Race, Ethnicity and Culture Part III

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Presentation during Lutheran Church in Senegal churchwide assembly, Anne Langdji is translating into French.

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Members of the Lutheran Church in Senegal including president of the church Thomas Diouf.

I was in Senegal recently. I was there for the purpose of continuing to build relationships with Lutherans in the country and specifically working with the Senegal Lutheran Development Service (SLDS) and the Lutheran Church in Senegal (ELS). I was asked to speak for the assembly of ELS and I was given the topic of “mutual submission.” (see the beginning of that presentation in an earlier post)

Using the text for the occasion I wanted to make the point about how we treat each other. It is as though the writer of the text says, wait a minute, I thought you were followers of Christ … so act like it. God loves you…so treat each other in the same love that you have been given…..and stop using power and authority to lord it over one another.   I used my relationship with my colleague Anne as an example. I told them that technically I was her boss, but because of her knowledge and expertise in the region where we work, I often have to listen to her advice and sometimes she has to listen to me because it is my responsibility to make certain decisions.

So, I finished my presentation, which by the way was translated from English to French and then to Sere, and then I was asked questions. One of the members of the church said that it was easy for us, Anne and I, because we come from the same culture. How were they supposed to do this when some of them were Sere, some were Pulaar, some where Jola? Looking at them I would say, if I didn’t know anything about Senegal, they were all from the same culture. They are all Senegalese. And it was evident to me that Anne and I are not from the same culture. So I laughed, because we are and we are not from the same culture and they are and they are not from the same culture. So, I tried to explain.

Seeing us  standing side by side, what they saw — two Americans. Standing side by side anywhere in North America what would be seen is an African American and a European American. Our histories on North American soil is very different, our experiences on North American soil are very different, our access to resources, power….. you name it, on North American soil could not be more different. Yet when I tried to explain, many looked at me with surprise on their faces.

Race, ethnicity and culture are complicated issues and are seen differently depending on where you are standing. I have learned this much and much more as 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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