A review by lukescalone
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGhee


Now this is a book that should be on all anti-racist reading lists. I have to say, when I picked it up and started reading, it came off as thoroughly light-weight. A lot of what is in here will be familiar to those who have already read a bit about anti-black racism in the United States. What separates McGhee's book from all of the others is her argument that anti-black racism (and all racism) does not simply affect the people who are being discriminated against, but it destroys opportunities for those who hold racist viewpoints. The obvious case is that of public pools during the Civil Rights Movement--whites often chose to fill their pools with concrete rather than share them with black people, taking away the enjoyment of swimming for everyone. McGhee's other cases here include segregation, housing policy, schools, unionization, and so much more.

Realistically, if we lived in a better world, this book should have never been written--understanding the negative effects of discrimination should be enough for people to say that American institutions need to be fundamentally transformed. Yet, in the context of a "zero sum game," where the bulk of white America believes that granting equal rights to others means losing their own position (privilege), it will be necessary to show that they are losing out on this "zero sum game" which isn't a zero sum game at all. There's a lot of good information here on how deep the politics of racial resentment pervade white communities--I had always known it existed, but never quite to the scale shown here. Ultimately, racism is America's original sin, and it is not an exaggeration when people argue that seemingly mundane institutions are racist--it's impossible to overstate the importance of racism in American society. McGhee's solutions are a bit obvious, meaning that they won't be particularly easy to implement and at times seem to come off more as platitudes, but she's right.

Required reading