On Speaking Up

“It’s not real,” the kid said as he pointed at my right hand. I chuckled and replied, “Well of course it’s real, silly! It’s just a hand!” Before I could even finish my sentence, the kid was lunging toward my right hand. He grabbed my hand and proceeded to pull on it. He was attempting to remove my “fake hand” from my arm. When I finally reclaimed my hand, the child declared, “Your hand is weird!” Without hesitating, I retorted, “No, it’s just different! Our hair color and height and hands are just different!” We debated for several minutes.

When I recounted this incident to my mom, she asked why I didn’t just shut the door on the trick-or-treater. I replied, “Mom, the kid’s parent was standing right there. If a kid is that comfortable saying hurtful comments in front of a parent, imagine what a kid might say when adults aren’t around. I can’t shut the door.”

Here’s the deal: those incidents aren’t rare for someone with a visible birth defect. I still remember the first time a fellow preschooler tried to rip off my hand. I still remember the kid who told me I really did look like a monster. I still remember the boy that kept poking my hand with a lightsaber.

I can’t shut the door on a conversation about diversity because I fear parents aren’t opening that door. Why is it important for parents to talk with kids about differences and diversity? For 24 years I’ve watched kids of all ages audibly label my birth defect as “weird.” For 24 years I’ve had to hide my hands to prevent kids from gawking at them. For 24 years I’ve watched these incidents occur time and time again in front of parents and adults.

When I was a kid, I was afraid to speak up. I was afraid to admit that these incidents occurred. But now that I’m an adult, I have to speak up. I have to keep the door open to these conversations. I have to use my voice, and that’s certainly not easy for me. I’d prefer to just shut the door. I’m scared of saying the wrong thing. I’d rather let a parent have that conversation with a kid. But then I ask myself, “If I don’t speak up, who will?” I’m still learning to use my voice, but I’m thankful I finally realized why I need to speak up. If you and I don’t speak up when these incidents occur, they’ll keep happening.

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