Kerry Washington Says Black History Needs to Be Taught Differently

“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."

Kerry Washington, like so many amid the Black Lives Matter protests, is reassessing how Black History is taught, especially when it comes to her own children with husband Nnamdi Asomugha: Isabelle, 6, Caleb, 3, and her teenage stepdaughter.

"There's a lot of posts about privilege looks like discovering that racism exists as opposed to knowing that it exists," Washington explained during a virtual appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. "For a lot of Black families, we don't have the privilege of ignoring what's going on and pretending that it's not happening. But the thing I've been thinking about a lot, honestly, with my kids — and with my friends' kids — 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 concept of change-makers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.”

But Washington doesn’t think that’s an appropriate starting point. “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 told Kimmel. "So, there's Maasai Warriors and the kingdoms of Ghana and Queen Nefertiti and the pyramids of Egypt. But 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.”

Washington’s 2019 film American Son has seen a resurgence in viewership following George Floyd’s murder and the protests that have followed. She described the movie, which follows Washington’s character after her 18-year-old son doesn’t return home one night, as “Every parent’s worst nightmare of wondering where your teenage kid is, with the added complexity of being a Black parent and knowing that your kid isn’t just up against knucklehead adolescent behavior, but up against racist institutions that put your kid’s life at risk.”

Due to the film’s reemergence, Washington and the rest of the cast will be live-tweeting along with the film beginning at 5PM PT on Thursday, followed by an Instagram Live with Kimberlé Crenshaw, who started social justice think tank African American Policy Forum which began the Say Her Name campaign to bring awareness and justice to Black women who’ve suffered at the hands of police.

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