photo & text by nacrowe
THE SUM OF US: WHAT RACISM COSTS EVERYONE AND HOW WE CAN PROSPER TOGETHER (ONE WORLD, 2021) by noted policy advocate and academic HEATHER MCGHEE is a devastatingly SOBER and EXHAUSTIVE account of how the ZERO-SUM FALLACY of WHITE AMERICA has writ large INFECTED our national sense of SOCIAL SOLIDARITY and COLLECTIVE IDENTITY as AMERICANS throughout our HISTORY. the underlying WHITE SUPREMACIST IDEATIONS that form the root of this CANCER and inform this DESTRUCTIVE PERSPECTIVE counterintuitively harm those who embrace it as well in MATERIAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL and PSYCHIC terms.
so what is a ZERO-SUM view of the world?
it is a perspective that contends that a win for you must mean a loss to me. MCGHEE contextualizes this MENTALITY with the example of the public pools that dotted the country in the first half of the 20th century. they were meant to be a focus of CIVIC LIFE that would find all the races sharing a public resource and lead to SOCIAL HARMONY. WHITE PEOPLE literally leveled and cemented over these pools throughout the country (or made them private and effectively EXCLUSIONARY), rather than share them. that dynamic is shown throughout THE SUM OF US to describe what happens with DOOMED efforts to expand the benefits of nearly every facet of CIVIC LIFE including CIVIL RIGHTS, EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES, HOUSING (and associated LOANS and MORTGAGES), HEALTH CARE, VOTING RIGHTS, LABOR ORGANIZING and so on to non-white populations. at each turn WHITE AMERICA basically chooses en masse to maintain the status quo, and this is key, even when such is not materially in their personal best interest. MCGHEE shows example after example where such PIGHEADED SHORT-SIDEDNESS and BALD-FACED WHITE SUPREMACIST IDEATION actually ricochets and harms them.
it is impossible to read THE SUM OF US and not come away with the bedrock concept that AMERICA, despite what DELUSIONS we were told in middle school, was founded on INEQUALITY and GENOCIDE based on race. to go through the iterations of our HISTORY and examples of such is beyond he scope of this review. just know it is COMPELLING and OVERWHELMING and MCGHEE makes expert use of STATISTICS, recent RESEARCH studies and an EXHAUSTIVE list of CITATIONS meant for academic consideration and review.
my experience reading this book was one of deep INTROSPECTION and PAIN considering how as a WHITE GUY i have benefited personally from SYSTEMATIC RACISM. its a FACILE and ultimately DISHONEST gesture to point the finger elsewhere at this immensely COMPLEX problem that is ingrained in the very SOCIAL FABRIC of our society over generations from even before the founding of our nation. this book forces you to consider your own CULPABILITY and that is where the true VALUE of the dialogue MCGHEE is initiating is located.
i consider this book required reading for all AMERICANS, but especially WHITE AMERICANS. it is an absolutely BRUTAL and personally DEVASTATING conversation that needs to happen (again, especially in WHITE COMMUNITIES) in this country for any sense of growth to be established. a NEW MORAL CENTERING of who we are as a country and how we interact with one another that is based on where we've been and how we avoid the same MISTAKES and IN-GROUP/OUT-GROUP BIASES that currently define the AMERICAN experience despite what can only be described as the DISHONEST, DELUSIONAL and SELF-SERVING PROPAGANDA we deceive ourselves and INFECT our children with. you figure if GERMANY can work through its checkered history with GRACE and HONESTY then so should we as AMERICANS. it is time to BREAK THE CYCLE already.
THE SUM OF US is probably the most CONSEQUENTIAL book ive read since starting this review column almost four years ago. cant advocate on its behalf any stronger.