Mommies in Black and White

Two Moms. Two cultures. Lots of Laughs. Join Us!

Author: Jen Reierson Page 2 of 7

She lives black, she lives white in America.

jen and jebI made a decision to not use this blog to comment on social injustices, blatant ignorance, or racist and violent actions that play out in national and international media. Those stories feel so BIG. They make me feel hopeless, powerless and they push a button deep inside that says our problems, our issues as a society are so large that I cannot affect them. I cannot make change. I cannot FIX it. And all I want to do is fix it.

So, I’ve avoided the BIG issues. The scary stories. The headlines. By talking and sharing about the little things, the day to day, the minutiae of an interaction, I feel like I have some power, some control. I feel like we make progress toward breaking down barriers, eliminating stereotypes and seeing each other as human-beings.

I CAN make change in those daily interactions.

Our hope is that each of our readers feel empowered in the same way.

But, this story, this week is just too big to ignore. As our state, our communities and our country mourn, make sense of and grapple with the fear that continues to control actions, Jeb and I wanted to try to make clear how our same, but different lives feel.

Jebeh and I were born in the same year. We grew up 10 minutes from each other in very similar communities. We met at college and found out we shared childhood friends. In college we had the same major and overlapping social circles. We married Andy(s) and had kids at the same time – our firstborns 12 days apart, our second children only minutes apart. We now live a mile from each other in very similar homes and neighborhoods. We have similar socio-economic status. We are in the same social circles. We are both educators, communicators and are engaged in our community. But our realities are different…

She Lives: 

Jeb: I fear driving down my street. I’m hyper conscious of my blinker, stopping completely and following all the traffic laws.

Jen: I don’t think twice about throwing my kids in the car, buckling as I pull down the street and rolling through the stop sign if no one is coming.

Jeb: I get followed when I walk into a high end clothing store. They don’t ask if I need help.

Jen: I get approached when I walk into a high end clothing store. They ask if I need help finding anything.

Jeb: I’m asked if I’m the nanny.

Jen: I’m asked if I’m a stay at home mom.

Jeb: I’m scared for my sons. I’m scared that others will judge them for the color of their skin. I’m scared that they will be targeted because they are brown.

Jen: I’m scared for my kids. I’m scared that they might get hurt playing or make poor choices and suffer the natural consequences.

Jeb: I teach my kids to respect authority. I tell them to always do exactly as a police officer or other law enforcement person tells them. This is SO important.

Jen: I teach my kids to respect authority. I tell them if they ever need help or are in trouble they can run to a police officer or other fire and rescue personnel.

Jeb: People stare at me.

Jen: People smile at me.

Jeb: My blackness is challenged when people see that I’m married to a white man.

Jen: My marriage is accepted at face value because we “match.”

Jeb: When I’m by myself with my children, people question whether I live with my ‘baby daddy.’

Jen: When I’m by myself with my children, people smile and tell me I’m doing a good job.

Jeb: I fear that someone I love might be the next hashtag…

Jen: I fear that my kids will learn about hashtags and social media when they are too young to understand the dangers.

We are the same. But we are different. I do not live as Jebeh does. I do not fear as Jebeh does. I do not carry the weight of my skin color as Jebeh does. I live free. I live white.

You’re Black!

When my son was four and daughter one, we invited Jebeh and her boys to the pool at the country club where we belong. As we were wading into the shallow end holding hands with the kiddos, my four year old turned to Jebeh, observing his hand in hers and the stark contrast and said loudly, “You’re black!”

The truth. Spoken. Loudly. As a parent a part of me cringed. I wanted to duck, hide, ignore and pretend “that didn’t just happen.” As parents, our initial reaction in these situations is often to back pedal, save face and find a way out of what we perceive as an embarrassing moment. This event, four years ago contributed to the work Jebeh and I are doing now.

My instant gut reaction was embarrassment. But for who? Hayden? No, he wasn’t embarrassed. Me? Why? Was it as a failure on my part? No, not really. He was observing. That’s what four year olds do. They learn about the world and everything in it by making observations. Jebeh? No. She rolled with it.

Ever the “teacher” Jebeh turned to Hayden and said, “Yes, I am, and isn’t that beautiful? And look, Max and Mateo are brown, and you’re white.” A validation of his observation and no assumed guilt or shame in making that observation. Done.

We see color. We all do. And to pretend that’s not the case just doesn’t do anyone any good.

I’m pretty sure I still followed Jebeh’s comments with something along these lines… “we have lots of friends with different color skin.” And proceeded to name the three children of color in his preschool class. The truth is, we don’t. We live in a middle to upper middle class neighborhood in east Duluth, MN. I could probably count on one hand the number of families or children of color that we see regularly.

My children aren’t exposed to a lot of diversity. So the struggle becomes, how do I teach my children to respect and value diversity if the opportunities in daily life are so few? My goal is to embrace each opportunity that does arise and to push for new opportunities. To speak it and not “shush” it. To be open and honest and welcoming of conversations and observations.

Why did Hayden feel the need to comment on black skin? Because it was different. Different than him. Different than everyone else at the pool and probably nearly everyone else he had ever seen at that pool. That’s another post.


Listen with Purpose. Respond with Passion.

I wish I had more time and energy to listen. To listen to my kids, my husband, my friends, my family, my community, people in need. Recently, I attended events where I listened to families praying for medical miracles for their sick children, to teenagers explaining what it means to be homeless. Most powerful, however, was the unexpected opportunity to listen to a sweet, precocious little girl tell me, a stranger, about her family – their struggles with poverty and her sadness over their separation from her sister.

Listening is hardit means accepting responsibility for what you learn and, if you do it well, it means truly working. Working to understand someone else’s point of view. Working to push down your need to jump in, to clarify, to offer solutions or share your point of view. Working to understand someone else’s pain, fear, hope, desires. It can be emotionally draining.

If I’m honest, I’m not always a good listener. Suppressing the desire to interrupt, speak my piece, correct and connect with a “me too” is a personal struggle. Sometimes, just staying focused is a struggle. We all get tired, drained, preoccupied with a million other things that keep us from being present.

Jebeh and I set out with a goal to listen – to our kids, to each other, to our friends, family and community – to accept some responsibility. And in turn, respond with passion. Passion and perspective so we can all grow together. We continue to pursue that goal.

It’s been two weeks since we’ve posted on this site. That’s on me. I’ve been helping a friend get an important project off the ground. Similar to the project, she was inspired by LISTENING to her students. By allowing them space and time to grapple with tough topics and personal struggles, she learned. She accepted responsibility. She responded with passion.

Here’s the result:

Please – if you believe in listening and responding with passion, keep supporting these efforts. Listen. Read. Share. Comment. Together, we can make real change where it matters most, one transformed perspective at a time.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Race

If you’re reading this then you are already engaged. You care and are curious. You likely “want to do this right.” But, most of us don’t have a clue where or how to start talking to our kids about race and racism.

Do we start the conversation? Wait for them to make a comment or ask a question? Lean into that teaching moment at the grocery store? How do we know if we’re doing it right or inadvertently reinforcing negative stereotypes and unhealthy assumptions?

Yes, we can do it wrong. But we shouldn’t be fearful of trying. Engaging is a step toward breaking down the taboo of speaking about race and racism in our communities and recognizing its numerous manifestations. Engaging is a powerful statement that you won’t ignore it or let is reside in a place that “doesn’t effect you.” Engaging means you are willing to listen, learn, and grow along with your kids.

A few weeks ago I started digging through my teaching resources and searching for additional tools to share in this post. Ironically, that same day the link below popped up in my inbox. So, instead of recreating a list, I’m sharing Musing Mamma’s post. She has great insights and links to some key resources to get those race and racism conversations flowing with your kiddos in a healthy and productive way.

Engage away!

Talking To Kids About Race: Resources for Parents


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