15 April 2021
What would make a society drain its public swimming pools and fill them with concrete rather than opening them to everyone?
In The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, economics researcher Heather McGhee sets out across America to learn why white voters so often act against their own interests. Why do they block changes that would help them, and even destroy their own advantages, whenever people of colour also stand to benefit?
Their tragedy is that they believe they can’t win unless somebody else loses. But this is a lie. McGhee marshals overwhelming economic evidence, and a profound well of empathy, to reveal the surprising truth: even racists lose out under white supremacy.
Racism in the United States drained the pools and this is everybody’s problem. Here are five reasons why:
1. Racism caused the global financial crisis
It was the use of biased lending policies that laid the groundwork for the 2008 financial crisis. Predatory loan companies disproportionately targeted black communities in redlined areas, but the system only imploded in 2008 when white consumers fell victim to the same strategies. This had repercussions across the globe, many of which are still being felt today.
2. Racism has a negative impact on climate change
Black communities are significantly more polluted than those that are a majority white, due to housing policies that excluded black families from all but designated industrial ‘sacrifice zones.’ This has a global impact and there can be little prospect of tackling global climate change until America’s zero-sum delusions are defeated.
3. Racism in the US was caused by the legacy of British colonialism
The system that defines the United States came directly from imperial practices. It is a former British colony that has enshrined racism into law to preserve an economy built on the back of stolen labour and land. We must come to terms with our own legacy in order to move forward, recognising the negative effects of which we are capable of triggering.
4. Overcoming racism is a key step in tackling global division
In the face of an increasingly divided world, learning from the risks and limitations of a segregated society can help us to forward from Brexit, COVID-19 and more. A divided world cannot tackle issues that affect us all, so the more we can learn about overcoming division, the more we will all benefit.
5. Anti-racism must be a global effort
Racism exists in the UK as well and it hurts us all. In order to be anti-racist, we must learn the heartbreaking, liberating truth about what racism has cost all of us—and what we can do about it. This is a collective effort that can only be fully impactful when we tackle the issue together, all over the world. Only with an insight into the workings of prejudice can we achieve solidarity among all humans, ‘to piece together a new story of who we could be to one another.’
‘I’m thrilled that Profile is bringing The Sum of Us to UK readers. I hope that the book will explain what happened to the once-thriving American middle class and serve as a cautionary tale for other nations. While the political hymns in the US and the UK are in different keys, they sure do rhyme. A fairer, more inclusive and more prosperous economy is available to all of us if we reject zero-sum narratives and start aiming for a solidarity dividend.’ Heather McGhee
Order this instant New York Times bestseller, which is out in the UK now.
Follow Heather McGhee on Twitter: @hmcghee
Watch Heather McGhee’s TED Talk on how racism makes the economy worse, which has pulled in over 2 million views to date.