Differences

Back around Martin Luther King Day, I had a talk with the kids about discrimination. My kids are lucky in that they have not experienced much discrimination in their lives—even Gracie hasn’t really seen much of the worst of people. Because of that, they really didn’t understand why the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was such an important man.

We talked about how some people they go to school with have different colored skin, and how there was a time when that wasn’t allowed. The kids puzzled over that one for a while; it is hard for them to comprehend why anyone would not be allowed to go to school just because their skin is a different color. We talked about how it’s not fair to treat people like that, how it’s not fair to be mean to others because of things they can’t help. We talked about how people are people, and although some people may look different, they are still people and deserve to be treated well.

The kids were anxious to hear that Martin Luther King succeeded, that racism was no longer in existence. I wish I could have told them that, but running through my mind were Trayvon Martin and Ferguson and Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland and the thousands of people of color shut away in prisons across the country for the crimes of driving while black, or walking while black, or living in the wrong part of town. I read those cases where a black man in rural Oklahoma doing absolutely nothing wrong gets pulled over for a BS traffic offense and ends up in federal prison, or where a black man dealing crack cocaine gets busted and goes away for a long, long time. I see the cases where wealthy white businessmen committing acts of fraud get off without so much as a fine, or where a white man trading child pornography gets a quarter of the sentence of the black guy dealing drugs to make a living. I am haunted by the inequity. Haunted, horrified, heartbroken.

The topic inevitably turned to other types of discrimination. We talked about how sometimes, people are mean to other people because of who they fall in love with, or because of their religion, or because of disabilities. Gracie didn’t like to hear about the disability discrimination. She didn’t want to talk about her own differences. Like every kid with differences, she wants to be just like everyone else. She hates being singled out over and over again for her differences. The great irony is that the rest of us spend our lives trying to be unique—she will spend her life trying to fit in.

While we were discussing differences, Gracie became very sad and upset. She does not want to be different; she doesn’t want to be amazing. So we talked. We talked about how differences are important—how it’s really important that some people have brown skin, and some people have blonde hair, and some people have disabilities, and some people are good at sports, and others are good at music, and some people are good at making friends, and so on. We talked about how everyone has things they are good at and things they are not so good at—for example, we talked about how Mom is great at writing and editing but not so good at sports. Well, okay, terrible at sports. And we talked about how Jackson is awesome at math but not so good at reading. And how Gracie is great at talking to people and being a friend but has a hard time standing up and walking.

Gracie still wasn’t satisfied; she knows her differences are so very… different. So, we talked about one more thing. We talked about how boring things would be if we were all the same. We imagined walking down the street and saying “Hi, Gracie!” “Oh, there’s Gracie.” “Gracie’s driving that car.” “There’s Gracie, walking the dog.” and so on. The kids had fun imagining a world filled with only Gracie, and they got the point immediately.

Differences are important. They make us beautiful. They make us realize that there are many realities, many ways of living, and all are beautiful in their own way. It can be painful to be different, and some people are treated unfairly for their differences, but we are who we are because of who we are. How boring would it be if we all looked the same? If we all believed the same thing? If we all had the same abilities? True, there are terrible inequities, and I wish there weren’t. I wish we could just embrace each other’s differences as the things that make us most beautiful. Because the world would truly be boring if we were all the same. But together, we make a beautiful tapestry of unique qualities and abilities.

Our differences make us all amazing.

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