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

by Heather McGhee

Hardcover, 2021

Call number

305.8 MCG



One World (2021), 448 pages


Politics. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML:NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER �?� LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD �?� 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. WINNER OF THE PORCHLIGHT BUSINESS BOOK AWARD �?� ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Time, The Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ms. magazine, BookRiot, Library Journal �??This is the book I�??ve been waiting for.�?��??Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist Look for the author�??s new podcast, The Sum of Us, based on this book! Heather McGhee�??s specialty is the American economy�??and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis of 2008 to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a root problem: racism in our politics and policymaking. 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: the benefits we gain when people come together across race to accomplish what we simply can�??t do on our own. The Sum of Us is not only a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here but also a heartfelt message, delivered with startling empathy, from a black woman to a multiracial America. It leaves us with a new vision for a future in which we finally realize that life can be more than a zero-sum game.… (more)

Media reviews
I am amazed with your storytelling, great job! If you allow, may I share your book to facebook in order to reach more readers? And by the way, NovelStar is currently conducting a writing competition - You have a great potential.

User reviews

LibraryThing member rivkat
Similar ground to Dying of Whiteness—ways in which racism divides whites from people of color, especially Black people, and thus leads to worse outcomes for everyone. The public pools that were closed around the country to avoid integration, denying everyone but people who could afford private
Show More
pools the ability to swim so that they wouldn’t be swimming together, are both metaphor and very concrete example of this general worsening. With pools, “[a] once-public resource became a luxury amenity, and entire communities lost out on the benefits of public life and civic engagement once understood to be the key to making American democracy real. Today, we don’t even notice the absence of the grand resort pools in our communities ….” Appeals to white racism allowed Republicans to switch from high marginal taxes and investment in the middle class to low taxes and disinvestment. In 1980, five out of six students at public colleges were white; now it’s under six in ten; and it is no accident that public funding for higher education was gutted during this transition, and student debt skyrocketed—including for the whites who are still the majority of those borrowers (though they carry lower debt loads). McGhee wrote before the most recent round of voter suppression measures, but those too will disenfranchise a lot of white people in order to disproportionately harm Black voters. And pollution in minority communities hurts and kills those communities, but also contaminates nearby white communities: more segregation means worse air quality in a city, even controlling for poverty.

Thus, McGhee argues, progressive politics should focus on rejecting the zero-sum framing which is right now the automatic way in which many whites perceive progressive policies, even ones presented in race-neutral terms. For example, she emphasizes the benefits of diversity, not for white people but for decisionmaking, citing research suggesting that groups with less demographic similarity produce better solutions and do better at discovering the different information held by different members. It’s more cognitive effort, which means it’s less comfortable even without racism, but it works better.
Show Less
LibraryThing member rocketjk
this is an excellent and thought-provoking book. It is often depressing, as you would expect, although McGhee also presents reasons for hope.

McGhee runs down the racist, anti-Black roots of many of the major societal problems in America today, examining at the same time the ways in which these
Show More
policies have also greatly harmed whites along the way. Her thesis, as per the title, is that working and middle class whites have been sold a "Zero Sum" philosophy: if Blacks "win," whites, by definition, "lose." So, for one easy example, welfare programs that would help many more whites than Blacks must be bad nevertheless, because Blacks are "takers" who don't deserve taxpayer help. Never mind the number of poor whites who would be lifted as well.

McGhee uses as her operating metaphor (as per the book's cover art) the history of public swimming pools. During the middle part of the 20th century, communities across the country, including across the South, had built public swimming pools. They were symbols in many cases of civic pride, gathering places for often thousands of people. However, when the law mandated that these pools be integrated, community after community closed the facilities, often filling the pools in and covering them over, rather than comply with that new law. So not only were Blacks kept out, but tens of thousands of white people lost their public swimming pools as well.

The book examines the housing/mortgage crisis, environmental racism, redlining, voting rights, disengenuous "color blindness" and several more issues, which all come under McGhee's microscope to convincing effect. There is also a chapter on the psychic toll that racism takes on whites called "The Hidden Wound," the title taken from Wendell Berry's 1968 book of the same name.

The book's final chapter, though, is titled "The Solidarity Dividend," and outlines several successful grass roots, cross-ethnic efforts currently underway at the grass roots level both in individual communities and across the country. McGhee spent a lot of time crossing the country and investigating her thesis and she has a career's worth of experience in policy advocating and organizing to draw on, as well.

Finally, the book is clearly and engagingly written, and does not come across as a polemic. McGhee seems to me to be writing out of sorrow and, often, frustration, but also out of love and hope for the future. She lays out the problems and conditions of our times exceedingly well, and suggests what could be a doable roadmap for the future.
Show Less
LibraryThing member spinsterrevival
Well this just needs to be part of the American school curriculum. It covered so much about this country’s racist past and present that I didn’t know about. I’m going to be coming back to this often and utilizing the information to reflect and engage more with the political system that needs
Show More
to change.
Show Less
LibraryThing member LibroLindsay
I admit I was biased as I came into this with an appreciation for Heather McGhee's POV from listening to interviews with her. In the antiracist literature cannon, I like this contribution because she seems to devote similar space to discussing specific U.S. economic and labor policies as social
Show More
policy. Perhaps because of this focus, I do think her arguments have a tendency to fall along party lines, with harsher criticism being directed toward the easy target of Republicans and quite softer criticism being directed toward white Dems, whose racism is just as pernicious, if sometimes expressed differently.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Natalie_Coe
This phenomenal book is a tremendous resource that I wish everyone in the United States would read. It is well researched and accessible. It is eye-opening and inspirational. It shines a bright light on systemic racism yet provides a cast of hope for how life in America can change and highlights
Show More
those that have been leaders, both quiet and vocal. The intimate stories and abhorring facts make this a reading experience that may best be done in a group so that the information you take in can be put into specific action steps in response and not leave you in a state of overwhelm.
Show Less
LibraryThing member gpangel
The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee is a 2021 One World publication.

This is one of those books I read everyone would read. Sadly, though, it will probably only land in front of those who are the most receptive to hearing this message. That said, even if you have already had an idea, even without
Show More
reading this book, the toll of racism in our society, I urge you to read this book. It is packed with example after example, with proof and research to back it up, how racism affects everyone.

McGhee began this journey after overhearing a conversation which propelled her to research racism in the world of finance. Her findings expose raw truths, but sadly, I wasn’t surprised by her findings.

The study on hospital closures is one I can personally attest to.
It puts everyone at risk- no matter what your income, social status, or race might be. In fact, the number of hospital closures in my state is at a crisis point and is a real issue in my neck of the woods.

People who allow racism to cloud their thinking tend to back policies that work against their own best interest, apparently unable to see how they are shooting themselves in the foot. We are talking about basic, reasonable things like education, safe work environments, health care, good neighborhoods and home ownership.

But the author doesn’t just expose the problems- she also offers solutions and hope. Instead of what helps you, hurts me- it is more like what helps you, also helps me- we all benefit from the right policies.

Though the task ahead looks and feels overwhelming, and the author doesn’t sugarcoat that in the slightest, the reader is nevertheless inspired to continue fighting the good fight.

Overall, though it may sound redundant, this is a book I wish everyone would read with an open, receptive frame of mind. Although the presentation can occasionally be a wee bit dry- the book is easy to read and digest, is well organized and researched, and is important, informative, and makes a whole lot of sense.

4+ stars

*Note: The text takes up only a little over half of the digital book- with the other half dedicated to notes-so just FYI- the book isn’t as long as it appears.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Elizabeth80
For me: A seminal book. Growing up in a racist household in far west Texas, a few miles from El Paso, my family's language and behavior instructed me to ignore the Latinos who were my classmates. My mother refused admittance to our apartment for my friend that had come home with me to play after a
Show More
day in first grade. From second grade through eighth grade I was one of the three white girls who spent seven years together as classmates; they were not friends. My friends were two or three Latino girls with whom I could talk, but never invite home. Working in a large urban school district led me to teaching in a newly 'desegregated' environment. A challenge, to say the least. And, I did it for 40 years. McGhee covers it all. Bravas to her and her family. Wisdom!!!
Show Less
LibraryThing member steve02476
There was a lot of good stuff in the book, but, there was also a lot that was problematic for me.

Not the author’s fault, but I was disappointed after reading the book (on Kindle) to discover that there were extensive end notes that aren’t linked to from the main text, so I never had the
Show More
opportunity to look at the sources for the author’s assertions as I was reading them. I’ve read plenty of other Kindle books with linked footnotes so I know this is perfectly doable. The publisher should be ashamed for treating the author and readers so disrespectfully.
Show Less


0525509569 / 9780525509561
Page: 0.9122 seconds