The Sum of Us

Heather McGhee

The Sum of Us



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What does game theory have to do with racism? According to author Heather McGhee, the root cause of racial segregation and injustice in the United States is the zero-sum mentality, which supports the theory that, when black people win rights, white people lose out. This mental model is ingrained in American history and society, and negatively impacts all citizens, regardless of their skin colour. McGhee explores the economic and social consequences of racism in her book, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.

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Analysis and key concepts


Racism is caused by the zero-sum hierarchy, created by the wealthiest segment of society


Some Americans would rather lose a service or benefit than share it with black people


Disasters such as climate change or economic recessions could be avoided if there were no racism


Racial division has worsened working conditions for everyone


A democracy is not a democracy if it only applies to part of the population




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Discover how racism harms society, the environment, politics, and the economy for everyone, not just those who suffer from discrimination.
  • Explore the historic reasons behind the spread of racial discrimination in the United States of America.
  • Learn to recognise how the millionaire class uses manipulation to take advantage of racial divisions.

Heather McGhee is an American author and racial politics activist. She was born in a poor and segregated area of Chicago, and after studying at Yale, she developed an interest in political economics, with particular focus on racism, before going on to complete a PhD in Law at Berkeley. She is a former president, and current honorary member, of Demos, a non-profit think tank that aims to create a just, inclusive, and multi-racial democracy. She works with NBC News, and is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.

Publishing house:

Oneworld Publications