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 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.
LONGLISTED FOR THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Racism not only robs people of their dignity; it takes money out of everyone’s pockets. Economist Heather McGhee’s fascinating book tallies racism’s costs, and her findings are rattling. White people can, often unconsciously, be so resistant to the idea of improving the lives of people of color that they’ll even oppose changes that they themselves would benefit from. McGhee makes abstract economic concepts feel real and personal—from the closing of public pools in the 1960s because communities didn’t want to integrate them to the vociferous opposition to the Affordable Care Act today. Her dollars-and-cents approach paints a stark picture of how unfair systems affect everyone, like how discriminatory housing and lending practices in majority-Black neighborhoods also reduce real-estate values, emergency services, and the quality of public schools in surrounding areas. We appreciated how The Sum of Us closes on a note of hope, as McGhee persuasively lays out how demographic changes can help bring us together to create a better country for everyone.
Political commentator McGhee argues in her astute and persuasive debut that income inequality and the decline of the middle and working classes in America are a direct result of the country's long history of racial injustice. Many white Americans, McGhee claims, center their political beliefs and actions—often to their own detriment—on the false premise that social and economic gains for one race result in losses for another. She traces the history of race relations in America from slavery through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the dawn of neoliberalism, documenting instances in which racism against Black Americans has diminished everyone's quality of life and forestalled social progress, including the mass closure of public swimming pools in the 1950s and '60s to avoid integration, and the American Medical Association's "racist red-baiting campaign" to undermine President Truman's efforts to pass universal health-care legislation. McGhee holds up a recent economic turnaround in Lewiston, Maine, as an example of how communities can thrive thanks to immigrants and people of color, driving home the point that racial inclusivity benefits all Americans. McGhee marshals a wealth of information into a cohesive narrative that ends on a hopeful note. This sharp, thorough, and engrossing report casts America's racial divide in a new light.
Excellent, thought-provoking book. Would recommend to literally everyone. While reading, I had to hold myself back from highlighting the entire book.
Divided We Fall
This book presents a new perspective and set of talking points for an age old argument. How can we lift all boats without sinking some? The existential question is, do you even recognize all boats as being equal? If not, you’re more likely to see everything as a zero sum game. Something that this book shows is a mostly Caucasian American image of race relations but something that is now becoming endemic of crony capitalism in itself.
Heather McGhee paints a painfully accurate and detailed accounting of how we got to the zero sum mentality. McGhee’s breakdown of the narratives that cost all of us so much prosperity had me searching for the exits. It was hard to see a glimmer of hope when centuries of bedrock racism has smothered every hope of progress. It’s in this moment when is when the real value in this book is seen. Wherein McGhee offers examples of prevailing outcomes that are using a new set of tools to break through the racist solidarity that keeps the zero sum game going.
McGhee introduces near the end a new concept of the “Solidarity Dividend.” Payoffs that will truly lift all boats but only if we can come together to solve our education, healthcare, environmental, and other issues. The onus is on progressives to reconstruct a consistent and broadly appealing message that sets facts straight and shows how working together benefits the human interests of all parties. McGhee also provides a framework and examples for executing this paradigm shift. A challenging but inspiring read.
A must read
A fantastic mix of historical knowledge, data-based insights, and storytelling that effectively summarizes the origin and current state of race relations in the US.