My first memorable experience with discrimination occurred in kindergarten when, while lining up for recess, a classmate looked at me and point-blank asked if I was scared.
"No," I replied. "Why?"
I remember her response as if it were yesterday:
"Because if I woke up black, I would kill myself."
Let's just pause here for a moment, because her reply is a lot to digest.
Although it has been over thirty years since that exchange, replaying those words in my head still elicits a visceral response that I cannot accurately characterize with words.
But back then I really wasn't all that bothered by it.
I was more confused than anything.
I honestly could not understand why it would have been so bad to be me, or to be black, even.
But after I told my parents what had happened over dinner that evening -- and then heard them discussing the matter afterward (behind a closed door, I might add) -- I knew that this was serious.
Their final consensus was this: I would not transfer out of that school.
I would stay.
You've just had your first real taste of racism, my dear. There will be others.
They were right.
And here's what I have since learned: It still stings, yes, but I can shake it off.
However, the mere prospect of discrimination against my children hurts a gazillion times worse.
Forget not being able to fit into an old pair of jeans.
Forget sleep deprivation.
Forget the constant daily grind of having signed up for the hardest job in the world.
The real reason having kids changes everything is because looking at situations -- particularly social ones -- through the prism of What if this were happening to my son or daughter? makes everything matter that much more.
My experiences with discrimination have primarily been about my color.
But this isn't just about racism.
Far from it.
Every single day people endure a struggle for being who they are.
People who are gay, people who have birth defects, people who have ADHD, people who are financially strapped, people with speech impediments, heck, sometimes people catch hell for something as basic as their age or gender.
I could go on and on.
These people are someone's daughter or son.
And what if they were your own?
Even if your child isn't autistic...imagine if he was.
Then we'd probably be more mindful of the challenges faced by those impacted by autism.
Even if your daughter isn't overweight...imagine if she was.
Then our knee-jerk response wouldn't be to joke about a person's size.
Let's say your son doesn't struggle with substance abuse...but imagine, just for a moment, if he did.
Then maybe -- just maybe -- our first inclination wouldn't be to judge, condemn, and write him off.
And, lastly, even if your child hasn't been bullied...imagine if they came home day after day after day trembling and in tears because they've been the targets of relentless mistreatment.
Then, of course, bullying would be more than a buzzword.
Playing switcheroo and putting our own child in the place of the one perceived to be the underdog forces us -- and quite easily, I might add -- to practice empathy in a way that perhaps we hadn't before we had our children.
Because we all know prejudice is wrong.
But it sucks ten times more when it happens to kids.
Especially our own.