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A World Apart

Ten years into our interracial marriage, we’re still navigating ethnicity, privilege and class.

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Interracial Couple, marriage, relationships, aarp, sisters
Stacey Parshall Jensen
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We met working at a theater company in south Minneapolis. I was the artistic director of a youth mentoring program and Peter was an actor and youth educator in another program. We were instant friends. We had big differences but came together through our work and our commitment and love for all the kids we taught and worked with creating theater. We were part of a larger vision for our community, a vision that celebrated diversity.

He’s white and I’m mixed — Black and Native American.

We couldn’t ignore our racial differences because first, why would we? We didn’t work at being authentic, we just were. Which also meant I was very open about who I was, a hard-working single mom.

I grew up poor in a tiny all-white town in rural Minnesota raised by my Native American single mom and grandma. And Peter, this new man in my life, was a Minneapolis boy who grew up in an affluent neighborhood with two parents, a doctor and a school nurse.

Our worldviews were very different. Are still very different. But we both had a curiosity about where the other came from. We spent hours sharing stories about our upbringings and our families. His welcomed my young daughter and me with warm open arms, and my family did the same to him. He quickly formed a special bond with my mom about Native spirituality, and I found depth and was aligned politically and socially with his loving parents.

But the differences never went away. Of course, they won’t. It’s been 10 years of marriage and they’re still here. And we still discuss them. Respectfully. We know we both frame our opinions and rants through the lenses of these racial and class differences. We both still continue to try to listen and learn about them. Note the emphasis on try because this can be difficult. For me, there’s painful history being a woman of color, and all the stories in the world he hears about it will not make him truly get it. I had to learn that he won’t and accept that. Love and effort matters.

It’s taken time and reflection to uncover biases and deal with the emotions fueled by them. It’s taken education and a commitment to being better people for ourselves, our families and each other.

These days, with the current racial strife, the violence, the pain and grief people of color are suffering, there is a call to create a better world that is inclusive and kinder. Yearning for a harmonious existence and skipping to the hugs and dances, the kumbaya moments, is not going to get us there though. There is much work, talking, debating, discussing, seeing and hearing that must happen first.

Maybe the recipe to address our country’s racial strife is here in what works for me and my husband in our interracial marriage. Curiosity. Space. Active listening. Knowing oneself. Accepting that self and seeing what and who you bring to the table. And respect.

If the goal is to find some harmony, some peace in this country, then maybe this is a way to start.