The thing about preaching...is that persuasion is not its principal aim. Often, the goal is to send churchgoers back into the world renewed, perhaps edified but surely fortified for the trials that await. This is what one gets from McGhee’s stunning, sobering, oddly hopeful book, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. She is not fishing for converts in a depleted sea. She is encouraging the faithful and equipping them for the kind of intellectual and spiritual journey that produced her book ... I don’t know of another book that weaves together the many strands of our racialized policy, politics and culture this elegantly and clearly ... Legions of people already accept some version of McGhee’s diagnosis, beginning with other readers of Du Bois. But many of them don’t know what to do with it, or what it means in policy terms, or whether it leaves any room for hope in a world of people willing to treat others as an infestation. The Sum of Us begins to answer these questions, thereby equipping the faithful to act on the good news even in a world that isn’t yet ready to hear it.
[McGhee] ably moves through some of the largest infrastructural deficiencies in the U.S. and explains how a zero-sum mindset, combined with the constant plague of systemic racism, have led to fewer amenities for all ... McGhee’s anecdotes about the past read like cautionary parables for the future ... Supported by remarkable data-driven research and thoughtful interviews with those directly affected by these issues, McGhee paints a powerful picture of the societal shortfalls all around us. There is a greater, more just America available to us, and McGhee brings its potential to light.
... illuminating and hopeful ... [McGhee] appeals to concrete self-interest in order to show how our fortunes are tied up with the fortunes of others ... She is compassionate but also cleareyed, refusing to downplay the horrors of racism, even if her own book suggests that the white readers she’s trying to reach can be easily triggered into seeking the safe space of white identity politics ... Against 'zero-sum' she proposes 'win-win' — without fully addressing how the ideal of win-win has been deployed for cynical ends ... There is a striking clarity to this book; there is also a depth of kindness in it that all but the most churlish readers will find moving. She explains in exacting detail how racism causes white people to suffer. Still, I couldn’t help thinking back to the abolitionist Helper, who knew full well how slavery caused white people to suffer, but remained an unrepentant racist to the end.
Every so often a book comes along that seems perfectly timed to the moment and has the potential to radically shift our cultural conversation. The Sum of Us...is one of those books ... It is a sometimes angry or frustrated book, rooted in McGhee’s long career at Demos trying and mostly failing to secure legislation that would benefit the public. But in the end, it’s a hopeful book because McGhee’s vision is so clear and so convincing.
McGhee offers a mountain range of evidence ... McGhee’s book is required reading, a true work of courage and intellectual rigor. Readers have likely asked: Why is this so hard for a country that has so much? By unearthing and exposing the faulty why, McGhee illuminates the path to actual change.
Compassionate but also candid about the tremendous challenges we face, the author clearly shows how Southern racism extends throughout the country today ... An eye-opening, powerful argument for working ever harder for racial equity.
... astute and persuasive ... McGhee marshals a wealth of information into a cohesive narrative that ends on a hopeful note. This sharp, thorough, and engrossing report casts America’s racial divide in a new light.