Half-Truths, the Capitol Insurrection, and My Black Son
By Alycia Hardy
Reflections from Child Care Policy Analyst Alycia Hardy on explaining the Capitol insurrection to her son.
“Why are they doing this?”
A relatively simple question my seven-year-old son asked as I watched the coverage of the Capitol insurrection. I had many answers for him. Answers I could easily verbalize to adults, the simplest being that this is what happens when white supremacy culture is threatened. When those who have historically held a position of power feel their power being shifted using the very systems and structures they built to protect it, their response is and has always been violence and destruction (see Reconstruction and Civil Rights Act of 1964). As a parent, especially a Black parent, I have always lived by the notion that the world will teach my children what I do not, and for me, this was not a moment to cast that notion aside. So, I leaned in.
First, like all parents, my children’s safety and security were my priority. Living in the nation’s capital – yes, actual families live here – he was terrified that the violent (predominately white) mobs storming the Capitol would come to our home next. I assured him they would not. Having lived in DC for 20 years, I have witnessed many forms of violence. Economic violence against life-long Black residents forced from their homes to make room for affluent white people; systemic violence against students who experience constant shifts in educational leadership and ever-widening resource, wealth, and opportunity gaps; and physical and emotional violence against Black communities terrorized by police roaming neighborhoods in unmarked cars (see jump-out boys). However, what we saw at the Capitol was something our generation had yet to witness during our lifetime.
After reaffirming my son’s sense of security, I asked what he knew about the recent election. He explained that Donald Trump lost, and we would soon have a new president. Then we talked about how he feels when he loses a game. He admitted that it makes him sad and a little angry. I explained that the people he saw on television felt the same. Except, they wanted to take away the game (election) so no one could play unless everyone agreed that Donald Trump won. I would assume this is how many white parents might explain this to their young child, but I saw this explanation as a half-truth. A half-truth that negates the historical and present assorted violent white resistance to the equity, dignity, and humanity of Black people and the use of legal and political channels to do so.
I often straddle the fence between wanting to protect my son’s innocence since Black childhood is too short lived because the world sees and treats our children so harshly. Yet being fully aware that protection may come at a cost that leaves him wildly unprepared for the reality we live in. My son is far more inquisitive and self-aware than I was at seven. My husband and I have intentionally curated an environment that nourishes his self-awareness with an unwavering sense of self-worth and fuels that inquisitiveness with knowledge encompassing the breadth of the beauty, resilience, resistance, strength, struggle, victory, and joy of Black people. We do not shy away from hard truths, but we ease them with the optimism that comes from the changes we have seen in our lifetime and in generations past.
I do not claim to speak for all Black parents; we are not a monolith. I am sure many rightly chose to turn off the television after having far too many of these conversations – particularly over the last four years. As a parent, I often find myself having to first digest and reflect on my own thoughts and feelings before I can think about discussing or explaining anything to my son. And as a Black parent, I face a duality in these situations. I begin by processing the overarching reality and implications of what the world sees without forgetting the foundational lens of what it means for Black people. Then I use these circumstances to process and reflect with him, so he can see that I also struggle to find answers and make sense of everything.
So, as I have always done – and will continue to do – I told my son the other half of the truth. Because if I do not teach him, the world will teach him half-truths. Sadly, we do not live in a world where Black children are afforded such luxuries as half-truths.