Minn. congressman says he now understands white privilege after riots

'It took a violent mob of insurrectionists,' said Rep. Dean Phillips, 'and a lightning-bolt moment in this very room. But now, I know.'

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In a powerful moment on the House floor Thursday night, Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips said he did not truly understand white privilege until the Jan. 6 siege attempt on Capitol Hill. 

Phillips recalled how, as he and his colleagues heard insurrectionists banging on the doors to enter the House chambers, he realized that they may have needed to defend themselves, and “a pencil is about all we had.” 

Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, shown at a September hearing on Capitol Hill, said this week that he did not truly understand white privilege until the Jan. 6 siege attempt. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

“But I’m not here this evening to seek sympathy or just to tell my story [but] rather to make a public apology,” said Phillips. “For recognizing that we were sitting ducks in this room as the chamber was about to be breached. I screamed to my colleagues to follow me, to follow me across the aisle to the Republican side of the chamber, so that we could blend in — so that we could blend in.”

He said he thought it would be a way to protect themselves — if they could be mistaken for Republicans. He then said he realized that “blending in” was not an option for representatives of color. 

“So I’m here tonight to say to my brothers and sisters in Congress, and all around our country, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. For I had never understood, really understood, what privilege really means. It took a violent mob of insurrectionists and a lightning-bolt moment in this very room. But now, I know. Believe me, I really know,” Phillips said, his voice breaking with emotion.

The moment, shared on Twitter by Vox reporter Aaron Rupar, has quickly gone viral. 

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Phillips was elected to the House of Representatives in 2018. He has served on the Committee on Financial Services, Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Committee on Ethics. 

He is the grandson of Pauline Phillips, who for years was the author of the famous advice column, “Dear Abby.”

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