HBA Philadelphia presents

Leaders Are Readers: Virtual Book Club August 2021: The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee

Date and time
Thursday, 12 August
05:30PM - 07:00PM EST

Event Contact
Stacey Mendoza
9. Networks and ethically self-promotes

Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us starts with the assumption that the majority of Americans are suffering economically due to policy that benefits only a small segment at the top of the social hierarchy. Through her personal experiences, legal studies, and work at the think tank Demos, McGhee comes to realize that underpinning America’s unjust economic landscape is systemic racism fueled by the white supremacy built into the country from its start. Each chapter of her text tackles a specific area of American society to uncover the sources of injustice and inequality and to suggest strategies for tackling these problems for the common good.
McGhee begins by defining a key term, “the zero-sum paradigm,” a concept which presumes that if one segment of the population gains something, then another must be losing something. Specifically, when people of color achieve rights or benefits, white Americans perceive themselves as losing instead of seeing that all citizens can and do profit from a more just society. She traces zero-sum thinking back to the colonial era, when white Europeans positioned themselves as superior to Indigenous people and African slaves. These white Europeans then created a nation with a racial hierarchy, situating themselves at the top. American citizenship became aligned with freedom and with whiteness, shutting out and dehumanizing people of color.
McGhee moves on to a more modern phenomenon as she examines how the government has been “singularly stingy” toward its citizens in regards to public goods and infrastructure that would benefit everyone. Her central example is the public pools of the early twentieth century, which were host to thousands of citizens until integration opened access to Black students as well. White Americans refused to use the pools, so they fell into disuse. Racism resulted in public losses for everyone, not just Black citizens.
McGhee then examines how higher education was once considered a necessity; it received more generous public funding, making it affordable for middle-class white Americans. However, once more students of color began to enroll, and anti-government sentiment grew after the civil rights era, public funding for higher education was perceived as a handout. Subsequently, higher education costs skyrocketed, and students have been saddled with crippling debt in their pursuit of a college degree, which remains a marker of success in American society. Another public good that could benefit the majority of Americans but has been deemed a handout that will be taken advantage of by freeloaders is healthcare. Despite the adoption of the modest Affordable Care Act, states have turned down what McGhee calls “free money” through Medicaid, resulting in rural hospital closures and negative health outcomes, even deaths, for everyday Americans. As with the example of the public pools, McGhee asserts that “public healthcare is often a benefit that white people have little interest in sharing with their Black neighbors.”
McGhee examines the housing crash of 2008 but looks even more carefully at its precedent: the predatory practices of subprime mortgage lenders who targeted Black homeowners in the late 1990s.
Ultimately, McGhee argues for racial unity, which will yield a “Solidarity Dividend,” a resulting enrichment for all Americans.

5:30-5:44 Introductions
5:40 to 6:40 Discussion about the book
6:40-6:45 PM Wrap up and Introduction of Next Book
6:45 to 7:00 Optional Social Networking Time

Registration information
Event is open to: HBA Members only
Online registration deadline: 8/11/2021

Registration information

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Registration: Regular Registration

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