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

4.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,540 ratings  ·  341 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published February 16th 2021 by One World
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Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley, nonfiction
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
Feb 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
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 ...more

’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
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
Michael Perkins
Feb 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
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.
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 ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
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 ...more
Bruce Katz
An extraordinary work, as I expected. I can think of no one I'd rather meet than Ms McGhee. (It's not impossible: Apparently her mother doesn't live very far away from me... OK, a guy can dream, right?) She's extremely smart and has a gift for presenting information in an accessible and ingratiating way. I would have really enjoyed an opportunity to ask her questions about some of what she says.

Her argument is a compelling one. And original in its approach. In "The Sum of Us," Ms McGhee demonst
Feb 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, business, arc
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
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs, netgalley
"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 ...more
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Natalie Park
Mar 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
Illuminating...a must read!
Mar 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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 ...more
Feb 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: race, politics, finance
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
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
“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 ...more
Apr 19, 2021 is currently reading it
I find i am highlighting passages on every page! The metaphor on p. 31 of “the room where it happens” is powerful: 3 white men, power brokers in government, business and labor, agreeing to a New Deal social contract that invested in our social infrastructure for 3 decades... until women and people of color started clambering at the door for a seat at the table, and instead of making room, they ripped up the contract and left the room, leaving workers to fend for themselves and bringing on a new ...more
Susie Dumond
Feb 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 17, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Disclaimer: I skipped some chapters.)

This author dives into plenty in this lengthy dissertation but leaves a gaping, underlining real question of "why?" that beckons of the need for a deeper exploration into the Republican perspective.

Presenting her research as a singular case to prove her viewpoints, I had more questions go unanswered than answered. I appreciated the valid points she made and all that I learned. Much of what she presents speaks volumes. I'm just not sure if the author realize
Laurie Hammons
Mar 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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:

Thanks to NetGalley and the
Sarah Moore
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Gosh this book is so powerful. Recommend it wholeheartedly. It is so worth the read.
Katherine Lavelle
Mar 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
McGhee is such a fantastic writer. This book is a good re-set for our times and it is well written, engaging, and thoughtful.
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021-reviews

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

Larry Massaro
Mar 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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

Auntie Greed
Mar 04, 2021 is currently reading it
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 ...more
Anya Leonard
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
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
Lawrence Grandpre
Feb 25, 2021 rated it liked it
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
Mar 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
“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
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“The United States of America has had the world’s largest economy for most of our history, with enough money to feed and educate all our children, build world-leading infrastructure, and generally ensure a high standard of living for everyone. But we don’t. 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. With the exception of about forty years from the New Deal to the 1970s, the United States has had a weaker commitment to public goods, and to the public good, than every country that possesses anywhere near our wealth.” 2 likes
“Instead of being blind to race, color blindness makes people blind to racism, unwilling to acknowledge where its effects have shaped opportunity or to use race-conscious solutions to address it.” 2 likes
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