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How racism costs white people as much, and sometimes more, as Black Americans

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Author and activist Heather McGhee says economic improvements like a higher minimum wage benefits everyone and should not be affected by the country's history of racism.

Advocate Heather McGhee has found that when Americans cross the racial divide they can accomplish more together and to everyone's benefit.

In her book, "The Sum of Us," Heather McGhee writes that racism is the core dysfunction of American democracy and has led the nation to a spiritual and moral crisis that affects every American.

As one who designs and promotes solutions to inequality, McGhee points to policies in this nation's history that denied opportunities for the Black population to build generational wealth.

"That's why we have this huge racial wealth gap today where the average Black college graduate has less wealth than the average white high-school dropout," she says.

She also details actions taken by white Americans after desegregation whether people would forgo amenities, like a community swimming pool, rather than share them with Black residents.

McGhee says the lesson is, "Racism ultimately has a cost for everyone, but we can prosper together."

The zero-sum theory that if people of color gain something then white people lose is a myth Terrance Wise works to debunk. A leader with the Missouri Workers Center, Wise recalls when he believed the lie that "Hispanic workers were driving my wages down. I thought white workers were being treated better and making more than me."

The reality is that all "struggle to keep food on the table, pay our bills, keep our kids housed," Wise says.

Change is possible, Wise points out. Whether it's the labor movement, women's suffrage or civil rights, "it's all been done through collective action and through multi-racial movement."

McGhee believes "Americans can do anything." The barrier, she says, "is that this country has been enthralled to a lie that has wanted to diminish the role of race and racism in our history."

    The Missouri Workers Center presents “What Racism Costs Everyone: A Discussion with Heather McGhee at 6 p.m. on Monday, November 15. Registration for this online event is required.

    When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
    As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
    Reginald David is an assistant producer with Up To Date. You can reach him at reginalddavid@kcur.org.