The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (Hardcover)
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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 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: 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 a zero-sum game.
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.
“Illuminating and hopeful . . . McGhee isn’t a stinging polemicist; she cajoles instead of ridicules. She appeals to concrete self-interest in order to show how our fortunes are tied up with the fortunes of others. ‘We suffer because our society was raised deficient in social solidarity,’ she writes, explaining that this idea is ‘true to my optimistic nature.’ She is compassionate but also clear-eyed, refusing to downplay the horrors of racism. . . . There is a striking clarity to this book; there is also a depth of kindness in it that all but the most churlish readers will find moving.”—The New York Times
“One of the most fascinating things about The Sum of Us is how it challenges the assumptions of both white antiracism activists and progressives who just want to talk about class.”—The New York Times, “The Book That Should Change How Progressives Talk About Race”
“Required reading to move the country forward . . . Every so often a book comes along that seems perfectly timed to the moment and has the potential to radically shift our cultural conversation. [The Sum of Us] is one of those books. . . . It is a sometimes angry or frustrated book, rooted in McGhee’s long career at Demos trying and mostly failing to secure legislation that would benefit the public. But in the end, it’s a hopeful book because McGhee’s vision is so clear and so convincing.”—Chicago Tribune
“Supported by remarkable data-driven research and thoughtful interviews with those directly affected by these issues, McGhee paints a powerful picture of the societal shortfalls all around us. There is a greater, more just America available to us, and McGhee brings its potential to light.”—BookPage
“[McGhee] takes readers on an intimate odyssey across our country’s racial divide to explore why some believe that progress for some comes at the expense of others. Along the way, McGhee speaks with white people who confide in her about losing jobs, homes, and hope, and considers white supremacy’s collateral victims. Ultimately, McGhee—a Black woman viewing multiracial America with startling empathy—finds proof of what she terms the Solidarity Dividend: the momentous benefits that derive when people come together across race. A powerful, singular, and prescriptive blend of the macro and the intimate.”—O: The Oprah Magazine, “20 of the Best Books of February 2021 to Fall in Love With”
“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
“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
“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
“Heather McGhee does not shy away from telling hard truths. Racism sits at the heart of America, and McGhee shows its effects on the very people who cleave to it. The Sum of Us removes the cloak from this land of so-called innocents and brilliantly offers a path forward for the nation. This book is for all of us standing in the breach, working toward social change. With care and unflinching honesty, McGhee has written an extraordinary book for these difficult days.”—Eddie S. Glaude Jr., New York Times bestselling author of Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own
“What would it be like to live in an America where we embraced diversity as our superpower? Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us challenges readers to imagine a country where we are more than the sum of our disparate parts. Through the stories of fast food workers in Missouri, community organizers in Maine, and more, McGhee illustrates the power and necessity of multi-racial organizing. Hopeful, inspiring, and timely, The Sum of Us makes the case for the radical notion that ‘we the people’ means all of us.”—Cécile Richards, co-founder, Supermajority, and former president, Planned Parenthood
“Heather McGhee is one of the wisest, most penetrating, most brilliant minds to set herself to the Big Problem of American democracy: how we share this country in a way that works for all of us. Reading it made me feel free, truly free, and ready to run and march and shout. I think it will do the same for you.”—Chris Hayes, New York Times bestselling author and Emmy Award–winning news anchor