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How Black parents are talking to their kids about racism following attack on Capitol

Andre Lamar
Delaware News Journal

It's hard to explain racism to a 7-year-old boy.

Mike Scott, a Black father, tried to discuss with his son why a mob in Washington, D.C., breached the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. 

“He doesn’t really understand that we couldn’t have [rioted] in DC like that," said Scott, of Dover, Delaware. "Because we would’ve been shot,”

Anita Kopacz's family, of Nyack, N.Y. The family has grappled with the events unfolding this week in Washington D.C.

Black families say they have to walk a line when speaking to their children about the insurrection on the Capitol. They have to explain racism and white privilege, and teach their children that they need to have grit, and navigate social media with skepticism.

Scott's son, Mike Jr., is sensitive and Scott doesn’t want to scare him, he said. And discussing race was not a part of Scott's childhood.

“I’ve tried my best to shelter my son. Then again, sheltering him could be bad, because I was sheltered, and I’m not handling [racism] well either.”

'Donald Trump is racist'

Mike Scott and his son, Mike Jr., 7, during a George Floyd protest in Dover last spring.

Martina Jackson, an elementary school teacher who lives in Smyrna, Delaware, is a mother of five children, ages 1 to 11. Her 8- and 11-year-old children wanted to know why people breached the Capitol. She explained it’s because some people don't think Joe Biden won the presidential election fairly.

“My kids’ response was ‘why does anyone want Trump in office?’ I was asked, 'Did this ever happen before when there were presidents that the world didn’t like?’ For me in my lifetime, I haven’t seen anything like this,” Jackson said.

She has students who aren’t fans of Donald Trump.

“We hate Donald Trump," Jackson said she’s heard from her elementary students. "Donald Trump is a racist. Donald Trump doesn’t love us.”

Jackson's students have asked what would happen if Trump decides he doesn’t want to leave the White House?

“I don’t have the answer, because in our eyes we’ll say there’s a process for everything,” she said. “So if he doesn’t want to leave, then there should be a certain process to remove him from office. But it seems like the insurgents and the police are all working together. How do I know they’re not?” 

Brendan Brown, of Bear, Delaware., is a father of two teenage sons. The conversation about the breach began with his eldest son, who’s 17.

“He basically said 'I’m ashamed to be associated with this country,' ” Brown explained.

Brown responded by saying, “You know that the world is what the world is, so what’s going on in it doesn’t reflect on you. That’s not us,” Brown said.

Brown said his sons received his words because they used words like “right” and “true.”

The key to explaining racism is for people to understand that it’s a sickness, he said, and just because someone is repulsed by the color of your skin, you don’t have to feed into it. 

Black kids can't be white

Michael McBride, Sr., (second from left) is shown with his  daughter India (left),  son Michael, Jr. (center), daughter Cydney and wife Christa (far right). McBride Sr. was a longtime football coach in South Jersey and teaches at Winslow Township Middle School in Camden County.

Tanya Hayles, of Toronto, Ontario, is the founder of Black Moms Connection, a Facebook group of about 17,000 people. Hayles said her 8-year-old is inquisitive and she doesn’t shy away from racist conversations.

“As parents, we have to repeat things for our kids for them to get it. 'Here’s another example of why you can't act the same way as your white friends,'” she said. “Those are the warnings that we have to give our children, and I know those conversations are not happening in white households and that’s the hard part. It’s only one community that has to do this preparation instead of teaching other children about their privilege.”

Racquel Mallett Jones, founder of Black Moms of New Jersey Facebook group who lives in Central Jersey, is a mom of has two children aged 15 and 20.

“The fact that we have a person who is president who incited this, this is not a normal thing," Mallet said. "Other presidents … these kids, the only presidents they know is Trump and Obama. Tell them other presidents have left and nothing like that has ever happened, but maybe this is what needed to happen today, but it’s OK. But try not to be afraid.”

Anita Kopacz, a Nyack, New York, mom of three kids in middle and high school, said she tells her kids that being Black in America is like a "nuanced dance between being idolized and hated."

"They were not surprised by how [Wednesday's] attack was handled," she said. "They did say words like 'stupid' and 'hypocritical.' I know my 12-year-old is saddened mostly by what he sees, he’s very sensitive."

Encouraging kids to dig deeper

Michael McBride, Sr., a native of Camden, New Jersey, has taught for more than 27 years.

McBride, a father of three, was a head football coach at Woodrow Wilson in Camden and at Winslow Township High School for many years, a mentor and father figure to many of his players. He now teaches at Winslow Township Middle School in Camden County.

Being the father of a young Black son has caused him many anxious moments over the last few years, he says, and he felt that same way on Wednesday.

“My youngest is an 11-year-old little Black boy and in this environment as a whole, the last couple of years, as a parent I just feel an incredible sense of fear when he goes out,” McBride said.

“We live in a wonderful neighborhood. We go walking and when he’s not walking with me, he wants to go walk by himself and I have this incredible sense of anxiety and fear for him to be out because it’s almost like I’m living in the land of the body snatchers,” he added.

“I think that someone can say something about my little young, innocent 11-year-old boy, but he’s almost my height, he wears a 10½ man’s shoe, he’s very friendly, but I don’t want somebody to say that little boy did something and have the police come up and snatch him.”

McBride, whose son Michael “Truck” McBride, Jr. is in the sixth grade, also has two daughters, Cydney McBride, a 10th grader, and India McBride, an 11th grader with wife Christa. He and his family couldn’t believe what they were witnessing at the Capitol building.

"We have a lot of friends who are law enforcement and they have a lot of training and they exhibited some of the restraint that we’d wish they exhibit when we see people of color. I would never say, ‘You guys need to shoot those people.’ No, but what I need you to do is the restraint that you showed not pulling your firearms, not maceing people, not throwing people to the ground, not doing all those things, show the same things to us when we protest. Wrong is wrong and right is right. If I’m doing wrong, yes I’m doing wrong, but don’t say I’m doing wrong and someone else does the exact same thing ‘well they’re patriots.' ”

McBride said it also offers him particular challenges as a teacher. He had a social studies class a day after the events and was asked by a student why the white rioters were treated differently.

“I have to explain to my students what they saw yesterday and had one young man say to me , ‘Well how come when Black Lives Matter marched, the police didn’t act like that?,” McBride said. “So I have to prepare an answer for this young man because his eyes saw what he needed to see.

“How do we start to navigate that? We teach them to be extremely careful of your surroundings and understand that your pathway is going to be a little different from other peoples’ pathways and when you see this, it’s wrong,'' he continued. "Because I’m a history major and I talk history to my son all the time, we talked about the Boston Tea Party and how they will equate this as a patriotic, virtuous event that they were trying to save democracy and in another instance it’s looked at as a terroristic activity. We sat him down and we sat them (his daughters) down and we explained to them what you see now is the culture that we now live in. It’s been there, but now it’s being recorded.”

Richard Craighead, of York, tries to take his sons Richard Craighead II (left) and Christian Craighead (right) to different exhibits, museums, and more to broaden their knowledge and horizons.

Dropping gems of knowledge

Richard Craighead has a two-sided perception of the efforts in Washington D.C.

He didn’t take issue with people demonstrating against a decision, but then came the damaging of property, opposing police officers and barging into the Capitol Building.

His initial understanding of a right for people to peaceably assemble was replaced with disappointment.

“It was disheartening to be an America,” said Craighead, who is 33.

He also shared concerns over the discrepancy in treatment of the rioters compared to protesters in the past.

“It just makes you realize how small they see Black people and people of color just based on the way everything transpired and the lack of police presence,” he said.

Craighead is the owner of Inclusive Arts Movement York in central Pennsylvania — a program that aims to connect cultures through art —  and has two sons, ages 5 and 12.

Explaining to his sons what happened in D.C. requires two approaches because of their age difference, but Craighead says that it all boils down to a lesson he always instills in them.

“If you lose, take it in stride. Work harder the next time. Don’t throw a fit. Don’t throw some temper tantrum because you lost something,” he said.

Social media, which can often become polluted with false information about current events, requires avid listening, Craighead said, especially when Richard explains what he has seen and heard.

If what he shares is inaccurate, Craighead urges him to do his research and look more into topics before he makes a conclusion about information.

Craighead didn’t dive deep into specifics with his 5-year-old, Christian. He tries to drop gems of knowledge that he can digest and understand, but he reiterated the importance of not being a sore loser.

His 12-year-old, Richard, has been taught by his father about racism, systemic oppression, racial tension and more, he said.

During a discussion about George Floyd, he told his dad, “I just don’t understand why they don’t like us.”

Jasmine Vaughan-Hall of ydr.com; Celeste Whittaker, www.courierpostonline.com and Sammy Gibbons of NorthJersey.com contributed to this report.