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The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER - One of today's most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone--not just for people of color. "This is the book I've been waiting for."--Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antira NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER - One of today's most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone--not just for people of color. "This is the book I've been waiting for."--Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist Heather McGhee's specialty is the American economy--and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common root problem: racism. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out? McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Maine to Mississippi to California, tallying what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm--the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she meets white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams, and their shot at better jobs to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. This is the story of how public goods in this country--from parks and pools to functioning schools--have become private luxuries; of how unions collapsed, wages stagnated, and inequality increased; and of how this country, unique among the world's advanced economies, has thwarted universal healthcare. But in unlikely places of worship and work, McGhee finds proof of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: gains that come when people come together across race, to accomplish what we simply can't do on our own. The Sum of Us is a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here: divided and self-destructing, materially rich but spiritually starved and vastly unequal. McGhee marshals economic and sociological research to paint an irrefutable story of racism's costs, but at the heart of the book are the humble stories of people yearning to be part of a better America, including white supremacy's collateral victims: white people themselves. With startling empathy, this heartfelt message from a Black woman to a multiracial America leaves us with a new vision for a future in which we finally realize that life can be more than a zero-sum game.


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER - One of today's most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone--not just for people of color. "This is the book I've been waiting for."--Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antira NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER - One of today's most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone--not just for people of color. "This is the book I've been waiting for."--Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist Heather McGhee's specialty is the American economy--and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common root problem: racism. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out? McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Maine to Mississippi to California, tallying what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm--the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she meets white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams, and their shot at better jobs to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. This is the story of how public goods in this country--from parks and pools to functioning schools--have become private luxuries; of how unions collapsed, wages stagnated, and inequality increased; and of how this country, unique among the world's advanced economies, has thwarted universal healthcare. But in unlikely places of worship and work, McGhee finds proof of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: gains that come when people come together across race, to accomplish what we simply can't do on our own. The Sum of Us is a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here: divided and self-destructing, materially rich but spiritually starved and vastly unequal. McGhee marshals economic and sociological research to paint an irrefutable story of racism's costs, but at the heart of the book are the humble stories of people yearning to be part of a better America, including white supremacy's collateral victims: white people themselves. With startling empathy, this heartfelt message from a Black woman to a multiracial America leaves us with a new vision for a future in which we finally realize that life can be more than a zero-sum game.

30 review for The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

  1. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    The Sum of Us tackles the concept of racial zero sum - why so many whites believe that bettering the lives of racial minorities comes at their expense. In truth, it’s a concept usually put forth by the upper echelon “to escape accountability for the redistribution of wealth upward”. McGee takes us back even before the founding of the country to explain how and why this theory came to be. She walks us through history giving us example after example of whites screwing themselves over rather than h The Sum of Us tackles the concept of racial zero sum - why so many whites believe that bettering the lives of racial minorities comes at their expense. In truth, it’s a concept usually put forth by the upper echelon “to escape accountability for the redistribution of wealth upward”. McGee takes us back even before the founding of the country to explain how and why this theory came to be. She walks us through history giving us example after example of whites screwing themselves over rather than helping minorities. For example, rather than integrating public pools, they often closed the pools entirely, depriving everyone of the benefit. I’ve always wondered why so many poor whites, especially in the south, vote against programs that would inevitably help them more than racial minorities. The Affordable Care Act springs to mind. McGee writes about last place aversion as one reason. But it was an awakening for myself as well. How often had I used the phrase “fiscal conservative, social liberal”? While she tackles big economic stories, like the decline in union jobs, the closing of rural hospitals because of the lack of health insurance or the subprime mortgage epidemic, the book is easy to read. She lays out her hypotheses in down to earth terms. She intermixes individual’s stories with research to keep the reader’s interest. Like Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, this is a necessary read. My first five star book of 2021, I’m betting it will land on many “best of” lists for the year. Having said that, I take exception with one of her arguments that racism is behind the white people’s climate change denial. I felt that argument was a stretch and that the truth is much more down to plain old stupidity and an anti-science/elite liberal bent. Still, that's a minor quibble and my advice is to read this book. My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book. Aside - I finished reading this book just as the Capitol was breached. I can only hope that McGee’s plan for a Solidarity Dividend can take hold with a new, empathetic administration on January 20th

  2. 5 out of 5

    Raymond

    In the January/February 2009 issue of The Atlantic, the writer Hua Hsu wrote an article titled “The End of White America?”. It was displayed on the cover of the magazine beside a large picture of then-President Barack Obama. I don’t remember much about the article but I do remember it made the argument that America was changing into a majority-minority nation in just a few decades. For many White Americans, that is a fearful prospect. Heather McGhee, former president of the think tank Demos, sta In the January/February 2009 issue of The Atlantic, the writer Hua Hsu wrote an article titled “The End of White America?”. It was displayed on the cover of the magazine beside a large picture of then-President Barack Obama. I don’t remember much about the article but I do remember it made the argument that America was changing into a majority-minority nation in just a few decades. For many White Americans, that is a fearful prospect. Heather McGhee, former president of the think tank Demos, starts off her new book showing how White Americans, regardless of their political ideology, became more conservative on issues when they were told that in a few years they would be in the minority. They tend to oppose policies that would benefit everyone because it might also benefit people of color. She reveals that this is a zero-sum game, Whites think that if Blacks and other minorities are doing better then White people must be losing out. This is simply not the case. In The Sum of Us, McGhee makes the argument that racism hurts everyone, including Whites. She does this by showing racism’s effect on Americans across a variety of policy areas such as education, health care, housing policy, residential segregation, unions, the environment, and more. She shows that racial resentment causes many Whites to have a negative opinion on policies that would benefit them. In each chapter McGhee uses a good mix of history, social science studies, and conversations with real people (whom she describes with vivid detail) to make her points. I personally loved her use of scholarly studies, she has a way to make them relatable to the reader. One example is in her chapter on residential segregation. In it McGhee presents studies that showed that Whites may say they want to live in an integrated neighborhood, but at the end of the day they tend to live in a segregated neighborhood that is at least 75% White. Other studies show that segregated neighborhoods brings more pollution to White people, more so than in integrated neighborhoods. In other words, racism can be a matter of life or death, even for Whites. She closes her book by covering her five “discoveries” on how we can all prosper together. The zero-sum game that she opens the book up with does not have to be; all of us can address systemic racism together. I think this book will be especially eye-opening to White people who may not be aware of the disparities that they face because of racism. Racism is not just a minority problem it effects everyone negatively. McGhee persuasively closes her book by saying that demographic changes will not unmake America, instead it will fulfill America. Overall, Heather McGhee has written a powerful must-read book. It definitely belongs on the shelf alongside other popular anti-racist works. Thanks to NetGalley, One World, and Heather McGhee for a free ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on February 16, 2021. Review published on Ballasts for the Mind: https://medium.com/ballasts-for-the-m...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    ’The white citizens burned the edifice of their own government rather than submit to a multiracial democracy.' The above quote references an election in 1872, but is, perhaps, more relevant today. I began reading this on January 8th, two days after the attack on the Capitol, made for difficulty concentrating. I am pretty sure it took me as long to read this as it did to read Lonesome Dove, despite it being less than 450 pages - the essays comprise 61% of the book, the remainder including Acknowle ’The white citizens burned the edifice of their own government rather than submit to a multiracial democracy.' The above quote references an election in 1872, but is, perhaps, more relevant today. I began reading this on January 8th, two days after the attack on the Capitol, made for difficulty concentrating. I am pretty sure it took me as long to read this as it did to read Lonesome Dove, despite it being less than 450 pages - the essays comprise 61% of the book, the remainder including Acknowledgements and Notes - vs. 864 pages. This is an important, and impressive collection, and I wish I’d read it earlier, and not on the heels of the inexplicable destruction, mayhem and craziness that took place. On the other hand, it made me appreciate this collection even more. Racism exists, despite so many people not admitting that, and we all pay for it, one way or another. If we are not the target of racists, we all still pay for it in other ways. The history of racism still permeates virtually everything in the United States, although it is not the only country where it happens, but this covers racism in the U.S., with some focus on the racism targeting those who emigrated from other countries more recently. This isn’t limited to the kind of racism that relates to day-to-day interactions, as much as the way that it is shown in more insidious ways, as well as tackling the history of racism in such areas as credit card debt, shady subprime mortgages targeting primarily Black, Hispanic families, or others, which varies from place to place, and personal hatred based on personal racist views. Throw in those Whites who believe that if non-White people have financial increase, it is at their own financial loss. But the loss doesn’t stop at just a monetary loss. ’Racism actually has a dehumanizing aspect not only for those who experience racism, but [also for] those who perpetuate it… Jewish tradition articulates...that everyone is stamped in the image of God.’ - Rabbi Felicia Sol Racism destroys every path to that promised land, for all of us. As Wendell Berry writes, “If white people have suffered less obviously from racism than black people, they have nevertheless suffered greatly; the cost has been greater perhaps than we can yet know.”’ (quote from Berry’s The Hidden Wound) Racism has a cost, and it is one for which we all pay. Published: 16 Feb 2021 Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group - Random House / One World

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kimba Tichenor

    A thought-provoking read that will make you rethink everything that you thought you knew about racism. Heather McGhee, political commentator and former President of Demos (a progressive think tank) has written a book with a deceptively simple premise: Racism costs everyone. The harm that racism does society, while disproportionately affecting people of color, also harms working- and middle-class white people. Sadly, too many white Americans have fallen for the lie propagated by wealthy white elit A thought-provoking read that will make you rethink everything that you thought you knew about racism. Heather McGhee, political commentator and former President of Demos (a progressive think tank) has written a book with a deceptively simple premise: Racism costs everyone. The harm that racism does society, while disproportionately affecting people of color, also harms working- and middle-class white people. Sadly, too many white Americans have fallen for the lie propagated by wealthy white elites that if a minority group makes gains, it is at the expense of the dominant white race. The success of this zero-sum paradigm has resulted in a large portion of white Americans voting against their own best political and economic interests. As a result, the gap between the haves and have notes in this United States has skyrocketed since the 1980s; today, nearly two dozen companies have CEO-to-worker pay gaps of over 1.0000 to 1 and the richest 1 percent owns as much wealth as the entire middle class. To show how this economic disparity arose, the McGhee documents multiple instances in the twentieth and twenty-first century in which racism diminished the lives of all Americans, including the mass closure of public swimming pools by states in the 1950s and 1960s to avoid federal laws requiring integration, the American Medical Association’s communist fear-mongering campaign in the 1950s to block Truman’s efforts to pass universal healthcare legislation, the subprime banking crisis in 2007, and the current Covid-19 pandemic. This story of the disempowerment of working- and middle-class America can only be overcome, she concludes if we: 1) Recognize that we have reached the productive and moral limit of the zero-sum economic model that had driven US history from its inception. 2) Establish a social safety net for all, not one limited to any one racial or ethnic group 3) Accept that although racism has hurt all, it has disproportionately hurt persons of color; this means we must accept that there are different levels of need in different communities and address those needs accordingly. One size does not fit all. 4) Realize that we do in fact need each other, that is replace the zero-sum mentality with one of solidarity and 5) we must write a shared history that is not based on myths and lies. I would like to thank the publisher, the author, and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    The author's thesis is: “It is progressive economic conventional wisdom that racism accelerates inequality for communities of color, but what if racism is actually driving inequality for everyone?” The author proceeds to prove her case with stats and many stories. I was familiar with much of the material already from other books. The book linked below, which came out two years ago, has the same thesis, but is 100 pages shorter. It might be better to start with this one. https://www.goodreads.com/b The author's thesis is: “It is progressive economic conventional wisdom that racism accelerates inequality for communities of color, but what if racism is actually driving inequality for everyone?” The author proceeds to prove her case with stats and many stories. I was familiar with much of the material already from other books. The book linked below, which came out two years ago, has the same thesis, but is 100 pages shorter. It might be better to start with this one. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Michelle

    This is a book that will quickly become a "must-read" book as it is filled with some amazing information about the "zero-sum" phenomenon and takes a deep look at why white people continue to sabotage themselves just to make [what they deem] life harder for those who don't share the same skin color as them [Black people, Brown people, Asians, Immigrants etc]. This book is filled with story after story of the history of the "zero-sum" issues and how it has and continues to hurt everyone, not just This is a book that will quickly become a "must-read" book as it is filled with some amazing information about the "zero-sum" phenomenon and takes a deep look at why white people continue to sabotage themselves just to make [what they deem] life harder for those who don't share the same skin color as them [Black people, Brown people, Asians, Immigrants etc]. This book is filled with story after story of the history of the "zero-sum" issues and how it has and continues to hurt everyone, not just the targeted group. This is, for the most part, a very easy [if not frustrating and angering] read, though there are parts that were, for me, very dense and a little above my pay-grade, but I will freely admit here that I know little about mortgages [the chapter I really struggled with] and so it became a tough read for me there. The research here is top-notch; the author knows what she is talking about and this is written in a clear and concise way that almost anyone can understand. And it is much needed. Unless we understand what is going on around us, how can we change the damaging behaviors? This book is a good way to both learn and start. Very well done. Thank you to NetGalley, Heather McGhee and Random House Publishing Group - Random House/One World for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    I predict this will be considered an Important or Necessary Read of 2021. It is EXCELLENT and an easily accessible read. The Sum of Us lays out why life is not a zero-sum game, and therefore racism must be dismantled once and for all. And why America will be stronger when we work together for the Solidarity Dividend - diversity makes us stronger. Heather McGhee's specialty is the American economy--and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising st I predict this will be considered an Important or Necessary Read of 2021. It is EXCELLENT and an easily accessible read. The Sum of Us lays out why life is not a zero-sum game, and therefore racism must be dismantled once and for all. And why America will be stronger when we work together for the Solidarity Dividend - diversity makes us stronger. Heather McGhee's specialty is the American economy--and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common root problem: racism. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out? McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Mississippi to California to Maine, tallying what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm--the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she meets white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams, and their shot at better jobs to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. This is the story of how public goods in this country--from parks and pools to functioning schools--have become private luxuries; of how unions collapsed, wages stagnated, and inequality increased; and of how this country, unique among the world's advanced economies, has thwarted universal healthcare. But in unlikely places of worship and work, McGhee finds proof of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: gains that come when people come together across race, to accomplish what we simply can't do on our own. The Sum of Us is a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here: divided and self-destructing, materially rich but spiritually starved and vastly unequal. McGhee marshals economic and sociological research to paint an irrefutable story of racism's costs, but at the heart of the book are the humble stories of people yearning to be part of a better America, including white supremacy's collateral victims: white people themselves. With startling empathy, this heartfelt message from a Black woman to a multiracial America leaves us with a new vision for a future in which we finally realize that life can be more than zero-sum. Thanks to NetGalley for the free ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    The Sum Of US by Heather McGhee is truly one of the best books I have read on racism and social justice in America. McGhee does a phenomenal job synthesizing how history, public policies, and perspectives have fallen short for all of us. The core thesis is that the Zero Sum assumption has harmed all of us and that we are in fact much stronger when we work together for policies that benefit the public. Zero Sum assumes that resources/jobs/money are limited, so if another group gets some, you will The Sum Of US by Heather McGhee is truly one of the best books I have read on racism and social justice in America. McGhee does a phenomenal job synthesizing how history, public policies, and perspectives have fallen short for all of us. The core thesis is that the Zero Sum assumption has harmed all of us and that we are in fact much stronger when we work together for policies that benefit the public. Zero Sum assumes that resources/jobs/money are limited, so if another group gets some, you will get less. This line of thinking simply is not true and acting this way, actually damages the majority of Americans by denying/voting against services that would benefit all, such as health insurance/care, voting rights/access, public infrastructure/schools, labor unions, etc. Each chapter is devoted to public services provided in all other wealthy Western countries, many that were once provided here to white citizens, that we no longer have vast access to. Some of the topics include: Public Parks/Pools, Home Ownership + Predatory Lending, Environmental Protection/Regulation, Voting Rights/Access, Labor Unions, Segregation, etc. As the country and public policy has supposedly become less racist, it has drastically cut many services that would benefit all and increase the wealth, stability, and fulfillment of the majority. Corporations have reaped the benefits of division and poor public policies, money has gone to the top, which has created ever-growing wealth inequity and disparity. McGhee posits that the solution is unifying and integrating ourselves for common purposes, which will help us find strength and community. She references multiple situations in which people have come together for a common goal and had dramatic successes. This is a remarkable book and should be read by all Americans! Thank you Random House / One World and NetGalley for providing this ARC.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lorilin

    This book. Wow. THE SUM OF US. It took me a bit to get through it, because it was so descriptive, well-researched, and, frankly, depressing. Heather McGhee covers topics like housing, segregation, labor unions, schools, and healthcare to show how white people have bought into a zero-sum mindset (the idea that if you get more than you used to get, it means I must be getting less) and have actually hurt THEMSELVES thinking this way. (Of course this mindset hurts black and brown people most.) Some ta This book. Wow. THE SUM OF US. It took me a bit to get through it, because it was so descriptive, well-researched, and, frankly, depressing. Heather McGhee covers topics like housing, segregation, labor unions, schools, and healthcare to show how white people have bought into a zero-sum mindset (the idea that if you get more than you used to get, it means I must be getting less) and have actually hurt THEMSELVES thinking this way. (Of course this mindset hurts black and brown people most.) Some takeaways from this book... First, we all belong. Second, some issues are better tackled together. Third, Americans, regardless of skin color, are a hardworking bunch. And if people are working that hard, they should be guaranteed a certain minimum standard of life. If you’re sick, you should be able to see a doctor. Your kids should be able to go to a good school. And the thing I keep coming back to...if you’re a hardworking adult, don’t you deserve to live a life you don’t have to numb yourself to? I don’t care whether it’s with opioids or crack, can’t we agree that every person deserves to feel stable and safe? Just think of the possibilities... And hey, one possible solution: what if we finally decided that businesses could be taxed like individuals. Sorry Jeff Bezos, there’s no good reason why Amazon only paid 1% in federal taxes last year... 👎🏼 Many thanks to Net Galley and One World for the ARC.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    "The Sum of Us" by Heather McGhee is a very important book that should be read by all Americans. It is one of the most powerful and insightful books I have read in a very long time. Filled with information, yet easy to read, "The Sum of Us" delves into why so many Americans believe that we live in a zero sum society-that if life improves for people of color, it can only be at the expense of white people. It also explores the hidden effects of racism on everyone, not just on people of color, when "The Sum of Us" by Heather McGhee is a very important book that should be read by all Americans. It is one of the most powerful and insightful books I have read in a very long time. Filled with information, yet easy to read, "The Sum of Us" delves into why so many Americans believe that we live in a zero sum society-that if life improves for people of color, it can only be at the expense of white people. It also explores the hidden effects of racism on everyone, not just on people of color, when racism compels white voters to vote against their own interests just to keep people of color from benefitting. This book makes it clear that by denying that racism still exists, white Americans are leaving themselves unprepared to thrive in an increasingly diverse society. This book dedicates chapters to how racism, either subtly or overtly, influences white Americans' views on the criminal justice system (particularly mass incarceration), voting rights, universal health care, the financial system (particularly the sub-prime mortgage crisis), unionization in the workplace, minimum wage standards, and education. It opened my eyes to the fact that, even though slavery in this country ceased over 150 years ago, its effects are still being felt by everyone today. And even though the tenets of Jim Crow were ended in the 1960's, their legacy of inequality continues on. Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for the incredible opportunity to read an advanced digital copy of this truly fabulous book. If everyone would read this book, there could be real change in this county; change that would benefit us all and not just the powerful white elites.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shomeret

    Author Heather McGhee wants us to know that racist policies don't benefit anyone. That's why she wrote The Sum of Us. I downloaded it from Net Galley. This book covers a variety of topics and provides historical perspective on each one. I considered it thorough and insightful. McGhee argues that when racist whites are opposed to public services, it's not because they want smaller government. It's because of their racism. They don't want blacks to benefit. McGhee concludes that the strength of the Author Heather McGhee wants us to know that racist policies don't benefit anyone. That's why she wrote The Sum of Us. I downloaded it from Net Galley. This book covers a variety of topics and provides historical perspective on each one. I considered it thorough and insightful. McGhee argues that when racist whites are opposed to public services, it's not because they want smaller government. It's because of their racism. They don't want blacks to benefit. McGhee concludes that the strength of the United States is in its diversity. If we capitalize on it, we can become the nation we were meant to be. For me, this is self-evident, but there are those for whom it is not. For my complete review see https://shomeretmasked.blogspot.com/2...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Park

    Illuminating...a must read!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    “We compute that voter racism reduced the income tax rate by 11-18 percentage points. Absent race as an issue in American politics, the fiscal policy in the USA would look quite similar to fiscal policies in Northern Europe. In the social democracies of Northern Europe, families are far more economically secure. Middle class workers there don’t have American families’ worries about their healthcare, retirement, childcare, or college for their kids. But if government tried to secure these essenti “We compute that voter racism reduced the income tax rate by 11-18 percentage points. Absent race as an issue in American politics, the fiscal policy in the USA would look quite similar to fiscal policies in Northern Europe. In the social democracies of Northern Europe, families are far more economically secure. Middle class workers there don’t have American families’ worries about their healthcare, retirement, childcare, or college for their kids. But if government tried to secure these essential public benefits for families in the United States, in the politics culture of the last two generations, it would signal a threat to the majority of white Americans. Government help is for people of color, the story goes. ‘When you cut government services,’ as Reagan strategist Lee Atwater said, ‘Blacks get hurt worse than whites.’ What’s lost in that formulation is just how much white people get hurt too.” While listening to this audio I shook my fist in the air and screamed at the injustice that is and has always been so glaringly obvious. In America, racism continues to have an all too comfortable home, protected by the very politicians sworn to protect and cherish their constituents and fellow Americans, but what they don’t say is that they only meant either the citizens that look like they do and/or those who can financially support their campaigns and their tenures. “Extreme inequality robs too many people of the means to start business, invest in their families, and invent new ideas and solutions. And then it isn’t a problem just for those families. Ultimately, having millions of people with potential on the sidelines because they have too much debt and not enough opportunity saps the vitality of the entire economy. There is a growing body of literature that shows that inequality itself impedes a country’s economic growth, even more than the factors policymakers have emphasized in the past, liberalizing trade policies, controlling inflation and reducing national debt, and America’s racial inequality is not only the most extreme manifestation of our inequality, but also the template, setting up a scaffolding of hierarchy that increasingly few people of any race can climb. The plutocrats have always known that solidarity is the answer, that the sum of us can accomplish far more than just some of us. That’s why the forces seeking to keep the economic rules exactly as they are, aim to cut off any sense of empathy white people who are struggling might develop for also-struggling people of color. Their punching down political attacks are how we know that empathy is a strength.” The entirety of our history is tainted with rhetoric that makes it seem as if the have-nots really just need to try better, when there is law after law written into being in order to fundamentally prevent change that would have (finally) benefited all of us. “To a nation riven with anxiety about who belongs, many in power have made it their overarching goal to sow distrust about the goodness of the other, they are holding on, white-knuckled, to a tiny idea of ‘We the People’, denying the beauty of what we are becoming. They’re warning that demographic changes are the unmaking of America. What I’ve seen on my journey is that they’re the fulfillment of America. What they say is a threat is in fact our country’s salvation, for when a nation founded on a belief in racial hierarchy truly rejects that belief, then and only then will we have discovered a new world. That is our destiny. To make it manifest, we must challenge ourselves to live our lives in solidarity, across color, origin, and class. We must demand changes to the rules in order to disrupt the very notion that those who have more money are worth more in our democracy and our economy. Since this country’s founding we have not allowed our diversity to be out superpower, and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts but it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper. In short, we must emerge from this crisis in our republic with a new birth of freedom rooted in the knowledge that we are so much more when the ‘we’ in ‘We the People’ is not some of us, but all of us. We are greater than and greater for the sum of us.” This is exactly the book I’d foist into the hands of anyone who has in the last several years said something like: -“immigration isn’t good for this country” -“I am a patriot” -“black-on-black crime is out of control” -“the free market is perfect, you just have to hustle/get a better job” -“not everything is about race” They can learn a thing or a hundred from McGhee’s exceptionally researched text, none of which is truthfully taught in schools, and perhaps even close the book having gained a modicum of the empathy they previously lacked.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    It was wild reading this book and following the climate catastrophe unfold in Texas. It’s almost like it was published for this exact moment. While it’s understandable that Texas wouldn’t be accustomed to a snowfall and deep freeze, it’s not understandable, at least in the abstract, that its power grid wouldn’t be able to accommodate. But I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Conservative Texas politicians immediately went on the offensive. Former Governor and energy secretary Rick Perry said It was wild reading this book and following the climate catastrophe unfold in Texas. It’s almost like it was published for this exact moment. While it’s understandable that Texas wouldn’t be accustomed to a snowfall and deep freeze, it’s not understandable, at least in the abstract, that its power grid wouldn’t be able to accommodate. But I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Conservative Texas politicians immediately went on the offensive. Former Governor and energy secretary Rick Perry said the state would freeze before it accepted government help. Governor Greg Abbott blamed the nonexistent Green New Deal. Senator Ted Cruz said all kinds of dumb stuff before hightailing it to Cancun, only to be shamed into returning home. It’s all part of the same shell game: the desire of white people to make their circumstances worse rather than have equality for all. Heather C. McGhee’s timely op-ed in last week’s New York Times immediately put her on my radar. Her argument was simple: by giving into white supremacist policies that disproportionately impact Black people and other ethnic minorities, white people inadvertently hurt themselves financially and socially. She expands on this in her book, a book that I think all white Americans should read. McGhee begins the book with a condensed version of racial history in America from pre-slavery to Jim Crow, framing the book with the understanding that radicalized policies trace back to slavery and its aftereffects. She then breaks the book down into different sections, covering such topics as voting, labor, finance, housing and others. In each piece, she uses examples that talk about how while these policies primarily hurt the non-white targets they’re designed to hurt, they still impact white people. Her argument throughout is the need for a multiracial coalition that stands against white power brokers who are breaking the world’s climate and tearing America’s social fabric. What I appreciate most about this book is that I’ve always believed that racism impacted white people but I’ve never been able to articulate it aside from a few abstract examples. McGhee’s book fills-in-the-blanks for me and for any white person who are looking to expand the scope of their knowledge of how racism works. I would say that while I highly recommend the book, it comes with some caveats: It’s written in a very academic way that reads dryly. There were times when it was tough to track McGhee’s arguments and some of the chapters could have been better developed. Nevertheless, this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive answer for every facet of systemic racism. It’s meant to be a gateway for understanding the many-tentacled way in which it works. It’s a book for this moment and I can’t recommend it enough.

  15. 4 out of 5

    André

    “Alabama: $3,910; Florida: $6,733; Georgia: $7,602; Mississippi: $5,647; Texas: $3,692—these are the paltry annual amounts that a parent in a southern state must earn less than in order to qualify for Medicaid in 2020; adults without children are usually ineligible. When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, it expanded qualification for Medicaid to 138 percent of the poverty level for all adults (about $30,000 for a family of three in 2020) and equalized eligibility rules across all states. B “Alabama: $3,910; Florida: $6,733; Georgia: $7,602; Mississippi: $5,647; Texas: $3,692—these are the paltry annual amounts that a parent in a southern state must earn less than in order to qualify for Medicaid in 2020; adults without children are usually ineligible. When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, it expanded qualification for Medicaid to 138 percent of the poverty level for all adults (about $30,000 for a family of three in 2020) and equalized eligibility rules across all states. But in 2012, a Supreme Court majority invoked states’ rights to strike down the Medicaid expansion and make it optional. Within the year, the lines were drawn in an all-too-familiar way: almost all the states of the former Confederacy refused to expand Medicaid, while most other states did. Without Medicaid expansion, people of color in those states struggle more—they are the ones most likely to be denied health benefits on the job—but white people are still the largest share of the 4.4 million working Americans who would have Medicaid if the law had been left intact. So, a states’ rights legal theory most often touted to defend segregation struck at the heart of the first Black president’s healthcare protections for working-class people of all races.” Thoughts: This book is an outstanding primer on multiracial populism! Heather McGhee lays out clearly how the plutocrats and their allies have used (false) zero-sum narratives to poison our politics, divide people who share mutual values and problems, and enforce an antidemocratic, racist policy agenda that hurts the lives and livelihoods of normal people, including most white folks. The blueprint McGhee proposes (multiracial populism!) to fight back against what she aptly names “drained pool politics” is, in my view, our only path to creating durable, long-term coalitions to transform America into the country we can and should be. If you’re interested in diving more deeply into the specific policy issues she covers in each chapter, peruse her notes, which I think double as an outstanding public policy and history reading list!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susie Dumond

    In this book, political and economic researcher Heather McGhee explores how racism is at the root of most of America’s economic, infrastructural, and other public policy problems. Her writing criticizes the paradigm that progress for some comes at the expense of others, instead arguing that racism has a cost for everyone, not just people of color. This is a truly genius book in so many ways, from how McGhee makes the political personal to how she chooses to categorize intertwining issues. But the In this book, political and economic researcher Heather McGhee explores how racism is at the root of most of America’s economic, infrastructural, and other public policy problems. Her writing criticizes the paradigm that progress for some comes at the expense of others, instead arguing that racism has a cost for everyone, not just people of color. This is a truly genius book in so many ways, from how McGhee makes the political personal to how she chooses to categorize intertwining issues. But the most stunning part of The Sum of Us is the last chapter, and how McGhee uses examples from real communities and real people to show hope for the future. This is absolutely an antiracist must-read. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Hammons

    Heather McGhee uses the touchstone of the closing of large public swimming pools in the mid 20th century, as integration was mandated, to link the many ways that racism has hurt both the minority and the majority in the U.S. She asks the question, “Why can’t we have nice things," and proceeds to demonstrates harm that has been caused throughout our country’s existence. So many “Ah-Ha” moments. McGhee makes the point that the conventional wisdom of “zero sum” politics is not the way it works, tha Heather McGhee uses the touchstone of the closing of large public swimming pools in the mid 20th century, as integration was mandated, to link the many ways that racism has hurt both the minority and the majority in the U.S. She asks the question, “Why can’t we have nice things," and proceeds to demonstrates harm that has been caused throughout our country’s existence. So many “Ah-Ha” moments. McGhee makes the point that the conventional wisdom of “zero sum” politics is not the way it works, that as we all pull together, we will be getting a Solidarity Dividend, where where all do better together. We can embrace that diversity is America’s superpower. Lots of inspiration here.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    Fascinating and important ideas are written here in a very accessible way. This is deeply researched, the author brings it down to the personal level by the great number of interviews she conducted with people across the country. This thoroughly debunks the zero-sum narrative (that one group of people suffers when another group prospers) that is so prominent in our current thinking. A must-read for 2021. My full review is here: https://readersforecast.blogspot.com/... Thanks to NetGalley and the Fascinating and important ideas are written here in a very accessible way. This is deeply researched, the author brings it down to the personal level by the great number of interviews she conducted with people across the country. This thoroughly debunks the zero-sum narrative (that one group of people suffers when another group prospers) that is so prominent in our current thinking. A must-read for 2021. My full review is here: https://readersforecast.blogspot.com/... Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Moore

    Gosh this book is so powerful. Recommend it wholeheartedly. It is so worth the read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Lavelle

    McGhee is such a fantastic writer. This book is a good re-set for our times and it is well written, engaging, and thoughtful.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    TL;DR The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee is required reading for anyone building an anti-racism reading list. McGhee, not only points out the problems and their roots, she gives us examples of people working to improve the nation towards its goal of freedom and equality for all. Highly Recommended. Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions in this review are mine and mine alone. Review: The Sum of Us Politics TL;DR The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee is required reading for anyone building an anti-racism reading list. McGhee, not only points out the problems and their roots, she gives us examples of people working to improve the nation towards its goal of freedom and equality for all. Highly Recommended. Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions in this review are mine and mine alone. Review: The Sum of Us Politics in the U.S. can be seen from a macro viewpoint as a binary choice: Republicans and Democrats. For another vast oversimplification of U.S. politics, one could view the choices as a party of growth mentality versus the party that possesses a scarcity view. As much as Americans like to think they’re making rational choices, it just isn’t true. Sadly, many political decisions form around politician’s exploiting constituent fears. (Both parties stoke the fears of voters; this is not a one sided tactic.) Politicians are excellent at exploiting the zero sum fallacy. Voters, particularly, white voters fear that advances made by people of color must come at white people’s expense. This racial resentment has a home in one party in the U.S., but even the far left, class warriors often fail to see how this holds them back. The country’s original sin of slavery continues to haunt us today, and politicians have used that sin to wedge a divide between the population. In The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee shows how this wedge has been used to great effect, even when that effect harms white people. Heather McGhee left her job as president of Demos to travel around the country to learn how the U.S. economy was bent to the already wealthy and powerful. She found that white people in the U.S. viewed the world through a zero-sum mindset whereas black people did not. Her lessons came from visiting diverse areas and studying U.S. history to see what policies, what movements, and what trends happened to get the nation to the state it’s in. To support her research, she quotes a wide variety of sources, and a good solid reading list can be made from her references. One of the most effective images in the book comes from McGhee’s look at the history of community pools, which she then shows a link from there to today’s unwillingness to fund infrastructure projects. McGhee analyses the current student debt problems, and the backlash against funding education through a history of racial terms. For example, she shows how a free college system in California, established in 1868, went to a system where tuition and fees increased eight-fold between 1978 and 2019. McGhee posits that the backlash against public funding in the 1970s was a result of the civil rights gains of the ’60s. The book also covers healthcare, voting, the labor movement, and environmental degradation. McGhee ends the book discussing the solidarity dividend, a phrase that shows how working together pays off. She does this by looking at Lewiston, Maine and the influx of immigrants there. She highlights the economic boost immigrants have brought the town even while politicians seek to prey upon the zero-sum mindset. The Sum of Us has a broad target audience, and it shows how racism holds all of us back in many ways. I think it’s a brilliant book, and I’ll need to read it again. Her arguments are solid with historical references and researched studies. McGhee’s ability to start with a present problem and trace it back to historical changes that coincide with the expansion of civil rights is compelling. While it’s stacked with references, statistics, and case studies, The Sum of Us reads more like a memoir than a position paper. Though the focus of the book wasn’t McGhee’s life, she did slip in some autobiographical paragraphs. These paragraphs help convey how personal this journey was for McGhee. In the end, I think it was a hopeful one for her. I know it gave me hope that, with a lot of work, we can change things. While reading this book I couldn’t help but think of Dying of Whiteness. Where Jonathan Metzl’s focus was that racism hurts white people (though he notes not as much as it hurts people of color), McGhee’s thesis is similar but expanded to encompass and document racism’s damage to everyone. In addition, she applies it to more than just the three areas that Metzl covered. The fact that this subject has been covered in such stark terms by both a white and a black author shows the solidarity in the research, and it shows the realization that racism is hurting everyone, though it hurts people of color much, much more. Each time a book like The Sum of Us finds larger and larger audiences, as movements like Black Lives Matter gain more awareness, this nation takes another step towards confronting the original sin of slavery. Community Pools The metaphor of the community pool appears throughout this book, and it’s an excellent way to describe how a community benefit died out due to racism. This metaphor works just as strongly when applied to public investment in shared resources. McGhee’s search in the South for pools that were shut down rather than be integrated is heartbreaking. It stands in for the larger trend in America of moving away from funding public infrastructure. McGhee notes that after World War II many government programs and policies existed that helped build the middle class. This aid, however, was exclusively available to white people. As the civil rights movement gained victories, a backlash formed that targeted the same policies whites had used to climb the social ladder. Instead of seeing opportunities for shared growth, white people sought to pull the ladder up behind them by defunding public works. That this movement to stop funding infrastructure happened to occur at the same time as the Republican Party started implementing the Southern Strategy is surely not a coincidence. This backlash against public investments hurts us all. But too many people are willing to harm themselves if it means harming others more. The Sub-Prime Lending Debacle McGhee devotes a chapter to predatory home lending. In it, she theorizes that if people had paid more attention to predatory lending practices to Black homeowners, the 2008 crisis might have been avoided or, at the least, lessened. In this chapter, she looks at the practice of redlining and changes to housing laws brought about by civil rights activists. Often, the media’s focus after the crisis was the borrower. Were the borrowers too risky? McGhee looks at whether the borrower mattered. Would the loans have failed regardless of credit worthiness? To answer this question, the author looked at the federal fair lending lawsuit against Wells Fargo to see what their practices were. Witness testimony said that the goal was to try to refinance individuals into the more expensive subprime loans. This means that customers, who were considered credit worthy enough to have a loan, were pushed into higher risk categories by the loans sold to them. McGhee claims that refinances were at the root of the problem, not new home purchases. Though there are no numbers to back up this assertion, I found the argument to be interesting and worthy of a deeper look. Regardless of whether this is true or not, the most damning evidence comes in the form of testimony from Wells Fargo employees noting that company policy was to sell higher risk products even when the customer qualified for better loans. Why does this matter? Because politicians and the media tied the risky loans to the borrowers and to people of color. This protected the large banks from being seen as the culprits. It was minorities and government that caused the problem, not predatory sales practices. One of Ann Coulter’s headlines was: THEY GAVE YOUR MORTGAGE TO A LESS QUALIFIED MINORITY. The zero sum mindset is encapsulated by that headline. You lost out because of a less qualified minority. Their gain was your loss. And it’s specified that your loss was minorities, not a less qualified borrower, a less qualified minority. Now, to be fair, headlines can be written by editors. Well, here’s what Ann had to say in her article: ‘Instead of looking at “outdated criteria,” such as the mortgage applicant’s credit history and ability to make a down payment, banks were encouraged to consider nontraditional measures of credit-worthiness, such as having a good jump shot or having a missing child named “Caylee.” In this article, Ann supports none of this with testimony from lawsuits, corporate policy documents, or anything other than the neurons firing in her brain. Notice how she lets the banks off the hook. They were ‘encouraged’ because we all know that banks do whatever anyone encourages them to do. The point being that even though the predatory tactics that were tested on people of color spilled over onto white people, the banks were made out to be the victims. That is unless you read the court transcripts and looked at corporate lending policies. People, like Ann Coulter, further drove a wedge into racial relations with articles above because they pushed the zero sum mindset. Others, like Heather McGhee work hard to undo the damage this divide causes. Class versus Racism In the The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee does the best job that I’ve seen of joining the fight against racism to the labor movement. Too often, I read thoughtful essays about the class conflicts in America, and the essay is very often bewildered that the lower classes don’t band together to improve their lot. These essays turn a blind eye to racism because that’s identity politics, not class politics. But the big mystery isn’t all that mysterious if they were to incorporate the wages of whiteness into their class calculations. The “public and psychological wage,” to quote W.E.B. DuBois, paid to white workers separates the working class. Until white workers recognize that these wages are illusory and not beneficial, the labor movement stays divided. McGhee uses a union drive inside the Canton, Mississippi Nissan plant to show how the company sought to exploit the racial divide in order to squelch the organizing drive. This chapter is the best that I’ve read about merging anti-racism activism with the labor movement. McGhee further supports this with poignant stories from the Fight for $15 movement. Each one is powerful and effective. They show that the labor movement can benefit from anti-racist activism if it rightly includes racism as a common enemy. Now, I’m sure many in the labor movement would say, of course, it’s a common enemy. But McGhee shows that assumption has cost black labor in the past. That for it to be a part of the movement, it must be explicit, not understood. Fight for $15 made inclusion a priority and didn’t let management divide the workers. This chapter should be studied by labor organizers to aid their efforts. I know I’ll need to study to figure out how I can be more inclusive with my coworkers will maintaining an explicit stance that racism is unacceptable. Conclusion Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us blew me out of the water. Using historical analysis, McGhee unearthed racist policies and positions that led to today’s problems. But she doesn’t stop with pointing out the problems. Her book shows organizers on the ground working to make a difference. We can take the lessons from here and apply them to our own lives. And maybe we can shift ourselves out of a zero-sum mindset. Maybe we can shift into a community mindset helping others is seen as helping ourselves. The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee is available from One World on February 16th, 2021. 9 out of 10!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Larry Massaro

    You can think of Heather McGhee’s excellent new book The Sum of Us as a kind of companion piece to Jonathan Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness, which came out two years ago. In different ways, they both address the considerable damage that racism and white identity politics have wreaked, boomerang-style, on white America. Metzl, a medical doctor and sociologist, focused narrowly on four “red" states, on specific conservative policy positions in those states--e.g., regarding gun control, Obamacare, and p You can think of Heather McGhee’s excellent new book The Sum of Us as a kind of companion piece to Jonathan Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness, which came out two years ago. In different ways, they both address the considerable damage that racism and white identity politics have wreaked, boomerang-style, on white America. Metzl, a medical doctor and sociologist, focused narrowly on four “red" states, on specific conservative policy positions in those states--e.g., regarding gun control, Obamacare, and public education--and on how those policies affected health outcomes among their white citizens. What he found is that lax gun regulation in Missouri, presumably justified in terms of personal self-defense, had led to dramatic increases in white male suicide rates. He similarly interviewed poor white Tennesseans dying of cancer, uninsured and untreated, who were nevertheless gratified that their state had not expanded Medicaid under the ACA. The subtitle of Dying of Whiteness tells it all: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland. McGhee’s training and background are different from Metzl’s and her scope is broader, with an emphasis on economic policy, specifically on public goods. The question The Sum of Us answers is why we Americans, unlike our counterparts in so much of the developed world, can't have nice things: think roads, bridges, schools, libraries, public health and transportation systems, livable minimum wages, generous child- and elder-care support, environmental protections, even collective bargaining rights. The U.S. can perfectly well afford first-class infrastructure, excellent universal education, a clean environment, and a safety net sufficient to substantially reduce anxiety and suffering. But we don’t have these things. “When it comes to per capita government spending, the United States is near the bottom of the list of industrialized countries, below Latvia and Estonia. Our roads, bridges, and water systems get a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers.”In the mid-1960s, the American Dream was as easy to achieve as it ever was or has been since, with good union jobs, subsidized home ownership, strong financial protections, a high minimum wage, and a high tax rate that funded American research, infrastructure, and education. But in the following decades, rapid changes to tax, labor, and trade laws meant that an economy that used to look like a football, fatter in the middle, was [now] shaped like a bow tie . . . , with a narrow middle class and bulging ends of high- and low-income households. This is the Inequality Era.Why are Americans, in McGhee’s phrase, “so singularly stingy toward ourselves”? Is it our cherished long-standing libertarian ideology? Our frontier self-reliance? Our innate rebellion against government? Guess again. That Ayn-Rand-style libertarian mythology is fairly new—as a matter of fact, just a few decades old, the product of a very successful right-wing propaganda campaign that began in the wake of the Civil Rights era. Racism—something much older, something much more of-the-soil—is the fundamental reason why Americans are so willing to do without nice things. McGhee opens her book with a perfect illustration of how, when, and why the United States retreated from public investment and determined, for all of us, to do without:The American landscape was once graced with resplendent public swimming pools, some big enough to hold thousands of swimmers at a time. In the 1920s, towns and cities tried to outdo one another by building the most elaborate pools; in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration put people to work building hundreds more. By World War II, the country’s two thousand pools were glittering symbols of a new commitment by local officials to the quality of life of their residents, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to socialize together for free. A particular social agenda undergirded these public investments. Officials envisioned the distinctly American phenomenon of the grand public resort pools as “social melting pots.” Like free public grade schools, public pools were part of an “Americanizing” project intended to overcome ethnic divisions and cohere a common identity—and it worked. A Pennsylvania county recreation director said, “Let’s build bigger, better and finer pools. That’s real democracy. Take away the sham and hypocrisy of clothes, don a swimsuit, and we’re all the same.” Of course, that vision of classlessness wasn’t expansive enough to include skin color that wasn’t, in fact, “all the same.” By the 1950s, the fight to integrate America’s prized public swimming pools would demonstrate the limits of white commitment to public goods.If you don’t see resplendent public swimming pools in your own town or community today, it’s because they’ve been paved-over, landscaped-over, built-over, or just fenced off and left to crumble. What changed was Civil Rights legislation and court decisions, along with the shuddering realization among white people and policy makers that such public amenities would have to be shared with nonwhites. America’s cities and suburbs drained their pools rather than countenance and endure the horror of inter-racial swimming. And as with the pools, so too the schools: For generations, college-going white Americans could count on public money from their governments, whether federal or state, to pay most if not all of their costs of higher education. The novel idea of flourishing public colleges—at least one in every state—took shape in the 1860s, when the U.S. government offered the states over ten million acres of land taken from Indigenous people to build on or to sell for institutions of higher education for their citizens. More free federal money for higher education came with the GI Bill, which paid tuition plus living expenses for World War II veterans and swelled college coffers: in 1947, veterans made up 50 percent of U.S. college admissions. (Racist program administration and educational segregation left Black veterans in the South largely excluded from these opportunities, however.) Public commitment to college for all was a crucial part of the white social contract for much of the twentieth century. In 1976, state governments provided six out of every ten dollars of the cost of students attending public colleges. The remainder translated into modest tuition bills—just $617 at a four-year college in 1976, and a student could receive a federal Pell Grant for as much as $1,400 against that and living expenses. Many of the country’s biggest and most respected public colleges were tuition-free, from the City University of New York to the University of California system. This massive public investment wasn’t considered charity; an individual state saw a return of three to four dollars back for every dollar it invested in public colleges. When the public meant “white,” public colleges thrived. That’s no longer the case. Students of color comprised just one in six public college students in 1980, but they now make up over four in ten. Over this period of growth among students of color, ensuring college affordability fell out of favor with lawmakers. State legislatures began to drastically cut what they spent per student on their public colleges, even as the taxable income base in the state grew. More and more Americans enrolled nonetheless, because other policy decisions in the labor market made a college degree necessary to compete for a middle-class job. By 2017, the majority of state colleges were relying on student tuition dollars for the majority of their expenses. The average public college tuition has nearly tripled since 1991, helping bring its counterpart, skyrocketing student debt, to the level of $1.5 trillion in 2020. This represents an alarming stealth privatization of America’s public colleges. Not to mention that today’s mostly privatized student debt typically compounds at way-above-market double-digit interest rates and by law cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Rather than a leg-up to the middle class, higher-education lending today is now a Wall Street giveaway, a racket, a clear exploitation of the vulnerable. Which leads me to consider the practically free fabulous university education I received in the 1970s without much realizing at the time how much of it was subsidized. Education is a public good, right? It's supposed to be funded by taxpayers, right? If you want to study, study; you shouldn't have to worry about whether or not you can afford it. And, indeed, when I was young, I didn't give the cost of college much of a thought, even though I knew that my parents weren't prepared to contribute one cent. And with a little bit of scholarship, a little bit of work-study, and a little bit of manageable debt, it all worked out, even through graduate school. Of course, behind the scenes, my state university was massively funded by the state.But after the 1960s, when so many aspects of American life were integrating or trying to integrate racially, the nation gradually shifted from an appreciation of public goods and an acceptance of taxes as a fact of life, to a worship of markets, unexamined faith in privatization, taxpayer revolts, and fiscal "discipline." Public investment, OUT; individual bootstraps, IN. The results are all around us in our appalling inequality, our crummy schools, crumbling infrastructure, great masses of people working for poverty wages and living without medical insurance, and stratospheric student debt. (Oh, and our bungled vaccination rollout.) Today in the U.S., only the wealthy have nice (private) things. Most white people now seem willing to do without, to accept the decay in our general standard of living and our slide from first-world status, satisfied that at least their (our) tax dollars aren't benefitting those "other" people.And we’re not just talking about pools and schools. Middle-class life for white Americans after World War II rested on a substructure of economic supports, including housing, job security, pensions, and health care. That substructure has largely disappeared, leaving the majority of Americans greatly exposed to market forces as brutal and rapacious as those that prevailed during the Gilded Age. McGhee’s central point is that, although our new ethos of austerity certainly keeps people of color down, the vast majority of its victims are white.So why would a majority-white electorate acquiesce to a system that impoverishes them?It’s an old story and you can probably guess the answer. The “moneyed interests,” or the “captains of industry,” or Wall Street, or however you want to characterize the super-rich, were never happy with the public largesse and the taxes that made the white American middle class possible, from the reforms of the Progressive Era to the New Deal to the Great Society. They were never happy that my Dad and uncles and nearly everyone they knew had jobs and wages and benefits protected by powerful unions. They were never happy that working-class kids were getting into universities subsidized by tax dollars. But what could they do? My dad and uncles and nearly everyone they knew voted.But the Civil Rights movement gave the super-rich a tremendous opportunity to exploit the soft racist underbelly of white mid-century prosperity. Conservative interests and the GOP deployed for national white audiences an economically nonsensical but emotionally persuasive zero-sum argument that had always worked wonders in the South. The argument goes like this: The economic pie is finite, so any non-white gains will necessarily be at your expense. Black people are coming for your jobs, your safe white-picket-fence communities, your schools, and the benefits funded by your tax dollars. The government is no longer trying to help you; it’s now helping them. It’s all a fierce competition, and those darker fellow citizens are your enemies.Thus was born the Southern Strategy, the dog whistles, the libertarian ideology, popular tax revolts, and widespread distrust of government, all to the benefit of the GOP and the tiny fraction of the U.S. population that would benefit from shrunken government. Ronald Reagan first used the “welfare queen” trope in his 1976 campaign, and 10 years later he came up with his diabolically memorable “nine most terrifying words in the English language”: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” That strategy—seemingly irradicable now in the GOP—has been devastatingly successful. Since then, popular support for public investment has nearly dissolved in the U.S. among the white middle and working classes. The cultural force that has fueled GOP victories since Reagan is division; Republicans and plutocrats win when everyone else is at each other’s throats.(By the way, back during the height of the Cold War, when the communist threat was real, if you had told the average white working-class citizen—e.g., my Dad—that Social Security, Medicare, the GI Bill, good public schools, spanking new highways, and unionization were putting us all on the slippery socialist slope to communist domination and slavery, he would have called you a nut and he would have been right. The so-called Greatest Generation—which not only fought the Second World War but also had first-hand experience of the Depression and New Deal—would have been baffled by the suggestion that we'd all be truer and freer Americans if we just privatized everything, disinvested in public goods, and shrank the government. In the 1980s, when I had a brief intellectual flirtation with Libertarianism, my Teamster Dad and my coal-miner’s-daughter Mom, correctly, saw Reaganism, and not the government, as a threat.) Heather McGhee is a former economic-policy analyst and president of Demos, a progressive think tank. During her time lobbying policy makers on projects that, given solid economic analysis, would certainly make American lives better, she ran up against a wall of politicians who had no interest in supporting programs likely to be successful; there was a whole party who owed their careers to the postulate that government doesn’t work, couldn’t work, would never work. And behind them she encountered masses of white voters who had decidedly turned against government. But she describes herself as essentially an optimistic person, and The Sum of Us is filled with portraits of white people she’s met who have crossed over, changed their thinking, ditching the zero-sum paradigm of competition between the races and embracing what she calls the “Solidarity Dividend."I wish I were as optimistic as she is.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Auntie Greed

    One of the mistakes that Karl Marx made was in predicting that the proletariats would rise up to supersede the bourgeois. The proletariats do not act as one body. Within the proletariat class, individuals make their own choices and move on their own timing. Some individuals aim to become part of the bourgeois. Some individuals have no ambitions about raising their own status or raising up their cohort. The possibilities for individuals are just so numerous and the class as a whole could never ri One of the mistakes that Karl Marx made was in predicting that the proletariats would rise up to supersede the bourgeois. The proletariats do not act as one body. Within the proletariat class, individuals make their own choices and move on their own timing. Some individuals aim to become part of the bourgeois. Some individuals have no ambitions about raising their own status or raising up their cohort. The possibilities for individuals are just so numerous and the class as a whole could never rise up to dominate the employers, land-owners and business elite. McGhee does a splendid job of describing and narrating some individual choices made by white citizens of America who continue to confound analysts. She notes that white citizens do not seem to understand the economic and social costs they are creating for themselves, hyper-exemplified by the filling in of swimming pools when communities decided to prevent Blacks from attending those community venues rather than allowing integration. McGhee has realized the limits of research and numbers in convincing people to act in their own best interests. The neo-classical economics view of rational decision making to maximize utility has been dashed against American rocks. Philosophers, writers and researchers need to pursue some other understanding of American consumer/voter’s psychology. “…questions of belonging, competition, and status {are} questions that in this country keep returning to race.” (page 9) Joe Bageant in his 2008 book Deer Hunting with Jesus and in other essays added other insights on the ways so many white citizens make purchase decisions, will campaign, rally and vote in ways that are counter-productive to their own best interests. I can highly recommend Bageant to McGhee! So very similar to Michelle Alexander’s historical prespective in The New Jim Crow, McGhee identifies that the plantation owners and employers of the 1600s antagonized the distrust between racial cultures in order to have those of European descent accept lower and lower pay, and to marginalize those of African and of Native American descent into enslavement. ”Whatever form these rationales took, colonizers shaped their racist ideologies to fit the bill. The motive was greed; cultivated hatred followed.” (p. 23) Surprisingly, she also finds a contemporary of Cassius M. Clay (1810 – 1903) to argue against the institution of slavery. While Clay is praised as an abolitionist, McGhee’s example in Hinton Rowan Helper was an outspoke racist. In 1857 Helper noted in his publications that the Northern states invested a multiple times more in public goods and community services, enhancing the life of Northern citizens. Comparing the number and character to those public goods for Southern states, Helper blamed the institution of slavery for sapping the desire to improve their communities with libraries, public schools, transportation improvements and other ventures. Since the plantation owners had free labor through enslavement, under-educated white citizens who did not participate civically, and their only markets were international, the Southern decision makers and politicians could ignore public improvement efforts. McGhee draws to a conclusion that the mindset seems to have continued into the 21st century. As a counter point, in the 1850s, Cassius M. Clay (as described by Ronald White, Jr. in the book A. Lincoln: A Biography) saw slavery as leading to a strange monopolization of valuable skills. When Clay returned from New England where he amassed his own fortune, he saw in Kentucky that the poor whites were being offered no marketable skills, the Black enslaved people were becoming the master craftsmen in all arts, and the plantation owners were ignorant of these ramifications from their dependency on slavery. Clay then marshalled his academic skills and found that the US Declaration of Independence needed to be revived and brought it’s democratic principles to the forefront in his arguments for abolition. Clay’s thinking and arguments impressed Abraham Lincoln so much that he too adopted the Declaration of Independence as the base for his arguments against spreading slavery into the territories west of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately as her thesis question, McGhee might have better pursued multiple causes and multiple answers instead of early on in her book asking for one answer, “what is the stubborn belief that needs to shift now for us to make progress against inequality?” (page 10) There is not only one stubborn belief. According to the vote count for Trump in 2020, there may be as many as 75 million stubborn beliefs to identify and rectify. She did find some value in the concept of a zero-sum game. Yes, according to the evidence presented by Michelle Alexander and by McGhee, the early plantation owners did set up a belief system that persists today. If one class of the population gains, then another class is losing to the same degree. Academically and historically and statistically we can dismiss such an absolute view of trade-offs. Yet many of those white citizens can not dismiss it so easily. Many are still of the mindset that status can be more important than financial well-being. Many of McGhee’s stories demonstrate how whites will sacrifice financially/economically in the hopes of maintaining their perceived status above the racial minorities. This zero-sum game means that if whites can not advance in some way for themselves, they must at least hold back the progress for the fuller society as a way of ensuring the racial minorities do not have greater opportunities to advance. Plus, McGhee’s evidence can be explained by a defensive nature to the actions of white individuals. More and more stubborn beliefs can be found and compound the complexity of these racial issues that McGhee uncovers throughout her book. Meanwhile, I suggest that the Plutocrats and the extravagantly rich in the United States are still framing political problems as a zero-sum game to the conservative voters and to those economically struggling white citizens. The owning class still benefits from having the racial classes in clashing culturally, morally and physically against each other. Yet, that zero-sum could be turned against the Plutocrats. Our GDP has grown by less than 6 percent per year since 1985. For the foreseeable future, the GDP can not grow at any faster pace. There will be no exponential growth in the near-term. So our economic situation is a zero-sum game. If the top 10% of households take home 50% and then 52% and then 54% of the GDP in successive years, then the bottom 90% of households must be getting lower and lower proportions year after year. Based on such a seemingly-endless fear of losing out more and more every year, then the 90% can concentrate on the singular topic of income inequality and find ways to rectify that injustice. Why is it an injustice?? According to McGhee and Michelle Alexander, the inequality in the Americas was started by plantation owners pitting racial groups against each other. Much of the racial strife we have experienced can be traced back to that zero-sum game invented by the earliest colonial Plutocrats. If we can place the racial groups on equal terms economically and remove the perceived threat for the white citizens, then possibly we can remove much of the future racial injustice. That is one facet of the injustice. Another facet of the injustice is that the richest people can only claim such high incomes when they take advantage of and even exploit the employees who actually create the values that are sold by the businesses. I have identified this as Capillary Action in Micro-Economics. When a business hires an employee, that employee must create value in order to keep the employment. Specifically, each employee must over time create more value than the dollar value of one’s paycheck. If a particular employee is creating less value than one’s paycheck, then the business is losing money on that one employee. Every business owner knows that such a scenario is financially unstainable and such employees will need to be replaced or else the employer will go out of business. When employees coordinate with each other and equipment and inputs to create more value than the business’s costs, then the employer gets to accumulate the extra value as profits to be reinvested in the business or to be pocketed by the employer, owners and investors. That kind of advantage is acceptable because in a sense employees are taking advantage of the owners and investors who are facing the financial risks involved in running a business. The exploitation comes when employees are mistreated and denied fair compensation for the value they are creating, which leads to excessive earnings for owners and investors. Society could define what is excessive and exploitative, and how it rises to the level of injustice. Eccentric incomes are also possible when customers and natural resources and financial systems are exploited. The Plutocrats usually are not being paid based on the value they create, but rather based upon their capital investments leveraging opportunities for exploitation. In light of such injustices, the moral fight can be to #RegulateGreed with an income cap on all individuals. Or we might #RegulateGreed by setting an enforceable ratio so that top earners in any company can not earn more than say 300 times that of the lowest paid employee. If the top earners want to take home more money, then they will have to raise the pay of the lowest paid employees by the same proportion. Or other ideas can surface to #RegulateGreed. These types of direct actions to combat income inequality may eliminate the references to zero-sum games as employers and employees see their combined success as tied to each individual’s success.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anya Leonard

    An interesting and in-depth precise look at how the disenfranchisement of one section of the population tends to disenfranchise us all. McGhee uses a fine tooth comb to go through various issues - voter suppression, bank lending, credit, and more and give us an idea about how though the white population may not be the target of many of these practices that cause other parts of our world strife, it causes us to all lose out on things. This is not to say we suffer as much as anyone else does, by f An interesting and in-depth precise look at how the disenfranchisement of one section of the population tends to disenfranchise us all. McGhee uses a fine tooth comb to go through various issues - voter suppression, bank lending, credit, and more and give us an idea about how though the white population may not be the target of many of these practices that cause other parts of our world strife, it causes us to all lose out on things. This is not to say we suffer as much as anyone else does, by far and wide this is not true. But this book sheds light upon the fact that inequality and inequity in our capitalist society affects us all and this is why we should be fighting against it. The Sum of Us means that we should be working for a better future for those who are being treated unequally in order to better the whole. In all, a very interesting read. This ebook was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I am a long time admirer and follower of Heather McGhee and her work at Demos. I regularly interact with Demos' work, and was not surprised by McGhee's elevated public persona over the past five or so years. She is a singular voice on inclusive democracy, and has grown to become one of our best policy-minded speakers focused on racial justice. When Demos announced that McGhee would be moving on from her role as a day-to-day executive at the organization to move into a space more aligned with her I am a long time admirer and follower of Heather McGhee and her work at Demos. I regularly interact with Demos' work, and was not surprised by McGhee's elevated public persona over the past five or so years. She is a singular voice on inclusive democracy, and has grown to become one of our best policy-minded speakers focused on racial justice. When Demos announced that McGhee would be moving on from her role as a day-to-day executive at the organization to move into a space more aligned with her new public identity, I was excited to see what she did next. The Sum of Us is among the first projects she undertook in this more ambassadorial role, expanding her own skillset beyond the erudition of economics and legal policy as a storyteller and communicator. The book is in some ways McGhee's "coming out story" as she moves on from Demos and goes on a self-described journey across America to get a better understanding of a zero-sum theory of racial progress. McGhee has gone most viral online thanks to her compassion and capacity for difficult conversations; the clip that most comes to mind is McGhee answering a question from a CSPAN viewer on how he can best combat his own racism as a white person. McGhee has been vocal about how transformative this conversation was for her and has even traveled to meet this viewer and have a deeper conversation. This book seems to be born from that interaction, with an emphasis on how we can move on from racial resentment and make progress on racial justice as a means to lifting all disadvantaged persons, regardless of color. As a result, the book is written with a particular audience in mind. The Sum of Us fits well in the modern collection of books and studies for white readers who want to learn more about the history of American racism and how to be anti-racist. These readers typically have a more shallow understanding of the subject matter, and McGhee does a good job of providing a primer on bigger issues that intersect with racial justice, with each chapter essentially focusing on a policy area (environmental justice, healthcare, housing, labor, etc.) and pointing to a potential reading list for an audience that may want to delve deeper into each topic. I was not surprised to see Robin DiAngelo come up a number of times. DiAngelo's book, White Fragility, has become incredibly popular in the past year with white audiences, and I imagine that the publisher is hopeful to replicate that books success (as well as books from other authors like Michelle Alexander, Ibram Kendi, and Richard Rothstein, also name checked in The Sum of Us). Central to McGhee's argument is that racial justice is good for all of us, and that we should abandon an American zero-sum theory of prosperity and embrace what she terms the solidarity dividend, wherein communities come together to advance similar priorities. Her arguments are compelling -- so often throughout history white Americans have cut off their noses to spite their faces. I found this most compelling in McGhee's discussion of labor union politics. Throughout the book she effectively uses opinion polling to explain how white Americans once approved of certain policies that eventually went out of favor as Black Americans were granted access to goods and services under the law. In regards to labor unions, McGhee found that public approval of unions were highest in 1959 but trended downward starting in the 60s during the civil rights era when big unions, like the United Auto Workers (UAW), began advocating for civil rights and supporting like-minded Democratic Party candidates. All of this in spite of the serious gains that labor unions were able to achieve for Black AND white workers, alike. What has occurred in the intervening 60 years has been an erosion of labor rights by conservative actors at the expense of wages and protections for all workers. It underscores her thesis in compelling fashion. In general, I found McGhee to be most comfortable and confident a writer in sections where she is using data, economics, and legal theory to support her thesis. This is unsurprising considering her background in the think tank world. As she shifts into this new role as a thought leader and communicator, putting on the hat of American sojourner and seeking truth from real Americans about the way policy affects them to the most, I found her to be mostly able but in select cases less convincing of her central argument. Taking a more ethnographic approach in some parts provides a policy at play perspective that is helpful, but sometimes seems as though McGhee can't find the data she needs to support her thesis so she relies on anecdotes that make her point but may be less universal.. While I share McGhee's belief in the policy prescriptions needed and the sentiment behind their incorporation (particularly moving are stories of privileged middle class parents putting their kids "Global Majority" schools - ie Black and brown, minority white schools), these anecdotes don't serve or substantiate her argument alone. This doesn't invalidate her thesis, but provides room for bad faith critics to poke holes in an overwhelmingly well reasoned book.. As I finished the Sum of Us I was heartened by McGhee's optimism that we can advance a truth, racial healing, and transformation movement in America. We must reconcile our past and reimagine what it is to be American. In many ways we have never lived up to ideal of our democracy, but we can get there by seeing the humanity in one another and working together as a community. I look forward to seeing how others engage with this book and am excited to see what McGhee does next! Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence Grandpre

    A good attempt to point out some of the ways the seemingly race-neutral logic of austerity has deeply racialized undertones. Some of the arguments around white folks assuming they are hurting black people but really are hurting themselves as well are compelling, especially the "spillover effects" of environmental racism hurting white communities' health. The text however is hindered by a lack of cohesion in its analysis and some glaring omissions. While austerity is critiqued, the text blames th A good attempt to point out some of the ways the seemingly race-neutral logic of austerity has deeply racialized undertones. Some of the arguments around white folks assuming they are hurting black people but really are hurting themselves as well are compelling, especially the "spillover effects" of environmental racism hurting white communities' health. The text however is hindered by a lack of cohesion in its analysis and some glaring omissions. While austerity is critiqued, the text blames this solely on GOP race-baiting, ignoring the violent austerity of 3rd way Clinton-ism. Besides a light critique of Bloomberg the text seems to fit neatly within a Blue team good, Red team bad manachian thought system which simply does not map onto the reality of how racialized austerity has functioned at a local level, with Democratic mayors being a critical agent of racialzied austerity. The budding school of Afropessmism has been arguing for nearly 15 years much of what the author seems to have just discovered around the psychic wages of whiteness creating a libidinal anti-blackness that impacts public policy, yet none of those authors are cited. Other scholars who have done work on this issue, such as David Theo Goldberg and Randolph Hohle, are not cited, leading the author to adopt positions that a brief reference to their work would help them realize her arguments at times contradict themselves. she notes that integration was an economic boom for the south ignores Derreck Bells' analysis that this shows that Whites only grant concessions when it is in their economic self-interest and Hohle's analysis that the cost for this integration was the neoliberal austerity and policing the author critiques. The author seems to believe that if we only educated folks politics would change and has no analysis of political power. There is not a critique of finance capital besides noting their role in the mortgage crisis and campaign donations, a fact which leads her to adopt a dangerous YIMBY ("yes in my backyard")argument around rezoning being key to racial equity when it is well known some of the biggest advocates for residential rezoning are large real estate corporations looking to build more dense condos and apartment buildings on residential areas, a move know to create gentrification. The author's championing of multiracial coalitions ignores the logical argument that, if all redistributive policies trigger anti-black resentment, that a logical alternative strategy is to build black political power to protect the community from this pattern of backlash. Black power and Black organizing are not mentioned in the book except to tacitly be critiqued as "triggering the 0 sum response of white people", making the text about anti black resentment a subtle critique of independent black political organizing when it so easily could have been a full throated defense of building independent Black political power. After all, Robbert Bullard's analysis of environmental racism showed it was the lack the political power to fight the power plants and incinerators which led them to be placed in Black communities. This text shows all the reasons why white people won't be convinced by the argument "this is gonna hurt you", but then says "educating them is your only hope" and tried to double down on a tactic the entire book says has not worked. To her credit the author owns up to her emotional commitment to having hope in a multiracial America, basically saying the thought of this not being true is too painful to bear. Painful or not, I believe we must look unflinchingly at the reality of this situation and respond accordingly by building the power we need so that our lives are not subject to whether or not white people realize their humanity is tied up in mine, a realization this text flirts with but ultimately can not come to embrace. Just because that realization is painful doesn't make it untrue.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    “The zero-sum story of the racial hierarchy was born along with the country, but it is an invention of the worst elements of our society, people who gained power through ruthless exploitation and kept it by sowing constant division. It has always optimally benefited only the few while limiting the potential of the rest of us, and therefore the whole.” In this book, Heather McGhee argues that racism has long been based on the assumption of a zero-sum game: that when BIPOC people are given more (eq “The zero-sum story of the racial hierarchy was born along with the country, but it is an invention of the worst elements of our society, people who gained power through ruthless exploitation and kept it by sowing constant division. It has always optimally benefited only the few while limiting the potential of the rest of us, and therefore the whole.” In this book, Heather McGhee argues that racism has long been based on the assumption of a zero-sum game: that when BIPOC people are given more (equal) rights, that must mean less for the white people who have long held all the power. Think of the arguments you've heard against affirmative action, or the fear of that a might home "losing property value" if a Black or Mexican family moves into the neighborhood: somehow we've bought into the idea that *more* for someone else means *less* for us. But what if more for others also means more for us? What if we actually do benefit from diversity? What if we are greater together? I heard about this book when the author was interviewed on NPR. McGhee bases much of her book around the story of a public pool that, when forced to integrate, chose instead to fill the pool, thus negating the benefits of the place for all races. Things were "equal" but, because of racism, they were equal only in that they were worse for everyone. When we can move past racism, things get better for all of us in a myriad of ways. I was riveted by the research McGhee had done about predatory lending practices, which first targeted racial minorities and then brought about the economic collapse in 2008 that affected us all. I was absorbed in the chapter about environmental concerns; no longer can we pretend that building a polluting factory in Black neighborhoods doesn't affect white people; we all "live under the same sky." And we continually segregate our schools by seeking out "good neighborhoods" that price out many BIPOC families due to years of racist housing laws, but don't we want all schools to be "good schools?" This book was so enlightening and well-researched. It touched on so many areas of policy ensnared by racist policies of the past. And while it feels impossible to disentangle ourselves from the systemic racism that is all around us, this book still felt so optimistic, with its hopeful premise that we are not each others' enemies. This book is newly published (as of this writing in March 2021) and thus highly relevant; it included the George Floyd murder and the Christian Cooper/Amy Cooper incident of last summer. I kind of wished that I'd read it on Kindle so I could have marked it up -- but it was also so, so good on audio (read by the author!), and I made it through the book much more quickly because I listened to it. This will be one of my top books of 2021. Quotes: “It’s hard for me to stand here as a descendant of enslaved people and say that the zero sum wasn’t true, that the emiseration of people of color did not benefit white people. But I have to remind myself that it was true only in the sense that it is what happened. It didn’t have to happen that way. It would have been better for the sum of us if we’d had a different model.” “I began to think of all that a newfound solidarity could yield for our country, so young, so full of promise and power. Starting with healthcare and public college, I began to see the solidarity dividends waiting to be unlocked if more people would stop buying the old zero-sum story that elites use to keep us from investing in one another.” "Perhaps it makes sense that if you spent a lifetime of seeing yourself as the winner of a zero-sum contest for status that you would have learned along the way to accept inequality as normal, that you'd come to attribute society's wins and losses solely to the players skill and merit. You might also learn that if there are problems, you and yours are likely to be spared the cost. The thing is, that's just not the case with the environment and climate change. We live under the same sky." "Instead of being blind to race, colorblindness makes people blind to racism, unwilling to acknowledge where its effects have shaped opportunity, or to use race-conscious solutions to address it."

  28. 5 out of 5

    Val

    An absolute 5-star gem on the topic of how racism and discrimination have hurt the discriminators. There are a lot of books that identify forms of systemic racism that have plagued the United States since its inception, but this book offers something unique and fresh - a focus on the costs of racism to us all - economically, socially, and in overall quality of life and health. The book’s central theme is the “zero sum game” that white Americans have played throughout the nation’s history, even a An absolute 5-star gem on the topic of how racism and discrimination have hurt the discriminators. There are a lot of books that identify forms of systemic racism that have plagued the United States since its inception, but this book offers something unique and fresh - a focus on the costs of racism to us all - economically, socially, and in overall quality of life and health. The book’s central theme is the “zero sum game” that white Americans have played throughout the nation’s history, even at their own expense, to have racial groups below them in the social, political, and economic hierarchy. Put another way, the “zero sum game” is simply an all-or-nothing approach in which white people have chosen at their own expense that they would rather not have something good if they have to share it with people of color. The chapter in this book about public swimming pools is perhaps the most clear explanation of the “zero sum game” and how it resulted in whites denying themselves of the very pools they paid for with taxes once the law said they had to share the community pools with other races, particularly black residents. What were once beautiful oases for summer fun in the sweltering heat soon closed, with white people preferring not to have a community pool at all rather than swim in an integrated pool. You might read this and think it an anomaly or a rare occurrence, but the author provides in each chapter something else that white America could have better or more of, but chose to go without rather than extend the benefits and opportunities to other races. Cleaner air and water in all city neighborhoods, more jobs paying above a poverty wage, affordable housing that promotes diversity, well-funded schools with qualified and motivated teachers, fair laws that encourage rather than discourage voting and other forms of participation in civic affairs, access to health care, and many more facets of American life that would all be far better today if white Americans had been willing to view all races as of equal worth and not reserved advantages and opportunities in these areas to themselves. The author effectively demonstrates what America’s economy could be today but for the heavy toll racism has taken on all of us. My two favorite chapters were Draining the Pool and Never Real Democracy. This book tackles tough questions - why don’t more black families own their own homes? Why is pollution worse in majority black areas in major American cities? (After all, if white civic governments allow polluting industries to surround black neighborhoods, doesn’t it pollute everyone’s air, white or black?). Why do black Americans have less access to healthcare and what is the cost to families and communities? Why do black families have less accumulated wealth to pass on to their descendants than white families? Perhaps the most thought-provoking question is which racial group in America is actually the most segregated? After you read in this book about the extraordinary lengths white America has gone to deny other races the fundamental things all people want, you will find the answer. If the adage is true that you cannot rise by holding others down, then white America can look in the mirror for the answer as to why America is not as strong and prosperous and inspiring to the world as it should be. The author presents a terrific discussion about the costs of systemic racism to white America. That is the incalculable value of this book, an appeal to white America’s sense of self-preservation, that the “zero sum game” hurts themselves as much or more than any other race. I found this to be one of the top 5 books I’ve ever read on racism and inequality, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know the costs of racism to us ALL, and to do something about it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Douglas

    "Put simply, we need each other. Our differences have the potential to make us stronger, smarter, more creative, and fairer." (from the book) The metaphor the author Heather McGhee returned to over and over again throughout the book is that of draining the public pool. Back in the mid-20th century, big resort style swimming pools ubiquitous in the US and open to the public and seen as a community and cultural centerpiece. When people with different skin colors (read: Black Americans) wanted to al "Put simply, we need each other. Our differences have the potential to make us stronger, smarter, more creative, and fairer." (from the book) The metaphor the author Heather McGhee returned to over and over again throughout the book is that of draining the public pool. Back in the mid-20th century, big resort style swimming pools ubiquitous in the US and open to the public and seen as a community and cultural centerpiece. When people with different skin colors (read: Black Americans) wanted to also use the public swimming pools, they had to withstand verbal and physical abuse and sometimes had to fight legal battles in order to even use the pools. When legally required to share the pool with people of all skin colors, the public majority often decided that they would rather fill the swimming pools with cement instead. So often throughout history, Americans (read: white Americans) have opted to drain the pool of resources rather than open them for everyone to share. The author, emphasizes that this is the "zero sum game". Instead of ensuring benefits for some in order to bring equality and equity , those already enjoying unequal benefits would rather have no benefits for anyone. Take their basketball from the pool and go home. Beyond swimming pools, she provides example after example of this throughout our not too distant history, from health insurance and housing, to voting, education, and environmental justice... The cost is not just incurred by people of color — white folks, especially those not in the top percentiles of wealth holders, bear the brunt of many of these “pool drainings" as well. McGhee demonstrates how a “Solidarity Dividend" is the key for re-filling the pool. She shares inspiring examples where people across racial lines are working together to make their neighborhoods, communities, and country a better place for *everyone*. "It is the mental friction that creates diversity's productive energy. Members of a homogenous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another, that they will understand one another's perspectives and beliefs, that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective; they assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and downside of social diversity. People work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They may not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes." When so much of what we learn in our history books is white and male by default we must make more space for Black History, Women's History, Asian-American History, Latinx History, and the History of Americans with Disabilities, etc — even when that history is hard to hear if you're a white male, or better said, especially when it is hard to hear! "Who is an American? And what are we to each other?" Heather McGhee repeats these two questions multiple times in the last pages of her book. I think it is worth asking ourselves these questions and thinking deeply and honestly about our responses.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Crider

    Heather McGhee has written a brilliant book. McGhee demonstrates that American racism takes the form of narratives of zero sum games. If Black people gain along some metric of well-being, then whites must be losing. Thus welfare programs, health care, and even more basic public goods provision are racialized and lose support from whites. And it is white opinion that craters public investment; she shows sharp racial disparities in public opinion on policy questions. McGhee shows that the zero sum Heather McGhee has written a brilliant book. McGhee demonstrates that American racism takes the form of narratives of zero sum games. If Black people gain along some metric of well-being, then whites must be losing. Thus welfare programs, health care, and even more basic public goods provision are racialized and lose support from whites. And it is white opinion that craters public investment; she shows sharp racial disparities in public opinion on policy questions. McGhee shows that the zero sum narratives drive negative sum policy. The failure to invest in public goods and welfare hurts not just Blacks and people of color but often a majority of whites as well. Even if whites benefit from anti-Black (and other forms of) racism relative to Blacks, the majority of whites do not benefit in absolute terms because the public investments necessary for a dynamic economy are short-changed. McGhee extends her thesis to some counter-intuitive areas. McGhee argues, for example, that the subprime mortgage crisis was facilitated by early testing of subprime mortgages on people of color before they were extended to the broader population. Because narratives of Black financial perfidy and irresponsibility were waiting in the wings of the public imagination, the "canary in the coal mine" was ignored and the crisis exploded, to global consequences. Likewise climate change, which can't be racialized in obvious ways, nevertheless benefits from zero-sum racial narratives. Because privileged white men benefit from the socioeconomic status quo, McGhee argues (with backup sources) that they are primed to defend that status quo with "identity protection" mechanisms that normalize their advantage. An example of this is the appeal to neutral sounding ideas like "the economy" for opposing action against climate change, even though a warming planet and its attendant chaos will drastically impact "the economy" understood as the sum of production and exchanges of goods and services. McGhee's argument gives the lie to the popular talking point among its opponents that identity politics must be centrifugal, tending to drive us apart as citizens. Instead, McGhee presents inspiring examples of a "solidarity dividend" where people resisted racist narratives and benefited from racial integration. Multiracial solidarity—identity politics by another name—is centripetal, and the solidarity dividend is fully general, as it must be if we think human beings are better equipped for productive social life if the capabilities of each of us are fully developed and fully integrated into society. Indeed, when we think in the long term, it seems obvious that even the most advantaged class of white men stand to benefit from racial integration and racial solidarity, because there is no logical stopping point to the scorched earth nature of zero-sum racial narratives. There's no better example of this destructive capacity than the (re)turn to overt antidemocratic white nationalism and the willingness of the Republican party to betray basic democratic institutions like free elections and the peaceful transfer of power.

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