As we drove home, I told Alexa those stories. I told her how painful it was for me, and why I reacted so strongly. “Alexa, I know the kid at school that you’re talking about. I’ve got to believe that he knows that kids at school are calling him ‘Vampire Boy.’ Whether or not they’re doing it to his face, he knows,” I told her. “And I’ll bet he goes home at night and he cries about it. Because there’s nothing he can do about the way he looks.”
I didn’t explain this to her in some low, hushed “sweetheart-you-need-to-understand” tone. I told her with some passion of the pain I had felt, and added that people still point out the color of my skin. But I did apologize for embarrassing her in front of her friend. Soon it was clear that honesty about my deep feelings had freed us both from the tension and the embarrassment.
In the time since that happened, her mom and I and Alexa have had another discussion about it. I told them that this interchange might not have gone the same way in the past. In the years since Alexa was born, one of the changes in me is the challenge to speak up. I see too often that not saying anything is usually what happens. But silence just perpetuates racism, sexism, and bigotry in many forms.
When we as parents don’t speak up to defend others, kids grow up thinking, “Well, geez, my dad didn’t say anything, so it must be OK to call him Vampire Boy. Must be OK to think less of that person because they’re black or Asian or a woman.” Silence can be a statement of approval or collusion. Our children notice when we do not speak up.
After our discussion, I asked Alexa what she learned from all of this. She says, “To talk about it instead of just leaving it.” When I hear this, tears come and warmth fills me.
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