#LiberationLibrary EP 08: The Sum of Us

Title: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, 2021

Author: Heather McGhee, J.D.

Reviewer: Shaun Brooks, DMin., Pastor of the Atlanta All Nations SDA Church

What prompted me to read this book?

A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview on NPR with Heather about her book. I was intrigued by her description of the Zero-Sum principle and the fact that we all lose out on clear benefits because of racism. I initially ordered the kindle version, but later ordered the physical book because I realized the rich content within its pages. This book is a classic, written with insightful analysis of the undergirding issues concerning racism and the mutual hurt it has released on society.

Would you recommend this book to your members?

I would recommend this book to my members because I believe it will increase their emotional intelligence, along with their understanding of the dynamics at play in society. It is important to understand how red-lining and predatory lending affects people of color disproportionately. Furthermore, it is essential to know why this country treats individuals of a particular hue with disdain and disregard. And finally, it is critical to understand how to change that thinking and build better communities. This book seeks to lay before its reader the truth about how reckless decisions in the past compromise our paths forward. To this end, it also presents solutions as to how to make substantive change.

What kinds of conversations occur because of this book and what has its impact been?

Chapter two discusses how racism drained several pools across America. This particular chapter has probably generated the most conversation. Many people didn’t know that several counties across the U.S. decided to drain their pools rather than allow for integrated swimming. This example is used as a motif for the rest of the book to show how racism hurts the white populace because some would rather lose out recreationally, economically, educationally, and in many other ways, than to merge their lives with people of color. The lack of investments in many states where there are large numbers of black and brown people is a glaring testament to a zero-sum mentality.

What’s so liberating about it?

This book is liberating because it seeks to grow empathy and understanding in the heart of each reader. Heather is not out to alienate anyone. Instead, she is simply laying out that there is a benefit to all when the issues are addressed appropriately and fairly. This book is for all well-thinking individuals interested in fairness and justice for all.

What quotes stick with me?

  • “When the people with power in a society see a portion of the populace as inferior and undeserving, their definition of ‘the public’ becomes conditional… Public goods, in other words, are only for the public we perceive to be good” (p. 30).
  • “To this day, even though Black and brown people are disproportionately poor, white Americans constitute the majority of low-income people who escape poverty because of government safety net programs. Nonetheless, the idea that Black people are the ‘taker’ in society while white people are the hardworking taxpayers—the “makers”—has become a core part of the zero-sum story preached by wealthy political elites” (p. 33).
  • “Racism, then, works against non-wealthy white Americans in two ways. First, it lowers their support for government actions that could help them economically, out of a zero-sum fear that it could help the racialized ‘undeservin’” as well… That choice keeps a conservative faction in power that blocks progress on the modest economic agenda they could support” (p. 38).
  • “The truth is, we have never had a real democracy in America. The framers of the Constitution broke with a European tradition of monarchy and aspired to a revolutionary vision of self-governance, yet they compromised their own ideals from the start. Since then, in the interest of racial subjugation, America has repeatedly attacked its own foundations” (p. 140).
  • “The findings are stark. Higher Black-white segregation is correlated with billions in ‘lost income, lost lives, and lost potential’ in Chicago… By reducing the segregation between white and Latino residents, the researchers found, Chicago could increase life expectancy for both” (p. 177).
  • “The… ‘Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States’ report found that race was the most important predictor of proximity to hazardous waste facilities in America and that three out of five Black and Latinx Americans lived in communities with toxic sites” (p. 207).
  • “We now know that color blindness is a form of racial denial that took one of the aspirations of the civil rights movement—that individuals would one day ‘not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’—and stripped it from any consideration of power, hierarchy, or structure. The moral logic and social appeal of color blindness is clear, and many well-meaning people have embraced it. But when it is put into practice in a still-racist world, the result is more racism” (p. 228).

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