Raising Good People

The Teachable Moment About White Privilege We Can't Ignore

They took selfies.

Wednesday was madness, but I couldn’t look away.

After watching the siege at the Capitol for hours, witnessing the total lack of force used against the MAGA rioters, one thing is urgently clear: parents cannot for one more moment ignore our system's baked-in injustice. It’s way past time that we all get really real about the white privilege that exists in America. And just like it’s hard for Black parents to sit down and educate our kids on how to navigate a country that is racist against them, white parents have to confront the ugliness of their privilege and bravely explain the truth about racial bias with their kids. And the events of January 6 present the perfect moment to teach the weight of this reality.

I saw chaos unfold with my own eyes, but it was still hard to believe that a mob of Trump supporters turned domestic terrorists raided our Capitol, instigated and egged on by their leader, the President himself. I heard a man claim to a reporter that no one was being violent, but we all were witness to them breaking windows, scaling walls, stealing furniture, and vandalizing property. A noose hung across from the building; a Confederate flag was paraded through the halls — and the mob seemed determined to “fight like hell” as Trump urged them to do. Once they arrived at the building where our elected officials were carrying out their constitutional responsibility, they encountered little resistance. After storming the Capitol they leisurely strolled the halls taking selfies. There is no doubt their race had everything to do with their reception by — and the absence of — law enforcement. A Black crowd would have been beaten and shot for doing far less.

A member of a pro-Trump mob shatters a window with his fist from inside the Capitol Building after breaking into it.Jon Cherry/Getty Images
People stand around media equipment destroyed by Trump supporters outside the US Capitol.CAMILLE CAMDESSUS/AFP via Getty Images
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In June 2020, during a Black Lives Matter protest after George Floyd’s murder, the Lincoln Memorial's stairs were covered with armed National Guard troops. Earlier this week, the District Attorney of Kenosha, Wisconsin, announced the decision to not bring criminal charges against Shesksy, the police officer who shot Jacob Blake (a Black man) in the back seven times, leaving him paralyzed. The National Guard was already prepared with a wall of force "just in case" the Black community showed up to protest. And despite Wednesday’s plans being made in plain sight for months, the Capitol’s security was not properly assembled.

I watched for hours Wednesday as news outlets reported the FBI and National Guard would be joining the efforts to dismantle the crowd. We found out later that the Pentagon “repeatedly denied” requests to deploy Maryland’s National Guard troops; Forbes reported it was a full hour and a half until Governor Hogan was able to send in help. The Mayor of DC issued a 6 p.m. curfew which was not fully enforced until after 7 p.m. when police reinforcements arrived.

The amount of force police officers typically employ when dealing with Black people is inappropriate and frequently deadly, and the hypocrisy of our law enforcement was on full display! It’s this distinct contrast in how Americans are treated based on race that we need to explain to our children. It should be in history books and classroom curriculums. But until then, a hearty discussion at home acknowledging these disproportionate consequences is a start.

“White Americans aren’t afraid of the cops even when they’re committing insurrection,” said MSNBC national correspondent and political commentator Joy Reid Wednesday. “In their minds, they own this country. They own that Capitol. They own the cops. The cops work for them. And people like me have no damn right to try to elect a president. ... I guarantee you if that was a Black Lives Matter protest in D.C., there would be people shackled, arrested, or dead.”

Here is the lesson: White privilege exists, and when it is not being used to shield white skin from repercussions, it is weaponized against Black people.

The racial violence and injustice of 2020 has sparked many uncomfortable conversations about race in America. To keep pushing for change, we cannot leave our kids out of this, and here is the lesson: White privilege exists, and when it is not being used to shield white skin from repercussions, it is weaponized against Black people. White privilege exists, and it is deadly.

Last year Amy Cooper, a white woman, used her privilege to falsely accuse a Black man of attacking her. She put on her “Karen” damsel in distress voice and lied to the police. Thankfully Christian Cooper (the accused) recorded the entire dramatic “show,” but there have been countless episodes like this where the accused was not so lucky. History has repeated itself over and over since Emmett Till’s tragic death.

"They're supposed to shoot BLM."

The events at the Capitol were the quintessential example of white privilege in action. Don’t turn away.

As a Black mother, I am intensely aware of how this privilege benefits white children. At the same time, we fight to make sure ours get an equal chance at life and opportunities. White parents have to unpack this with their kids, but it can’t be all talk. A study looking at 30 affluent white families showed that talk is not enough: parents who not only discussed racism, but also put their kids in racially diverse environments (neighborhoods, schools and activities), raised children who were more aware of racism in America. Other children who were raised in predominantly white environments believed it to be a “thing of the past.”

Educating kids on this implicit bias raises their awareness and plants a seed of taking action to change the system.

To start this conversation, use appropriate language based on your child’s level of understanding, and be prepared, because it won’t be easy. They will have questions. Wednesday, I decided to let my elementary school-aged kids watch the news with us and I carefully explained what was happening in our nation. They understood enough to know that the rioters were wrong and should be in jail.

Lastly, let your children know that there is no decent explanation for why racism still exists, but many people are fighting to change it. And for white families, figure out how you can denounce the privilege afforded you just because of your skin color. Call it out in your circles and refuse to let it continue. What your children see you do will impact them far more than simply what you say.

For a resource on speaking to kids about social injustice, check out Six Steps For Talking To Your Kids About Social Justice by Dr. El Brown.