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A Debriefing: Processing the January 6th 2021 Riot

Yesterday, we all witnessed history. And not in a good way.

American flag

Yesterday, we sat in front of our computers and televisions and watched as the White House was stormed by white supremacists under the disguise of 'patriotism' and loyalty for Donald Trump. We watched as they scaled the wall and made it up to the Capitol. We watched as they stormed in, broke windows, and walked the halls. We witnessed police officers open the gate to let them go in, and took selfies with them.

A lot of commentary coming from this event has been, "what if they were black?"

Really, though.

Activists for Black Lives Matter have been condemned across conservative platforms for being 'uncivilized.' During every BLM protest I attended, it was peaceful until the police came. It was peaceful until tear gas was launched, and force was asserted by the police. How many people have been arrested during those protests? For "unlawful assembly." For standing together and believing that Black people deserve equity and that what is happening in our society is just plain messed up.

Black Lives Matter rally

No one deserves to die for selling cigarettes, using 'counterfeit money', or even for just being 12. The truth is that Black and Brown people do die at the hands of police all the time for these things. But is it really these things they are murdered because of, or are they just being killed because they aren't white?

Had it been Black or Brown people who approached the White House, it would be designated terrorism. They would be shot before even reaching the wall. Their death would have been quickly justified by politicians. If the people who stormed in had worn hijabs or looked Middle-Eastern, the news would be covering a possible "terrorists with bombs." There would have never been an opportunity to even approach the building.

The mob yesterday did pose a very real security threat, yet there weren't rounds of shots fired. They were not tasered. They weren't quickly detained or arrested. They stormed in, and for the most part, walked away unscathed. Considering Trump has refused to recede the election, refused to denounce white supremacy and continuously created chaos under the claims of fraud, should we be shocked at the lack of punishment among this group?

How do you process that? How do you tell your child that their safety is assured when people who blatantly lie and break the law walk away without repercussion? As a person of color, how do you explain to your child why people who look like them are killed? As a white person, how do you tell your child about what we are witnessing? Considering the death of George Floyd came with an increase in hate crimes against Black folk, I think many of us are likely fearful of another surge with the transfer of the presidency.

We are in the middle of a deadly pandemic, but also a new age of political violence. There is no how-to book on parenting during this time. If you want to know if you should talk to your child about what happened at the riot (and the inevitable "but why did they do that? why?"), yes. Yes, you should. Kids are super intuitive. Teenagers in this generation are more socially aware and more conscious of political topics. Conversations with your kids will vary by age, but the principals are fairly similar.


Explaining The Riot to Your Kids

Open the door for further conversation and validate, validate, validate. Ask your child how they understand what happened on the news. They might already have a better understanding of it than you realize. It gives you a point to add in information to fill gaps for them, and to allow them to ask questions. You can ask, "how did it make you feel when you saw that?"

Whatever your child is feeling or has felt, it's okay. Validation for kids is HUGE because it helps them trust themselves, their feelings and their intuition. It is human to feel all sorts of emotions, so allow them to. Support that. They may be confused, fearful, angry, or sad. We validate when we say "yes, that was really scary. Yes, that makes sense you feel mad. It makes me mad too. Yes, it's confusing, I hear you." This is your chance to help them develop skills to work through those feelings too.

Teacher discussing topic with students

Prioritize talking about immediate safety. Safety is huge to kids. Start with telling them that they are safe, and you will keep them safe. No rioters are coming to your house. They aimed to go to the White House, and you, your family members and your child are safe in your home.

Be honest. I know I don't know all of the answers of how to process what happened the last four years, never-mind yesterday. I know you probably don't either. It's okay to tell your child that you don't know. Be honest. Be honest about how you feel too.

Addressing racism and race. This isn't something that should be talked about just once, but should be apart of an ongoing conversation. Talk about it early, and often. Sometimes, we leave out information because it's uncomfortable. It's not easy to talk about racism. It's not easy to talk about the history of slavery and oppression to children that we perceive as very innocent. You can start with some of these books depending on your child's age.

If you are a white parent to a white child, please tell them about the history of racism. They need to know. They need to know it was real, and it was traumatic. That it was wrong. You can teach them now how to be an ally. You can teach them early how to stand up to peers when they hear racist comments within conversations. You can teach them that this is uncomfortable to talk about. It will be uncomfortable for you. But it's not about you. It's not about white people.

On that note, show your older children that they can support a movement without leading it -- because it's not about white people. Allowing BIPOC to lead against oppression is critical. Listening is critical. COVID has disproportionately affected BIPOC, and coupled with recent political violence, this is a hard time for a lot of communities.

As a white woman, I genuinely can't speak to parenting within BIPOC communities. My privilege has prevented me from worrying about being killed by police. I will say I hope that you reach out to family, friends, and your support system. Know that you are supported. I know there is a lot of hate everywhere, but as allies, we are here too. I have hope that our next generation will be better.

The takeaway here is that this incident is a point of discussion in a lifelong conversation.

Ask if they have questions and answer them. For younger children, questions tend to be more literal. Answer directly. You don't need to avoid the answers. If they are old enough to ask, they are old enough to know. However, always circle back to the topic of safety. For adolescents, allow them to voice their thoughts and opinions. You can find videos on youtube to watch together, explaining how this is relevant to history. Remember, your teenager is going to be a voter for critical issues soon enough.

Focus on the good too. Show your children about the positive things that came out of this. Show them about how people in leadership responded. Show them that justice is worth fighting for. That women like Stacey Abrams helped to lead a movement that created incredible change.


For all of us, self-care. This means turn off the news for a set period of time every day. Turn off electronics for a few hours. Spend time talking with family and friends if possible. Decompress. Take a walk. Get into nature. Zone out to Netflix. Turn off notifications for the news on your phone so you can control how much you view it. Read books.

Woman relaxing on a bed

Find a way to channel your emotions into something more -- a letter or call to your senator or congressman, promoting voter registration, donate to a cause that matters. Create conversations. Find your network and community. Activism communities have always been around -- find one that you feel connected to and become involved.

If you're not already, it may be a good time to reach out to a counselor to process. Know that there are specific mental wellness resources available to BIPOC.

White folk -- please take a very critical look into what's going on right now in our society and how to involve yourself if you haven't already. You cannot deny how strongly racism still drives policy of this country. A man stood in the White House with a confederate flag..white supremacists marched into the White House after the President incited a riot.


Paperflower Psychiatry

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