I was talking to an African American eleven year old girl while we were floating in a friend’s pool. “What is it like to be a black girl in an upper class white school?” (Kids are seldom shocked by a direct question, especially if there is no judgment attached.)

“It’s hard,” she responded. “Help me understand how,” I questioned. We talked about a lot of things—obvious judgments from others and more subtle ones, like being left out. She said that when someone was unkind, it didn’t hurt her as much as she didn’t know what to say, “You are in luck!” I exclaimed, and I informed her that I used to teach a class for kids which included verbal self defense.

“Nothing is more frustrating to a ‘meanie’ than to be calm and to not respond in anger. The kids in my classes liked to say ‘So!’ when someone said something unkind: “Your skin is a different color!” –”So!”–”You’re ugly!”–”So!”–”I’m glad I’m not black!”–”So!”– (The little girl laughed when I shared my answer would have been, “Me too! You couldn’t take it!”)

I want to live in a world where brown skin is just someone with a better tan—where we are empathetic to the differences in others—and where verbal defense skills are unnecessary. It begins with not judging someone who is different, and having the compassion to realize that inside that person is the same wanting-to-fit-in person as you are. Be kind or be quiet!

You don’t agree with me and you think this writing is stupid? So!

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Scott A McDaniel photo