In recent weeks, conversations about racial inequality in America have been renewed following the tragic death of George Floyd and countless other Black Americans. Many individuals who were previously not involved in these conversations began to read up about racial injustices and rally together with demands for America to do better. Throughout the past weeks, Global Ties KC staff have received numerous questions from Kansas City youth program alumni regarding the history of racism and ongoing protests in the United States. If they did not see racism first hand during their time in Kansas City, then it became difficult for them to understand why the Black Lives Matter Movement is gaining such momentum. With that goal, we reached out to former international youth exchange participants to provide insight and to get their perspective on racism in America and how we can improve the injustices that we see today.

Joining us in our conversation was Rachel Craddolph and Garrett Brown; individuals who grew up in Kansas City and have an invested interest in conversation surrounding racism and education. As well, the youth exchange participants involved came from countries including South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, El Salvador, and Chile.

What Did We Learn from the Conversation?

We began our discussion with a simple question: how do we start the conversation about racism in our own lives? It was clear from the start that having discussions and conversations about racism was critical, but that there can be a lot of uncertainty about how to start them and when to have them. What’s more, those conversations can be a bit awkward for those just joining the table. That said, they are still critical in combating racism. We concluded that these conversations, of course, should occur in all sorts of spaces, from inside school classrooms to sports team practices and family dinner tables.

Following that, we moved to another question about how racism manifests in the modern context. Garrett pointed out that even though some folks might think racism is always overt and clearly identifiable, it actually runs a lot deeper. For instance, he noted how racism is often systemic and so deeply ingrained in America’s institutions. We shouldn’t be surprised that this is the case, for our country’s earliest institutions were built on slave labor and white supremacy, and many of those legacies are still here today.

For instance, our conversation pointed out the discomfort that comes with being the only Black student in a classroom, or even with the greater difficulty Black Americans often face with things like getting jobs, buying a home, or even establishing credit. In an even larger context, racism often goes hand-in-hand with capitalism and climate change. Consider for example that Flint, Michigan still does not have clean water, 57% of Flint’s population is Black, and the local and federal administration has not improved the situation.

After talking about how to get started discussing racism and identifying it in our own lives, we talked about how to begin combating it, as well as considering what responsible allyship looks like. We concluded that the real ability to create lasting change is to make tangible active choices in your everyday life. Beyond just making statements on social media or engaging with companies and organizations that make similar statements, being an action-oriented ally is everything. Luckily, there are many ways to move forward with being an active ally: reading books and watching documentaries on racism to become more aware, buying from Black-owned businesses and restaurants, and even stepping back to project the typically unheard voices to let them speak of their own experiences.

While this conversation revolved around how to improve the conditions for Black Americans, it was fitting to end on a note from Garrett specifying that all of this talk of change isn’t from a place of contempt; you must critique what you love most to help in its prosperity and growth.