Why Is Our Economy So … White? (with Heather McGhee)

Show Description

This week, author Heather McGhee breaks down the driving force of American economic exclusion via the swimming pool.  Baratunde asks Heather about all she has learned traveling across the country to write her book, The Sum of Us. They explore the roots of wealth inequality,  the true cost of racism,  and why Americans have a zero-sum worldview - meaning progress for some must come at the expense of others.

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Show Transcript

Baratunde Thurston  0:01  

Hey, I'm Baratunde Thurston and this is how to citizen with Baratunde. In season two, we're talking about the money, because to be real, is hard to citizen when we can barely pay the bills.

A few years ago, I got a Facebook message from someone claiming to be my cousin. She had seen me on television and found me on the internet. Now, when you're on television, a lot of people claimed to be your cousin. So I was a little bit suspicious. But we met up in a safe public place. And she indeed was my cousin. She had photos I had vague memories. They definitely weren't doctored. She was on my father's side of the family, people I hadn't seen since his death, when I was a very young child. My cousin revealed to me that my father's mother was still alive. That would make her my only living grandparent. I was so used to just me and my older sister being the whole family, the idea of a few generations separated. That was a big deal. So I met up with my grandmother, of course, I asked a lot of questions about my father. And then I caught myself. And I said, I said, Ask this 90 something year old black woman about herself, her journey, her childhood. When were you born? Where did you grow up? Grandma 1920s, Orangeburg, South Carolina. Did you go to school? I asked her. Oh, yeah, we went to school. Where'd you live? On my daddy's farm? all six of us kids. And we were proud because he owned his own farm. He wasn't a sharecropper, he actually owned his phone. What was that like and what was school like? And she told me that every year, all the kids would have to gather the farm, not just her daddy's farm, but the farms of other white residents in the area. And naive me I thought, oh, maybe this is like a jobs program. All the kids have to do this. I don't know what life in the 1920s and 30s was like, but no, that was too simple, too naive to innocent. She and her siblings had to work for free on the farms of white residents in that area. Because her father needed to get credit extended by shop owners in the main shopping district. They couldn't make everything they needed to had to buy stuff. And people use credit. But as a condition of extending him credit. Those shopkeepers demanded and were able to get the free labor of his children that I was not prepared for. And it made me angry. Because not only was my grandmother's labor exploited, her childhood was exploited. She was taken out of school, another cost to be paid by only some people in America. My grandmother had to work for free, had to miss out on literal educational opportunities. She left Orangeburg with her husband, pretty much as soon as she could, it's why I grew up in Washington, DC, doesn't own that land anymore, either. Today's wealth inequality may not look exactly the same as it did in 1920s and 1930, South Carolina, but we still live with it. And it's not a vague thing. Oh, wealth inequality. From academic study. No, it's it's real. And it exists along racial lines. The rich tend to be wider the poor tend to be black or and that is not a mistake. that's by design. Where does that come from? I wanted to find out,

Heather McGhee  4:14  

they closed the entire Parks and Recreation Department. They sold off the animals in the zoo, all to avoid sharing it with black folks.

Baratunde Thurston  4:25  

We're spending this entire season looking at the division rooted in wealth inequality in this country. And of course, like we always do, what we can do about it. But to do something about it, we've got to understand it. After the break, my guest Heather McGee breaks down the driving force of American economic exclusion via the swimming pool.

This is happening. What's up? Hi, sweetheart. It's very good to be with you. Good to be my guest. Heather McGee is the former president of the anti racist advocacy organization. Deimos, she traveled all over the United States to see for herself the economic impact racism was having on all Americans, and to write her book, The some of us what racism cost everyone, and how we can prosper together in simple question. Can you introduce yourself and what you do?

Heather McGhee  5:32  

My name is Heather McGee. I'm the author of the new book, The some of us what racism costs, everyone, and how we can prosper together. That's all you need to know about me anymore. I'm just a writer. You know, it's all I am. I wander the country. collecting stories,

Baratunde Thurston  5:55  

you know, we have like, typing machines now, right? What What were you before you were just a writer,

Heather McGhee  6:05  

I was a policy wonk for about 20 years I helped to build and then I was the president of Deimos, which advanced and design solutions to inequality. You know, for me, my ultimate goal was to try to make more economic opportunity for more people, and to have more justice for all.

Baratunde Thurston  6:26  

Well, how did you first get interested in the economy?

Heather McGhee  6:29  

You know, I can't unscramble that egg very well. And I'm really bad at my own origin story. But I was born on Southside of Chicago in 1980. I remember seeing evictions and plant closures and the various things that were going on the new figures show unemployment spreading, leaving 9.9 million Americans without jobs. lert sends laborers out by station wagon to perform hundreds of evictions for the county each year with members of my family, losing jobs and being foreclosed on and all of that, and, and I was raised by a single mother and I saw the demonization of black, particularly single moms in the 90s. Under the welfare reform debate, it just felt like the kind of dominant narrative for why, you know, the sort of deserving this question around the economy, like the bootstraps narrative, the idea that basically people were poor, because of bad decisions was really false. It didn't fit didn't that up, you know, so I, I was always interested in the big why.

Baratunde Thurston  7:36  

What is this bootstrap narrative?

Heather McGhee  7:38  

It's the idea basically, that the people who are doing well, economically are doing so because they're simply better than everybody else. And that if you are struggling, if you find yourself broke, it's probably because of some bad decisions that you've made. It's a very individualistic way of seeing the world. And I've since learned that narrative is itself really racialized, right? It's that idea that there's just such a hierarchy of human value and human worth. And that other thing, that distancing is made very easy by the illusion of racial difference.

Baratunde Thurston  8:18  

So you're coming up in the 80s, in Chicago? And you're hearing this narrative, this bootstrap narrative of deservingness. But you said it didn't add up? Yeah. What was the conflict? What didn't square?

Heather McGhee  8:35  

Well just felt like the people I knew who worked the hardest? Were those single moms, you know, my mother was always working. And she was always working in the community with other usually black single moms who were, you know, making a way out of No way. The more I learned that the things that people often think of as choices, am I able to continue to going to school to college? Or do I have to drop out in order to feed my family? Am I able to stay at home with my newborn? Or do I have to go back to work? Am I able to buy a house? Or am I always going to rent, these are all things that are often interpreted by individuals as individual choices, but the terms of them are really set at the policy level. And so for me, when I first started to really see that and understand that is that there are laws and policies and decisions that are made by powerful actors that close or open doors to individuals along the path of their life. It was a big aha, it was a big like, okay, now now we're talking like this is how we can really make life a little bit sweeter for more people.

Baratunde Thurston  9:58  

So you describe this realization. In that the choices available are determined by policies that other people make. Do you remember an early moment where, like all of that policy creates the set of choices people have to select from?

Heather McGhee  10:16  

I mean, I think during the welfare reform debate, which centered often around single mothers, there was a lot that was discussed in the politics of it about encouraging work,

Baratunde Thurston  10:32  

welfare to work, right. If there's not a lifestyle, there's a sound clips of Bill Clinton out there, we don't want to make this a lifestyle.

Unknown Speaker  10:40  

What we are trying to do today is to overcome the flaws of the welfare system, for the people who are trapped on from now on our nation's answer to this great social challenge will no longer be a never ending cycle of welfare, it will be the dignity of the power, the work,

Heather McGhee  10:59  

which, you know, when it was clear that if you could find a job, it wasn't actually nothing, none of the options were going to pay enough for somebody to actually not be poor anymore. Welfare kept you basically poor, a minimum wage job kept you poor. The ability to work your way into the middle class had long disappeared, when you say that the

Baratunde Thurston  11:31  

sort of the pathway to the middle class was closed. When Why did that happen?

Heather McGhee  11:41  

Well, this is the story that I then learned. Once I started working at Deimos when I was 22. And I was the first hire other than the director of the program in the Economic Opportunity Program. And this was phenomenal. This was my dream job. So it was then that I really learned kind of the progressive economic orthodoxy, which teaches that there was a period of dramatic expansion of the middle class

Unknown Speaker  12:09  

hunger drove all people to the breadline anxiously waited, waited for some time of better days. Then came the federal government's work program, one by one,

Heather McGhee  12:19  

where 10s of millions of people made it from the working class into the middle class through this massive economic expansion in in security, you know, through the New Deal through social securities through the subsidization of housing, there were guaranteed benefit pensions, we have these state funded colleges in every state, where the government picked up the tab for college.

Unknown Speaker  12:45  

hundreds of homes have been freed from the bondage of poverty, and their breadwinners find security and hope in their new job.

Heather McGhee  12:52  

It was just sort of this period of time where everything kind of aligned to make the greatest Middle Class A world ever seen.

Baratunde Thurston  13:00  

It sounds like the American dream.

Heather McGhee  13:02  

It sounds like the American dream. Ding, ding, ding, you got that's it. That was it. That was when we had it, you know. But the question is, who was the we've so much of what I just described, was done from a federal policy level, in an explicitly racially exclusive way. Both social security and the labor standards excluded the categories that black folks mostly worked in agriculture and domestic work, the GI Bill excluded millions of black veterans because of segregation in higher education. And so each of these ways that the middle class was subsidized, that we had handouts and free stuff for white people in the early 20th century, created the American dream and on racially exclusive terms. And then the civil rights movement, basically called the question said, Okay, are we going to live up to our ideals. And economically, this is where the story that's at the heart of my book that some of us comes in, it was, in addition to all those great freebies, there was also this building boom of public amenities like parks and libraries and schools and actually swimming pools. And what happened when many of these swimming pools that were segregated for whites only were forced to integrate and black families said, Hey, those are our tax dollars creating this so called public swimming pool and these were these grand resort style pools like 1000s of swimmers.

Baratunde Thurston  14:37  

They were desegregated and black people showed up, and white people hung out with them and they swam together and they played together. And they live happily ever after.

Heather McGhee  14:46  

And they made babies and that's why there's no there's no race. Because the 1950s the swimming pool created all of

Baratunde Thurston  14:56  

these mixed marriages. Well, so So obviously, they It's more of an American fantasy would describe what actually happened.

Heather McGhee  15:04  

What actually happened was that in town after town, and it's very important to me to point out not just in the Jim Crow South, but in Ohio and Washington state of New Jersey, the town's drained the public pools rather than integrate them.

Baratunde Thurston  15:19  

And you mean literally like took the water out,

Heather McGhee  15:21  

literally took the water out, backed up trucks of dirt, dumped it in, paved it over, seeded it with grass in Montgomery, Alabama, where I went on the journey to write the some of us, they closed the entire Parks and Recreation Department, they sold off the animals in the zoo. And they kept the Parks and Recreation Department of Montgomery closed for a decade. All to avoid sharing it with black folks.

Baratunde Thurston  15:50  

The idea that, what's the saying you would cut off your nose to spite your face that you would not only deny black people access to the free goodies that everybody's tax dollars are paying for? But that you would I mean, you cancel the public park, you canceled the swimming pool for all the children and all the families. In your research. Did you find any resistance to that extreme resistance? was somebody out there? Like, actually, look, maybe we could just timeshare. I mean, what do we literally have to fill the pool with concrete? That's that's pretty far.

Heather McGhee  16:36  

Um, there was I mean, as always, throughout history, there have been the race traitors, right. There have been white folks who said no, you know, who have stood up and stood in solidarity with black folks. They're white folks who didn't want to stand in solidarity and black folks were just upset because the pool was gone. But what happened and this is really been very similar to the loss of public benefits throughout our society. Right. Like, take take public colleges, what is once a public good becomes a private luxury. And so then you get this rat race. Right, then it's like, okay, you have that individualized response. Right. Let me take another job. Let me mortgaged my house, let me refi. You know, let me let me figure it out on my own. Yeah. And that's been the sort of slow, you know, ratcheting down of our expectations of what the public could do for us, and we put it all on our own shoulders. And so literally, with the pool story, what ended up happening is, you saw this advent of backyard pools in the Washington DC area. And you had after pool integration, over 100 private members only swim clubs that sprang up out of nowhere, and so sure, you can pay a few $100 a year for your kid to swim used to be free. Okay. All right. Well, keep it moving. I'll make more money.

Baratunde Thurston  17:52  

So your your privatizing public goods? Yes. limiting access to those who can afford it, which is public policy connected to your economics. Look at you, professor. Okay. So tell me this, though. I'm trying to flashback to this desegregating America. And I'm trying to put my health inside of the mind and body of a white American who's like the black people that come in. No guy got shut down in these pools. But do they have enough discipline? And savvy to explain it in a way that doesn't say we just don't want to share this with black people?

Heather McGhee  18:33  

No, the pools are pretty clear.

Baratunde Thurston  18:36  

Actually, you saw me I tried to help him out. I was I think I'm one they must have had some kind of stories. Some kind of BS,

Heather McGhee  18:43  

sell it? No. I mean, so in St. Louis, possibly the largest pool in America at the time, the first day of the integrated swimming there, there was a mob of 200 white folks who came and beat every black person in sight. I later saw an interview with one of the white guys who ended up in the hospital from the melee. And he later on would say, you know, in his elder years, he would say, you know, we thought we were doing the right thing. Yeah, no, they were taught, this is the thing. They were taught by our government, by their church, by all of the rules of society, that we were so unclean and unworthy, that we should not be allowed to swim with them go to school with them drink from the same water fountain is that walk on the sidewalk next to them? I mean, you know, and what do you take from all of that information is that there's something terribly wrong with these people. And so we must guard what is ours, from the incursion of them into

Baratunde Thurston  19:57  

us and them exactly. Yeah. So you've got this book is called the some of us. Tell me more about this book. Ah,

Heather McGhee  20:12  

so the some of us is my attempt, after nearly 20 years working in economic policy, trying to get the right data in the hands of policymakers, and mostly finding it to be far too difficult to convince the people in power to do the thing that was obviously in the economic interest of most people and in the interest of economic growth in our country.

Baratunde Thurston  20:38  

So, you say you're proposing these policies that are obviously in the benefit of most people, and economic growth? That to me, sounds like one of those win win situation? Why was it hard to sell these ideas?

Heather McGhee  20:55  


Baratunde Thurston  20:57  

Dang it. Not again. No,

Heather McGhee  21:01  

I'm sort of joking. But I'm not really joking. That's what I want to find out. Right? The first line in my book is, have you ever wondered why we can't seem to have nice things and buy nice things, I really do mean, like, really universal health care, a modern world class, or even just reliable infrastructure, a public health system to contain and handle pandemics and save lives. And it was clear that kind of the tools that I had been using, you know, the Economic Policy Research, the legislative drafting and the congressional testimony, and all of that was basically falling on deaf ears. And inequality was getting wider and wider every year. I just felt like I needed to spend some time to figure out what was really going on underneath the surface. And what I ended up finding was that the biggest impediment to our progress in America, the reason why we can't have those nice things, is that there's this zero sum worldview, this idea that there's an OS and event, we're not actually all on the same team. And that, in fact, progress for people of color has to come at white folks expense. And I say that, because white people are much more likely to have this zero sum worldview. black folks don't believe that progress for us has to come at white folks expense. And it's that zero sum worldview that has led many white folks, in fact, the majority since the Civil Rights Movement, to politically sort of cheer the destruction of and resent the provision of public goods that could help them and their families in many instances, because it could help the people on the other team

Baratunde Thurston  23:03  

after the break, how this us versus them mentality got started, and how we can undo it.

So Heather, what I'm hearing from you is that at least since the Civil Rights Movement, white Americans have been opposing policies that will make life better for them. Because those same policies would also benefit black people. Is there something unique about this white American response? Or is that just human nature?

Heather McGhee  23:37  

Such a good question, and I wanted to know, right? Because on the one hand, if it is just human nature, if it's like, oh, well, we're just tribal, you know, it's who we are. We're competitive by nature. And I was like, Okay, well, then I give up, you know, we'll figure out some other route, you know, but the fact that is, was a view held more by white Americans and less by Americans of color, and that white people in Denmark and France and England and Spain didn't feel the same way. Right? They loved their public goods. It felt like, Okay, I gotta get to the to the bottom of this. And that's why the first thing I did was kind of immerse myself in an unvarnished history of the country through that lens. Okay, where did the zero sum story come from? And so looking back at our history, the zero sum was an essential foundation for the economic structure of our country at the beginning, where our original economic model was stolen people stolen land and stolen labor. And in order to justify that within a Christian society, they had to make those people who were being stolen less than human. And therefore they had to create this racial hierarchy, this racial taxonomy, and the model was I profit you lose. You don't get to share any of the games of your land. Your effort, your labor, nothing slavery. And settler colonialism is about a zero sum as it comes here. But even then, and this was the real like, aha for me, I had to admit that actually, that worst possible economic model only truly maximally benefited a narrow elite back then, of white people. And so that white slave owning landowning elite had to convince the far more numerous landless indentured white folks who were sitting there in the, you know, Rocky fields alongside the black folks that they were better than the person down down the row. And that, in fact, justice or freedom for black folks would be a threat to white folks. period,

Baratunde Thurston  25:55  

the old divide and conquer,

Heather McGhee  25:57  

II old divide and conquer. So that's where it came from. And then it's been reanimated generation after generation, this idea of job competition, giving white folks everyday white folks just enough taste of privilege that they could choose their race over their class

Baratunde Thurston  26:19  

as pretty convincing story backed up by a few centuries now of storytelling. That's right. So tell me about the traveling you did while you were researching and writing this book.

Heather McGhee  26:30  

So I talked to a whole bunch of people. So I went, for example, to Mississippi, where the workers at a car factory had just voted against organizing into a union with the United Auto Workers,

Unknown Speaker  26:49  

Nissan is unable to provide decent wages and decent working conditions here in  Mississippi.

Heather McGhee  26:59  

And for me growing up in the Midwest, where those kinds of jobs, those unionized manufacturing jobs were the best jobs. I was like, Okay, why would anybody vote no, to having that kind of power. So I wanted to go down and sit with folks. And so I flew, and then I drove to a kind of nondescript worker center in a strip mall, which was the place where the pro union workers would kind of meet before their shift and hang out and talk in between shifts, and I sat in the lobby with them over a series of days, and just talk to them about the conditions of the plant, the lives that they led, what they hoped for what they had hoped that unionizing would bring them. And race was always the topic of the conversation. So we had far more black workers than white workers who had been supportive of the Union. And they were clear to me that the word union itself was kind of a dog whistle in the south for something that lazy undeserving black folks needed. As this one guy Joey said to me, white guy with a sleeve of tattoos and cut off sleeve shirt said, the white folks down here, they got their Southern mentality, I voted for it, if the blacks are for it, if the blacks are for it, then I'm against it. Like that is the mentality. They talked about the way that white folks did have an advantage in the plant as it was that there was a real ladder of hierarchy, and that the white folks were much more likely to have what they called the cushy or jobs, it's one guy said, she can tell their coach because they can leave work and go straight to the happy hour, and they don't have to go home and shower. Right. And so it was those kinds of little perks, right, the little advantages of whiteness. And honestly, after the first day, I went back to my hotel room, and I was like, well, maybe white folks are right, like maybe this is better for them than having a union with rules that are going to put them on the same level, right. And then I had to remind myself, right, but nobody has good health care. Nobody has job security, nobody has the things that should really matter. Things that could actually transform your life. It's like two people in a cold room. one's got a coat one doesn't. But if they just sort of joined together and like shouldered open the door, then walked out into the sun where it's 70 degrees, they both be good, you know, but it's the boss that keeps them in the cold room. Right and keeps that sense of I'm going to have a little bit of advantage over what is generally speaking, a crappy system. And I'm going to cling to that advantage. Rather than opening my hand and joining forces with somebody I've been taught to disdain and distrust even if both of our lives will be better. white folks have been taught that if there is a risk in society, they're going to be protected from it. And the burdens are gonna fall on the people that the burdens always fall on. Now, that is both true when it comes to pollution, environmental degradation and the vulnerability of when the lights go out and the power goes out in the pandemic arise, right, those disparities will exist. It's not like white people are completely spared. So it is an illusion, just like race is an illusion, just like this racial hierarchy is an illusion, but it's one that is present enough to have them like hedging their bets a little bit. But it's the toll is is mounting, right? I mean, before the pandemic, unplugged our economy and threw millions of people out of work. Nearly half of adult workers were only making $10 an hour or $18,000 a year, on average, they were low wage work, right? This, this economy, that sort of where the rules are rigged to squeeze down and down and down, is the economy that black and brown folks have always known as the economy that was created for us to live in. And now, many more white people are living in it too, because they've so cast their lot with a sense of racial allegiance to a white elite.

Baratunde Thurston  31:19  

I want to talk about something that we hear a lot about. Let's talk about wealth inequality. What is wealth inequality? And why do you care about why should we care about? Isn't it a feature of societies since time immemorial? You got rich, you got poor people? What's the big deal?

Heather McGhee  31:43  

So wealth, as opposed to income? income is your paycheck, right? Well, wealth is how much money you have in the bank, no matter what paycheck is coming in or not. It's in your savings account. It's about the value of your house, it's about a pension or 401k you might have or an IRA, it's about the things that don't come and go with how much effort you put in, it's just the shit you have. And that is where history shows up in your wallet. It was your family, they're in line with the right color skin at the time when the government was still handing out houses with no downpayment. Right was your family in line, when they were handing out jobs that were unionized, that had a pension? Were you in line when they were handing out debt free college? Or were you born into a family that was excluded from all that? by design. So when we talk about wealth inequality, we are talking about the people who make their money by opening an envelope that comes from their stockbroker, versus the people who make money going into a job. That's a whole different level, right. And there are many people whose money just sits there and makes money. And it has nothing to do with how tired they get in a day.

Baratunde Thurston  33:07  

So your money works rather than you working.

Heather McGhee  33:09  

Thank you. Exactly. So the richest 1% owns more than the entire middle class combined today, then you look at race. And that's where you start to bring it down to the sort of real brass tacks level where the average family headed by a white high school dropout has more wealth than the average black family headed by a college graduate.

Baratunde Thurston  33:41  

So that doesn't that doesn't sound right. So I'm going to need you to double check your math on that. Because that doesn't sound very American. So you're just trying to try one more time.

Heather McGhee  33:53  

Just Alright, let me do a quick calculation. The average household headed by a white high school dropout has about $34,000 in average wealth for a household head by a black college graduate, the average wealth is less than $30,000. So what that means is that individual myth of the thing that is holding black folks back now is a lack of education, a lack of income, a lack of what the nice economists call human capital is largely false. And it's really about whether or not you were the right at the right place in the right time in history with the right skin color to get free stuff that then begets more and more free stuff. Your Money creates money. If you've got house and home equity, then you can borrow against that to pay for college tuition, then your kid doesn't have To go into debt, then they can graduate and take an unpaid internship, or spend six months working at a startup that doesn't pay them.

Baratunde Thurston  35:08  

Your biggest takeaways from your journey putting this book together.

Heather McGhee  35:13  

The thing that my journey to write the book taught me is that race and racism is always there. It's always there in our politics and our policymaking even when we don't think it is. And the zero sum racial hierarchy is a tale as old as time. And yet, we have come to the moral and productive and have it and we've got to start replacing it with the solidarity dividend, where we refill the pool of public goods for everyone. But we recognize it because of racist policymaking we're not all standing at the same depths in that drained pool. Some people are underwater completely, some people are treading water. And so one size is never gonna fit all never has never will. And that we need each other. We are on the same team.

Baratunde Thurston  36:04  

What is solidarity, dividend?

Heather McGhee  36:07  

solidarity, dividends are the gains that we can unlock. But only if we work together across lines of race, the things that we all need, that we simply can't do on our own cleaner air, higher wages, better funded schools. But as long as we're divided, we're not going to do that.

Baratunde Thurston  36:27  

What signs are you seeing that we can climb out of this hole? Because as much as I try to be motivational, inspirational and honest, the honest part of me is like, I don't know, man, this racial narrative story is it's been on the run. This is the series that always gets renewed, and people keep watching. So what's the other story? What's the other show?

Heather McGhee  36:52  

So the pessimistic story is January 6, right? is we have had a white supremacists, anti democratic attempt to see the capital and Lynch our elected representatives to throw out the results of an election, something we have not seen since reconstruction and something in terms of in the National Capital we have never seen. That's pretty bad. That's pretty bad. That's pretty pretty Exhibit A have exactly the stakes of this racial narrative of the desire to burn down the edifice of our democracy rather than have it be a multiracial democracy. But the reason for hope is January 5, is the day that came before when in Georgia failed again. In Georgia, a multi racial, anti racist coalition, got together, gotten formation behind Stacey Abrams and the successor to Martin Luther King's church. And a nice white Jewish guy. Said with march in the Washington, Let

Unknown Speaker  38:07  

Freedom Ring, NBC News. Now projecting that Jon Ossoff, the democrat will win the senate runoff in the state of Georgia projects

Unknown Speaker  38:18  

Raphael Warnock as the winner, the 82 year old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator.

Heather McGhee  38:31  

You know what I'm saying? And you know, we are talking right now, after President Joe Biden signed a bill that is poised to cut child poverty in half historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country. That is the biggest grant indigenous communities in our history. That is going to include money for vaccines and reopening schools and to address homelessness and affordable housing and school lunches and giving families $300 a month to make sure that they don't have to choose between feeding their kids and and keeping the lights on.

Baratunde Thurston  39:15  

How do you tell a white person not just to like help we the black people, but like there's something in this for you. This country tells the story of how great we are. We went to the moon we defeated the Nazis, we did. We created, you know, wet naps, you know that we've done a lot a lot of powerful things. And I'm like, guess what? We did all that with most of the players like not you we might have been to Mars by now. If we let women have their own bank accounts, you know, we could have created that much more wealth. So when you think about what a healthy economy looks like, and the connection to racial equity or equality, how do you think about that? story what is in it? For the some of us when we grant access to an opportunity to all of us?

Heather McGhee  40:10  

That's exactly right. I mean, that is a Case for Reparations. Remember, the white high school dropout has more wealth than the black college educated person, we got a wealth issue to work out with here. But we do have to recognize that the conversation about reparations is going to be heard in that zero sum framework, right? It's going to be well, what's the cost out of my pocket? Why are you giving money to them? What about me? Black Lives Matter What about white blacks. But the way I see it, is, we hit on the formula in the United States, for the greatest middle class the world have ever seen the most prosperous economy of the modern era. And the foundations of that we're investing in ordinary folks and giving them the cushion to be able to meet their needs and fulfill their dreams. And then the majority of white folks turn their back on that formula, because it was expanded to black folks. And if we were to actually say that the government that made the policies to strip wealth to enslave all of that the government is the one that owes black America, not white people have to cut a check to their nearest black neighbor, you know, it is the government that means to give black families something so that there is that cushion in that platform for them, for us to build our dreams. And that you can't look at the 13 to one racial wealth divide so much of which is about inherited wealth, and not see that if we did reparations, it will be seed capital for the America that is becoming. That's what I see reparations as it's investing in our people and our future again.

Baratunde Thurston  41:57  

reparations is not a giveaway. It's an investment. Heather McGee. Yeah, it has been a pleasure. Thank you so so much.

Heather McGhee  42:10  

Thank you Baratunde thank you for this beautiful, beautiful podcast.

Baratunde Thurston  42:26  

As you might be able to tell I really enjoyed that conversation with Heather. Our economy is based on exclusion, historically speaking, and in the present. And this is not an intellectual point. This is real stuff here. It actually matters. And when we think about what the alternative is to build, an economy built on inclusion and participation, something more small d democratic, we have to leave that zero sum mentality, that I'm here to take your stuff, or that charitable mentality, we got to help these poor black people get ahead and catch up? No, we've got to help ourselves by benefiting from the contributions when everybody participates. That's how we win. That's how we do better we do it together. So how do we get that? How do we build that economy, that participatory, more democratic economy, where we benefit from everybody's participation, rather than fearing? The good news is, you know, we're gonna go there. That's what we do here. Next week, we're going to talk to someone for whom inclusion is not a charitable effort. It's just smart business.

Unknown Speaker  43:46  

So many sort of quote, unquote, social enterprises are frankly stupid. I don't like this idea that there's one group of customers that you sell to, and there's another group of customers that you do charity for

Baratunde Thurston  43:59  

next week, we talked to Sam Polk of every table. Now for the fun part, where we give you things you can do to citizen better, I want you to think, first, that's the first action, just think just try to remember where your family fits into this story. Our history is deeply rooted in this idea that when one group gains another group has to lose. Has anyone you know, has anyone in your family expressed those ideas? Where do you think that comes from? Why do you think this person expressed those things? Just think about that simple. The next thing I want you to do is read Heather McGhee's book, check it out from your local library, take it off the reserve list, or support a local bookshop. In fact, we set up slash how to citizen with a bunch of books including Heather's that we think will help us all in this journey. And finally, I want you to do something a little more public that shows what a solidarity dividend might actually feel like. Let's fight for 15. As Heather explained these solidarity dividends are the gains we get when we work together across racial divides for the benefit of us all. Fight for 15 as an international movement for workers rights, and a $15 minimum wage. The website is fight for And there are several ways for you to get involved. Pick one. If you take any of these actions, please brag about yourself online using the hashtag how to citizen and send us general feedback or ideas for the show to comments and how to speaking of that domain name, visit to sign up for our newsletter. We'll learn about upcoming events. And if you'd like to show, spread the word tell somebody if you don't definitely just keep it to yourself. Appreciate you. How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of IHeartRadio, podcasts and dust live productions? Our executive producers are me, Baratunde Thurston, Elizabeth Stewart and Misha Yousef. Our producers are Stephanie Cohn and Allie Kilt. Kelly Prime is our editor. Valentino Rivera is our engineer. And Sam Paulson is our apprentice. Original Music by Andrew Eapen. This episode was produced and sound designed by Stephanie Cohn and special thanks to Joelle Smith from iHeartRadio


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