I have been listening to The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee over the past several weeks. I picked it up after hearing McGhee give a keynote at a sustainability conference last year. Despite this, I was surprised at how prominent the connections to sustainability are in the book.
The range of topics McGhee covers is impressive and also disturbing. I had never thought about how the move away from public funding for healthcare and education coincided with more People of Colour being legally able to access the funding, therefore it gets cut to keep “them” excluded. The discussion of sub prime mortgages and ability to unionize were well researched but also filled with individual anecdotes to drive the data home.
I just finished a chapter looking specifically at the costs of poor environmental regulation, and as with all the other chapters, white people lose when they refuse to let Black people gain anything.
I always kind of laugh at the animal crossing signs on the highway. I know their position reflects that the local terrain and vegetation means it is more likely for the animal to be there but I often think that we are playing a statistical game. If you stop paying attention because you are outside of the set distance the sign told you, you can still hit an animal. They don’t know that you are only watching for them in that set area.
This makes me think of the data McGhee included in her book. White, upper middle class neighbourhoods do occur in sacrifice zones, the areas that have been sacrificed so that we can maintain all the production and resource use to keep our capitalist culture. These are areas next to manufacturing and refining plants for example that spew toxins into the air, water, and soil. But the more well off neighbourhoods are typically near those that are poorer, and often Black. As a result, the white people can maintain their belief that it doesn’t affect them. It’s like they put up a sign for the wind saying what space it is allowed to blow through and think that they are now protected.
This book is worth a read (or listen). If you’ve ever wondered whether all this division and racism causes more harm than good, McGhee gives an answer loud and clear. When one (or several) group of people loses, we all lose. But the reverse is also true. If one group gains, we all gain. Let’s put the zero sum game behind us. Oh, and if you can, pick up the book from your library or from a locally owned independent bookstore.