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"The Sum of Us": Heather McGhee Probes The Social Costs of Racism

Heather McGhee is the Board Chair of Color of Change, an anti-racism group.
Photo by Andreas Brugess
"The Sum of Us" author Heather McGhee is the Board Chair of Color of Change, an online anti-racism advocacy group.

The anti-racism activist argues that centuries of racial hierarchy have harmed all Americans, including Whites.

Tom's guest today has written a thoughtful and insightful book on the subject of racial inequality. Heather McGhee is the former head of the think tank, Demos, an organization that focuses on inequality. She is now the board chair of Color of Change, an on-line racial justice advocacy group with 7 million members.

Her new book is called The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. McGhee’s reporting is assiduous and compassionate. She explores the history — and the lunacy — of policies and norms that proliferate belief in a racial hierarchy.

This insidious allegiance to racial hierarchy has dominated the United States since its founding. No aspect of American life is spared, and no issue, be it education, health care, housing, voting, or climate change, has been unaffected. McGhee makes the case that White unwillingness to align with Black people in common cause has not only been crushing for African Americans, but for millions of White people struggling for opportunity as well.

She writes, “America’s racial inequality is not only the most extreme manifestation of our inequality, but also the template, setting up a scaffolding of hierarchy that increasingly few people, of any race, can climb.” The Sum of Us also makes the case that the reasons for racial panic among White people are actually our biggest strategic assets, and our country’s greatest salvation.

Heather McGhee observes that we have reached the productive and moral limit of the zero-sum economic model, and that we have to get on the same page in order to turn the page on race in America. If we are able to do so, the rewards are plentiful. They are what McGhee calls the Solidarity Dividend.

Heather McGhee joins us on Zoom.

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