What would you do if you saw a man and his son at a bus stop — suppose they’re singing songs together, goofing off and excitedly discussing plans to go home and build something with the LEGO set they’d just picked up? Would you smile at them? Maybe stick in some earbuds and wait in silence? Or would you call the cops to come investigate the two of them for being off?
Most people wouldn’t go for the third door there, but that’s exactly what someone did last Tuesday when it came to Toronto dad Jason Thompson and his 4-year-old son, Xavier. Of course, in that person’s defense, Thompson’s skin coloring isn’t the same as his son’s, which is unheard of in 2016… right?
Everyone knows the only acceptable response to seeing a parent-child pair who isn’t a matching parent-child pair is to call 911 so they can get to the bottom of the whole fishy conundrum.
Except when it’s not… which is always.
And yet it’s this ignorant response that nearly brought Thompson to tears. Shortly after the bus rolled up to the bus stop and the passengers boarded, the vehicle ground to a halt and pulled over, which was when the bus driver told everyone that they had to wait; no one was allowed to leave the bus. The driver didn’t say why, but when two cops showed up shortly thereafter, everyone’s interest was piqued. When the officers came to escort Thompson off the bus, Xavier in tow, every single eye was on the two of them.
Two officers, who Thompson described as “respectful,” explained to Thompson that someone had called emergency to inform them that something was “off” with the father-and-son pair because they didn’t look alike. And that person was correct: They do not look alike. Both Thompson and his wife have albinism, which is characterized by a lack of skin, hair and eye pigmentation. Their son does not, and because little Xavier’s heritage is a rich mix of Caribbean, East Indian and Caucasian, his skin, eyes and hair are much darker than his parents’.
But normally the cops aren’t called on for every mismatched parent-child pair. If they were, they wouldn’t get much else done in a day. So Thompson felt understandably humiliated and angry, and even a little sad. He told a local news outlet that he’d always known the day would come when someone would tactlessly point out the difference between his son’s and his own appearance; he was just hoping it would be an awkward conversation at worst.
That’s the part that’s so mind-baffling about this. Sure, it would be wonderful if everyone in the world listened to the cast of Sesame Street when they talked about how people look different and that’s OK. But some people are still going to do a double take when they see a mixed-race family or a parent with albinism. The fact of the matter is that if you go through your life looking different from what’s considered to be “normal,” you’re always prepared to explain yourself. When you have kids, you roll them into the package, which is what Thompson is probably always prepared to do at a moment’s notice. It might not feel great, but it feels a heck of a lot better than being publicly marched off a bus in public.
That’s the common thread that runs through almost every story about parents being hauled up in front of the authorities for letting their kids play outside/allowing an older child to chill in the car while you run in for a second/daring to be a whole different color than your kid. Instead of being a human who talks to other humans, people are less comfortable having face-to-face conversations and much more at home tattling on everyone who looks or does things differently to the police.
Xavier wasn’t freaked. He wasn’t screaming; he wasn’t recoiling. He’s 4, so it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t utter the word “Daddy” even once at the bus stop or on the bus. If the sight of a man with albinism and his son without albinism piqued someone’s nosiness meter, chances are high they could have walked over, tapped him on the shoulder and asked him about it. They could have disguised it as curiosity or said something like, “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” which is what people say when they’re about to be breathtakingly rude.
Thompson would have seen right through it, but he almost certainly would have sated their curiosity, and then he and Xavier could have gone home to play with LEGOs. Instead, some pearl-clutchy jerk saw an albino man and his son and immediately latched on to every negative stereotype they could drum up, didn’t fact-check and ensured the two would be soundly humiliated.
Great going, ignorant overgrown baby somewhere in Toronto. Keep fighting the good fight.