The Sum of US - by: Heather McGhee - a Great Book!


THE SUM OF US: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together – by: Heather McGhee – is a very important read for those of us who care significantly about racism.  McGhee confronts repeatedly the myth that racism is a zero-sum game.  It is totally false that when Black People gain from ending racist practices, white people lose.    One example is how the drive for a $15/hour minimum wage among fast-food restaurant workers has helped white workers, as well as Black and Brown fellow employees.   McGhee notes how wealthy (mostly) white business owners play off white workers against BIPOC potential allies.  She clearly shows how both can win, when we unite in our efforts for justice.

Some quotes are helpful.

Referencing how state and local funding of college education has dramatically increased tuition and resulting student debt,

As racialized as the politics of government spending has become, the victims of this new higher education austerity include the majority of white students. … Now more than one million members strong, the Student Debt Crisis – run by Natalia Abrams, a white Millennial grad of the University of California, Los Angeles – speaks for an indebted generation, lifting up the stories it collects in an online story bank.  “We recently polled the activists on our list, and about seventy percent identify as white,” Abrams told me. (p.47)

Related to the subprime mortgage lending the caused a near collapse in 2009:

A common misperception then and now is that subprime loans were being sought out by financially irresponsible borrowers with bad credit, so the lenders were simply appropriately pricing the loans higher to offset the risk of default.  And in fact, subprime loans were more likely to end up in default.  If a Black homeowner finally answered Mario Taylor’s dozenth call and ending it possessing a mortgage that would turn out to be twice as expensive as the prime one he started with, is it any wonder that it would quickly become unaffordable?  This is where the age-old stereotypes equating Black people with risk – an association explicitly drawn in red ink around America’s Black neighborhoods for most of the twentieth century – obscured the plain and simple truth:  what was risky wasn’t the borrower; it was the loan. 

Camille Thomas, a loan processor, testified that “many of these customers could have qualified for less expensive or prime loans, but because Wells Fargo Financial only made subprime loans, managers had a financial incentive to put borrowers into subprime loans with high interest rates and fees even when the qualified for better priced loans,” (p.85)

“My pay was based on commissions and fees I got from making [subprime] loans.” (p.86)

McGhee notes that while subprime loans started out as an effort (racially based) to go after Black and Brown homeowners (and secondarily buyers), because it was so successful, it similarly victimized white people primarily from 2006 on.

In one year, white people called the police on Black people for engaging in such menacing behaviors as napping in the common room of their own dorm; standing in a doorway to wait out the rain; cashing a check in a bank; using a coupon in a store; waiting for a friend in a coffee shop; and (that most American of activities) going door to door to canvass voters. (p.236)

America’s unhealthy obsession with guns – four in ten adults live in a household with a gun – has always been intertwined with our history of racial violence, but in recent years, right-wing media and an increasingly radical National Rifle Association have aggressively market to white fear: of terrorists, of home invaders, of criminal immigrants, and of “inner-city thugs.” (p.238) … All this fear has come in an era of record low crime rates nationwide. (p.239)

White men are now one-third of the population but three-quarters of the gun suicide victims.  And twice as many people die from gun suicides in America each year as from the gun homicides people have been so conditioned to fear. (p.239)

An analysis Demos (the author’s former employer) did in the middle of the Great Recession found that one hundred billion dollars spent directly hiring people could create 2.6 million public service jobs; spending the same amount on tax cuts trickles down to just one-hundred thousand jobs. (p.274)

To launch a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation effort, community leaders must gather a representative group of people, both demographically and in terms of the sectors in the community.  The framework involves a process of relationship-building and healing by sharing personal stories about race and racism, but it doesn’t just help people “talk about race” – TRHT groups also identify community decisions that have created hierarchy in three areas: law, separation, and the economy. (p.282-3)

The Sum of Us… clearly shows how when we work together positively, we can benefit together.   It shows emphatically how vested interests, usually wealthy individuals or large businesses create artificial divisions between people to maximize narrow profits for a few, at the expense of most of us.

I highly recommend this book!



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