to withstand obstacles.

Speaking at Lutheran Church of Senegal Synod Meeting

Speaking at Lutheran Church of Senegal Synod Meeting

As they looked at my light skin, this puzzled them; so I told them that my ancestors were also Europeans, those  who owned the boats and traded in people from the African Continent. This is the truth of our lives, those of us who are called African America.

I would like to explore some of these realities. Please walk with me as I discuss some of the issues of race and belonging from across continents.

I am westafricabound.

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