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

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

McGhee's book is the MUST-RECOMMEND that all of us carry and place into the hands of folks who just do not understand the central and insidious ways that racism informs nearly all cornerstones of society.  She sets out to do two things in her book that are both powerful and interwoven to reinforce each element.  The first is that she shows how racist ideas permeate so many parts of American culture from the law, civil society, social contract, education, religion, community, housing, healthcare, and so much more. She provides historical context to show how certain ideas (in particular, the never-ending emphasis on the individual, the disembodied "government", and the emphasis on personal property over human life), came into creation and were (often, intentionally) framed to invoke racism without ever having to directly talk about race.  In this way, she (directly) invokes works such as Racism Without Racists and Dog-Whistle Politics and even Republican strategists (Lee Atwater) to show how this formula of framing and attacks on general ideas can play upon (typically, white) people's worse fears--often stoked by a media culture that reiterates ideas that BIPOC people are more threatening than white folks.  The culmination of this messaging (often upheld and promoted by elite rich folks who own many media outlets and also make massive contributions to politicians) is that citizens increasingly try to undermine social programs, communal goods, and government projects out of fear that it might go to "those people".  The result is what McGhee points out so vividly throughout; the dismantling of programs, resources, and opportunities that might benefit BIPOC folks (after hundreds of years of being denied their fair and equal due) are also increasingly hurting white people.  Nearly every program terminated, limitation instituted or defunded resource, will hurt more white people than BIPOC (though will often hurt BIPOC people disproportionately).  Increasingly, this is becoming evident as more and more white people find the middle-class possibilities slipping further and further away.  Unfortunately, much of the ideology that they subscribe to, tells them it is a zero-sum game and their loss is because some other person (typically a BIPOC person) is getting it.  In reality, wealth, resources, and opportunities are just being increasingly concentrated among the elite.  It's a well-argued, strongly researched, and powerful text. In some ways, it takes the best parts of the many histories, sociological, psychological, and cultural texts that have been written in the last 20 years and put them into this one digestible, accessible, and evocative text that should be on all our bookshelves.

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