Andrea Glispie has a background in the nonprofit and social work arenas, previously serving in posts at the National Skills Coalition in Dallas, the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights in Chicago, and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in St. Louis. She now oversees United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ portfolio of investments in career pathways programs.
Below, she shares her experiences with racism growing up in a biracial family, codeswitching throughout her career, and how open conversations are beginning to move the needle.
Navigating Two Worlds
“I was born in Chicago, Illinois. I’m biracial: My mom was white, and my dad is black. They were high school sweethearts in the late 60s or early 70s, during a time when interracial dating, let alone marriage, was not the thing to do. They were definitely ahead of their time in many ways. They consciously left the city and moved to the suburbs, but they were very careful about picking a suburb that they thought would be welcoming to an interracial couple.
“I remember always feeling different, and because of the suburb that we were in, it was still predominantly White. Our family very much moved in a lot of White spaces. Even though most people were friendly, I know we still stood out because of the nature of our family. I remember my dad going on a fishing trip with some of his work colleagues, and I remember him coming back and saying that his White colleague said, ‘Wow, you’re not like other Black people.’ My father thought, ‘Well, what does that mean?’ but he didn’t say it directly to his coworkers. He said it to himself.
“There was always this undercurrent of unintentional hostility with people making passing comments such as that. I definitely got comments about my hair from White students. Sometimes, Black students felt like maybe I wasn’t Black enough, because I had a White mother. We definitely had to navigate those kinds of landmines growing up, but ultimately, what it helped me do was become someone who could exist in both worlds. In some ways, I felt like it was an added benefit for me, because I felt comfortable in both of the worlds. I didn’t always feel accepted, but I could navigate both of those worlds.”
“When I first heard the term codeswitching I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s what I’ve been doing all my life!’ I do feel like I have had to change the way that I act depending on who I am around. I went from having pressed hair to growing dreadlocks, and in job interviews, I pulled back the locks into a tight ponytail so that wasn’t necessarily the first thing that a White interviewer or employer would look at automatically and it would automatically create bias against me just from my hairstyle.
“When I first heard the term codeswitching I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s what I’ve been doing all my life!’”Andrea Glispie
“Black people have a tendency to give each other a hearty handshake or pat on the back or high five when we greet each other regardless of whether we’re in a public, professional, or friendly place, and I wouldn’t necessarily do that with White colleagues. I may be a little bit more restrained in my greetings to them, regardless of how well I know them.
“In the context of a conversation, it’s easier for me to disagree or counter a point that of a person of color has made, either in a professional or friendly setting. With a White person, if it’s in a professional or personal setting, I may hesitate before I challenge them or critique them in any way, because I’m always thinking about how their perception of my identity is going to shape what they hear from me. That’s very much the case, especially in a professional setting, because I definitely have had many, many times in meetings where I have raised the counterpoint or I’ve critiqued an idea, and a White colleague will take me aside and ask if I’m okay or if something happened. They just immediately think that because I had a contrary opinion, there might be something wrong with me, because I’m not happy or agreeable. Whereas I think that a White person’s comment or critique is going to be taken at face value in that same situation; however, I think if you’re a woman, regardless of whether you’re a person of color, you probably still get some of that also.”
Room for Improvement in Representation and Language
“From a nonprofit point of view, when an organization is using images to describe the problem that they’re trying to tackle in the community, they will use more people of color and very vulnerable or desperate images. I get why they’re doing that—they’re trying to showcase the problem—but in some ways, it is demoralizing and demeaning because there are many, many people of color who are living thriving lives, and sometimes it perpetuates the stereotypes that poor people are of color or desperate people of our color. I’ve definitely seen that. A lot of times the ways that the nonprofit community talks about who they serve uses very demoralizing and demeaning terms, such as ‘The underserved’ or ‘minority population.’ Things like that really aren’t empowering, nor do they really showcase the whole person.
“From a social work standpoint, the one thing that I was taught in my program is to have a strength-based perspective—regardless of what setting, you’re working in to look at the strengths or the assets that a person or family or community brings to bear, and then to develop interventions or program that start with people’s or community’s strengths. A lot of times in the nonprofit world, we do just the opposite: We start with the deficits, we start with what’s not working, we start with what people don’t have, and we forget about the talents, or the resources, or the abilities that they do have that we just need to bring out more. I definitely think that I’ve seen that deficit-based approach more times than not. It’s getting better, but there’s still a fair number of offenders out there.”
“When I look at where I live and the school that my kid attends, I definitely think there is still a fair amount of self-segregation that happens that obviously is shaped by generations of political and policy decisions that really set self-segregation and de facto segregation in motion.
“But, I will say that the place my place where I work now really is the first company that I’ve worked for that really has talked about race and racism in a profoundly open way. We have had peer groups and cross-racial groups, where we have talked very directly about our life experiences and how the experience of the White individual is vastly different from a person of color in both big and small ways.
“As a company, we’ve read books like How to be an Antiracist and Still, I’m Here and have had candid conversations about what we read, what resonated with us, and what we didn’t agree with. It’s really quite refreshing, and in many ways has made me feel less of a need to codeswitch with my White coworkers because we’ve had these very public gatherings to talk about race and racism.”