Voices of Youth: Examining the everyday effects of racial discrimination

This article is part of Concentrate's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Washtenaw County youth in partnership with Concentrate staff mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, student writer Cameron Flowers examines the impact of racial discrimination.

Racial equality is still a very big problem in today's community, but how does it really affect people? And what are people doing about it?  

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll found that roughly seven in 10 Black Americans (71%) say they have personally experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity. 11% of them said this is something they experience regularly.  

LaTanya Nobles has been working at Ford Motor Company for over 15 years and experiences this very frequently. When I asked her, "Have you experienced racial inequality?" her response was, "Yes, I have a lot of stories of racial inequality from people at my job." When I asked her to elaborate on those stories, she said, "One time I was simply sitting at my office sending emails and periodically checking the clock for 12:30 a.m. since I had a meeting then. When 12:30 hit, I got up and swiftly walked over to the meeting room and sat listening to the host speaking through a PowerPoint about what was currently happening and what will be happening in the future."

LaTanya Nobles.
After the meeting, Nobles' boss asked her to talk to her privately. He asked questions about why she had been "slacking in her work" and made assumptions, saying she was "cutting corners and using others as leverage and an excuse to do less while they do more."

Nobles responded by showing him charts of how she was actually doing the most out of everyone, with the highest number of emails sent and received, and the most hours logged into the website they use called Webex.

Simone Alexis, a 16-year-old Black girl, has also gone through a similar experience. 

"Sometimes, racial stereotypes and biases persist among students and even some faculty members," she said. "It can be disheartening to witness or experience microaggressions, such as insensitive comments or assumptions based on race. These incidents create an environment that doesn't feel entirely inclusive or supportive, overall making me feel uncomfortable at times."  

Simone added that "schools should encourage dialogue, creating safe spaces where students can share their experiences and perspectives without fear of judgment or reprisal.  These conversations can help break down barriers, foster empathy, and build stronger connections among students."

Ruth Havinston shared her experience with racism at school. 

"Unfortunately, I have experienced racism at school," she said. "It's disheartening to encounter stereotypes, discrimination, and microaggressions based on my race. I've heard hurtful comments, faced exclusion, and felt like I don't fully belong."  

She continued, "Sometimes, these incidents come from peers who may not fully understand the impact of their words or actions. Other times, it's more subtle, like being overlooked or treated differently by teachers and staff.  Racism affects my self-esteem and mental well-being. It's challenging to navigate an environment where you constantly have to defend your worth and prove yourself. It can feel isolating and make it harder to focus on my education and personal growth."

I asked everyone if they could describe how these experiences overall make them feel with one word. They responded with words like "extreme discomfort," "heartbroken," "disheartening," "disappointed," "fear," and "ashamed." They are not alone. The KFF study has shown that "71% of Black Americans say they’ve experienced some form of racial discrimination or mistreatment during their lifetimes – including nearly half (48%) who say at one point that they felt their life was in danger because of their race."

I asked these three people what they would like to see to help improve this problem. Ruth said, "To combat racism at school, awareness and education are crucial. We need open conversations about race, empathy-building activities, and cultural sensitivity training for both students and staff. Schools should implement policies that promote inclusivity and ensure that instances of racism are addressed promptly and effectively."  

Simone said, "Creating a safe and supportive environment for all students, regardless of their race, is essential. It's important for schools to actively foster an atmosphere of respect, where everyone feels valued and accepted for who they are." 

And lastly, Nobles says racism at work has had a negative impact on her experiences as a Black girl. Education, awareness, and creating a supportive environment are key to addressing racism and fostering a more inclusive and equitable work community.

Cameron Flowers lives in Ann Arbor and is a rising freshman at Washtenaw International High School. Concentrate staffer Sarah Rigg served as his mentor on this project.

Photos by Doug Coombe.

To learn more about Concentrate's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click 
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