I knew of Heather McGhee’s work at the think tank Demos, so I expected her first book to be a work of insightful analysis on social history and economic policy. In that regard, the book does not disappoint. However, I was unprepared for just how beautifully written and engaging The Sum of Us would prove to be. This is a clarifying and perspective-shifting book that will change lives; it stands in dialogue with Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. No question, this is one of the best and most important books of the year. Recommended By Keith M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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 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.
"If everyone in America read this book, we'd be not only a more just country, but a more powerful, successful, and loving one.... A vital, urgent, stirring, beautifully written book that offers a compassionate road map out of our present troubled moment." George Saunders, #1 New York Times bestselling and Booker Prize-winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo
"In this critical moment where we have fallen so far apart, The Sum of Us is a book we all need. For close to a decade, the BlackLivesMatter movement has been doing the work to change how racism, and America's willful amnesia surrounding it, devastatingly impacts the lives of Black people in America and around the world. This book provides an important and necessary piece of the equation — not just how racism hurts Black people and people of color, but white people too. The Sum of Us is a must read for everyone who wants to understand how we got here, but more importantly, where we can go from here — and how we get there, together." Alicia Garza, author of The Purpose of Power and co-founder of Black Lives Matter
"The Sum of Us is a powerhouse of a book about the deep, enduring, cross-cultural, multi-generational, and real-life cost of racist policy-making in the United States. With intelligence and care (as well as with a trove of sometimes heart-breaking and sometimes heart-opening true stories) Heather McGhee shows us what racism has cost all of us, as a society. And that cost has been brutally high, across the board. This is a book for every American, and I am grateful for McGhee's research, her humanity, and her never-more-important teachings." Elizabeth Gilbert, #1 New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Heather McGhee is an expert in economic and social policy. The former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos, McGhee has drafted legislation, testified before Congress and contributed regularly to news shows including NBC's Meet the Press. She now chairs the board of Color of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization. McGhee holds a BA in American studies from Yale University and a JD from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.