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THE SUM OF US by Heather McGhee Kirkus Star


What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

by Heather McGhee

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-525-50956-1
Publisher: One World/Random House

A head-on consideration of the costs of American racism.

Former Demos president McGhee undertook her first project for the organization by studying credit card debt—which, by the early 2000s, was far more likely to affect Black and Latinx families than White ones. When the subprime mortgage bubble burst, that problem became ever more urgent. However, as the author notes, Congress made it worse when it caved to the demands of the credit industry, after which “many of my fellow advocates walked away convinced that big money in politics was the reason we couldn’t have nice things.” One senator she overheard in the halls of the Capitol railed that the cause was the irresponsibility of minorities themselves, which set her on a diligent investigation of coded racism in the financial sector, which hinges on the zero-sum assumption that any gain for Blacks, say, would mean a concomitant loss for Whites. Not so. To this day, throughout the old Confederacy, the counties most dependent on slavery are the poorest today. “When slavery was abolished,” writes McGhee, “Confederate states found themselves far behind northern states in the creation of the public infrastructure that supports economic mobility, and they continue to lag behind today. These deficits limit economic mobility for all residents, not just the descendants of enslaved people.” Compassionate but also candid about the tremendous challenges we face, the author clearly shows how Southern racism extends throughout the country today. Those most opposed to unions, public education, and integration are mostly those at the top of the financial ladder; those lower down, of whatever ethnicity, wind up paying richly. In Chicago, McGhee estimates the cost of segregation is $4.4 billion in income and $8 billion in GDP. Restoring public goods is only a start in addressing those costs; the larger task, she writes provocatively, is getting Americans of all ethnicities to believe that “we need each other.”

An eye-opening, powerful argument for working ever harder for racial equity.