The Sum of Us

By Heather McGhee,

Book cover of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

Book description

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD • 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.


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Why read it?

6 authors picked The Sum of Us as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I loved The Sum of Us because it tells the political and economic history of race relations and investment in public infrastructure, benefits, and services in a readable and accessible manner. 

McGhee recounts shocking stories of the ways that, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, hundreds of communities across the United States—governed by White people—chose to close or bulldoze public amenities like pools, parks, and campgrounds rather than desegregate them.

This is a sad story of the way that a generation of White Americans cut off their own nose to spite their face. In the decades since, more…

When swimming pools were desegregated, White people walked away from them.

When college became accessible to Black people, White people voted to slash public funding. When the party of Kennedy and Johnson were believed to be upending traditional racial hierarchies rather than upholding them, White Southerners abandoned it.

Race plays a critical role in our economic history, and still does today.

This book is both data and storytelling. Required reading. 

From David's list on advocates of economic justice.

I grew up believing that philanthropy was a positive thing that helped disenfranchised people, and that my role as a ‘good person’ was to engage in this work. As I evolved my philanthropic understanding, I began to see how the overlapping systems of economics and charity reinforced a status quo that I didn’t want to support. Heather McGhee’s book clearly lays out how the racist policies and practices in all of our systems (from education and housing to environmental practices and health care) are the roots of inequity that make philanthropy necessary. Reading her book will shift your approach from…

From Kristen's list on changing the way you change the world.

The Sum of Us lays out clearly why antiracism is helpful to everyone. We are all victims in a web of racism that divides us and makes for a weaker social fabric. McGee uses both data and stories to explain why racism hurts everyone. She tells stories with data and personal experiences. One story centers on repeated draining of municipal pools in the 1960s because whites did not want to share pools with African Americans. The result, of course, is that nobody now gets to go for a swim on a hot day. Instead of seeing life as a “zero…

From Alan's list on what race is (and is not).

The Sum of Us accomplishes two important things: it illustrates the power of public policy to perpetuate racism and racial inequality and demonstrates the negative impact of such policies on white people as well as Black and other people of color. Racism hurts all of us in tangible and measurable ways. The Sum of Us makes those costs abundantly clear, but also offers much-needed hope and action steps for healing our collective wounds. I love Heather McGhee’s concept of the “solidarity dividend”. It reminds me that change is possible!

From Beverly's list on why racism persists.

While this isn’t a light read, this is an excellent book for those who want to be better informed in order to have conversations with people who don’t quite get why racism is so bad for us as a country - including how it is bad for White people. The economist author opens with a really tangible example of community pools, which in some cities - in the face of integration to allow Black and White neighbors to swim together - were closed down and paved over so that no one could swim. This act of racism left entire communities…

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