For 20 years, Author Heather Mcghee searched for causes and solutions to economic inequality in America. Why in a country of such wealth could everyone not have the “nice things” other industrialized countries provided their people; universal health care, free or more affordable education and reliable modern infrastructure?
She discovered the financial crisis, rising student debt and even collapsing public infrastructure grow from the common root of racism.
The ‘us against them’ attitude, encouraged by many politicians and amplified by social media and opinion news programs, channels thinking toward the ‘zero-sum paradigm’ which is the idea that progress for some, must come at the expense of others.
Mcghee had data, but she traveled the country talking to people and visiting places to gather historic or current narratives proving her theory. One such place was Montgomery, Alabama. They once had a public park with a huge, resort-type swimming pool. It was one of a few thousand built around the country in the 1920s, 30’s and 40’s when government made a commitment to communities so people had access to this wonderful symbol of the American Dream.
It was public and funded with tax dollars yet it was segregated, whites only. During the Civil Rights movement, rather than integrate, the local government closed, drained and filled the pool with dirt. Ultimately, they closed the whole park and sold off the animals in the zoo.
That is an obvious example of “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face” racism. Many examples outlined are much less obvious, nearly invisible yet even more damaging to a community and a country. America has borne the cumulative expense of racism for centuries. Can we afford it much longer? Why would we want to?
On the positive side, Mcghee found stories proving what she called ‘The Solidarity Dividend’ or gains achieved when people link arms together, across race, to accomplish what they simply can’t do on their own; attain higher wages, cleaner air, better funded schools and public space.
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together is available in our local libraries. For KPCW, this is Barb Bretz with your monthly book review.