Kerry Washington wants to change how we teach children about Black history

In recent weeks and many times in the past, we’ve seen more Black pain and sorrow in the media than we’ve ever seen Black joy and beauty. That’s something Kerry Washington wants to change. The Little Fires Everywhere star went on Jimmy Kimmel Live virtually on Monday night and discussed the ways she wants to see the teachings of Black history and conversations around race change. She started by talking about what the conversation has looked like with her children in her own home.

“There’s a lot of posts about ‘privilege looks like discovering that racism exists as opposed to knowing that it exists,’” Washington said, “So I think for a lot of Black families we don’t have the privilege of ignoring what’s going on and pretending it’s not happening.”

She went on to explain that in recent weeks, she’s been thinking about ways conversations about race should change in schools.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about education and a lot about talking about race and introducing ideas of race and really thinking about the idea that for a lot of kids, kids are introduced to race at Black history month or in the context of change-makers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks,” Washington said.

While these are important figures for everyone to know and learn about in school, she wants to turn back the pages of kids’ history books even further. “I think it’s really important that we start to introduce the idea of race with a Black history that begins before teaching kids what Black people were told they couldn’t do, right?” she said. “So, there’s Maasai Warriors and the kingdoms of Ghana and Queen Nefertiti and the pyramids of Egypt.”

She continued: “[It’s] this idea of teaching kids that Black history and Black people were a lot of things before segregation and Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, so that we understand the beautiful complexity and elegance and richness of Black History before refusing to be put in the back of the bus.”

On each recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, guests share an organization that they want to highlight. Washington chose African American Policy Forum and its #SayHerName campaign to shed more light on the violence against Black women.

“A lot of the women who have been the victim of police killings, those names have not been celebrated and honored,” she explained, “And AAPF works to make sure that is not the case. #SayHerName campaign is really about fighting Black women’s invisibility so that women like Breonna Taylor get justice.”

Washington continued, putting an emphasis on the importance of Breonna Taylor’s life and the tragedy it is to have lost it.

“Breonna Taylor was an EMT in Louisville, she was working on the frontlines of COVID, she was one of our heroes,” she said, “And who could imagine that what took her life was not this devastating virus but a debacle of a police raid. It is unfathomable that these officers are not in custody.”

With all the current tragedy and mourning of Black lives, Washington said the turnout of recent protests around the country fill her with “so much hope and encouragement.”

“We as a nation—and as a world in some ways—we’re just done having our governments work in ways that don’t reflect our values,” she said. “I think for a long time people thought you could just be a passenger on this train called democracy, but that’s not how it works. Like, democracy works if we all show up and we all express our values whether it’s voting or in the streets protesting. That is what democracy looks like. So, it’s like we’re living up to who we—we were supposed to be this all along.”

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