Reading and Listening for Justice: The Sum of Us

Welcome another post of the Reading and Listening for Justice series. As a reminder, you can borrow this book either from the Great River Regional Library or from the Hennepin County Library. 

Book: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee 

What Led Me to the Book

I cannot remember how I came across this book. Sometimes I look around recommended books or book lists from people I respect (in real life and online). I think this is how I heard about Heather McGhee’s book. 

Why I Think Others Should Read This Book

I really think EVERYONE should read this book. I can guarantee it will make you uncomfortable, hopefully in a productive way. The book is accessible to those who are new to racial justice and conversations about race, and it is also a great resource for those actively engaging in anti-racist work.  

Ramblings and Discussion

I am going to try to keep these ramblings short, but there is so much on this book that hits real close to home that it will be hard. If you know me, ask me about this book later, I know I will be thinking about it for a while. 

I am a person of color, but I mostly interact with white people at work, in my friend circle (especially here in Central Minnesota) and even at home. I’m an immigrant. A privileged immigrant because of my education and the socio-economic status of my family. I could write a book about the complex feelings I have about being an immigrant of color in predominantly white spaces, but that is for another time. But this background is important because this book is not about prejudices I may experience, but about how racism, specifically racism in the United States against African-Americans, hurts everyone in the country. 

So much in this book resonates with a lot of the frustrations I have with many of my well-intentioned friends, and it also helped me reflect on my privilege and the ways I can become a better anti-racist. There are also so many quotes in this book, that it was hard to choose one to share in this post. I chose this one: 

“Who your neighbors, your co-workers, and your classmates are is one of the most powerful determinants of your path in life. And most white Americans spend their lives on a path set out for them by a centuries-old lie: that in the zero-sum racial competition, white spaces are the best spaces.” 

Chapter 7, about the ways segregation still shapes our lives, was the most impactful to me. With two small kids now going to school, I started to realize how insidious the way many of us (myself included) think about giving our children the best education at the detriment of the greater societal good, how many of us are selfish when thinking about our own kids even when we claim to pursue progressive and anti-racist education objectives. I am still thinking a lot about what the author had to say about the ways we reinforce segregation to the detriment of us all.  

The book also discusses the ways immigration is changing dynamics in some towns. It does not discuss Saint Cloud directly, but descriptions of other cities and towns that have seen growing number of immigrants can be helpful when we think about the ways we can make Saint Cloud and the surrounding towns more welcoming to everyone. 

I really think everyone should read this book. I can assure it will make you uncomfortable, especially if you are white. But this is the kind of uncomfortableness that can be productive, the kind of deep thinking we must all do to help us create a better Central Minnesota.