The Zero-Sum Myth: We're Divided, We're Conquered
Heather McGhee is an expert in economic and social policy, and author of the best-selling book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. She is the former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos and now chairs the board of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.
Dr. Kendi sat down with the self-described “policy wonk” to discuss how a racist society hurts everyone. Together they explore how, by investing in each other, we can all achieve better jobs, better health, better democracy, better schools, better neighborhoods for our kids—and so much more.
For a transcript of this episode, click here.
QUESTIONS TO INSPIRE DIALOGUE
- McGhee introduces the Zero-Sum paradigm as a way of thinking that’s historically held America back. She argues that the commonly-held belief that racism is “good for White people” is a lie, and that this lie has perpetuated inequity that disadvantages people of all colors. How has the Zero-Sum myth shown up in your life? Is there progress that you’ve thought this country could make, but feared it would come at a cost to you?
- Heather McGhee tells the story of the Oak Park pool in Alabama to illustrate the ways in which systemic inequity prevents overall progress. Can you think of improvements that could be made to your community that are held back by systemic oppression?
- Heather McGhee talks about the unfair banking practices that led to the American financial crisis in 2008, revealing that subprime mortgages were offered to disenfranchised as far back as the 1990s and early 2000s. How aware were you of these practices before they were brought to a head during the 2008 financial crisis?
- Heather McGhee uses school segregation to further illustrate the myth of the Zero-Sum, citing the documented psychological harms and educational limitations that White children suffer in segregated schools. How did the schools that you attended growing up look? Were they attended by a majority of one kind of student? If so, how do you think your educational experience would have been improved by a more diverse student body?
- In discussing the Solidarity Dividend, Dr. Kendi and Heather McGhee outline the ways in which a multiracial, multicultural, antiracist coalition can be built across class lines to effect the kind of change this country needs the most. What are some of the obstacles to building such a coalition, that you’ve observed in life?
- McGhee tells the story of a White, female, fast-food worker in Kansas, who believed the Zero-Sum lie, until finding commonality with a Latina woman at an organizing meeting. Has there been a moment in your life when meeting someone outside of your community has revealed a greater commonality amongst all people than you were led to believe growing up? What was that moment? And how did it change your way of thinking and moving through the world?
- Racism Has A Cost for Everyone (TEDx)
- The Way Out of America’s Zero-Sum Thinking on Race and Wealth (NYT)
- The Zero-Sum Paradigm vs. The Solidarity Dividend (Porchlight)
- Witnesses Should Not Have to Apologize for Not Saving George Floyd (Oprah Daily)
- ‘I’m Prejudiced,’ He Said. Then We Kept Talking. (NYT)
- We Must Talk About Race to Fix Economic Inequality (Demos + MoveOn)
FURTHER READING + RESOURCES
- The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
- Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
- Closing The Racial Inequity Gaps: The Economic Cost of Black Inequality in the U.S. – a 2020 study by CitiGroup
ORGANIZATIONS TO SUPPORT
- Color of Change – the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.
- NAACP – a civil rights organization in the United States, formed in 1909 as an interracial endeavor to advance justice for African Americans.
- Race Forward – brings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity.
- Alliance for Housing Justice – a coalition of organizations, including: Right to the City Alliance, PolicyLink, Lawyers' Committee, Poverty and Race Research Action Council, and Public Advocates—seeking to align themselves as legal, advocacy, organizing and policy groups to advance housing justice.
- Center for Racial Justice in Education – trains and empowers educators to dismantle patterns of racism and injustice in our schools and communities.