The Sum of Us plays on the zero-sum game many think our modern racial reality is limited to. A few days ago on Twitter, I saw a comment on a review of the book Reparations by Kwon and Thompson. The comments said that expansion of minority students into high-quality colleges meant that he had not gotten into the school he wanted. I responded that very few White students had not gotten into a college solely because of racial preferences. The response back was a classic zero-sum game response, “There are a limited number of students in universities. If some of them are selected based on race, then someone was denied entry.” First, there is not a limited number of students in universities. If there is a greater demand for university admissions, more seats will be opened up. But second, even now, where many colleges and universities have pledged to work for more diversity in admissions, there are still influences that prioritize white students, like in the case of legacy admissions being the real reason that more Asians were not being accepted into Harvard, not policies to attempt to admit more underserved racial minorities (as is discussed here and here).
What most interested me about why Heather McGhee started researching this book how much it made sense of political gridlock. When she was on staff and then the head of a policy think tank in Washington DC, McGhee advocated policies that would help many people in the US. But she ran into opposition that was willing to vote against policies because of concerns that the policies would help minorities too much. Simply making intellectual policy arguments and financial return arguments on investment did not move the deep-seated bias that many are not aware are moving them. This type of idea comes up frequently in economic psychology (The Righteous Mind or Predictably Irrational). Still, I am also interested in this for issues around both race and spiritual direction. How do we help people see race more clearly, or how do we help people see deeper emotional issues instead of the surface-level intellectual issues around their faith and practice.
Heather McGhee has a central metaphor, the many municipal pools built in the 1920-40s across the country but then were closed and often removed rather than allow integration. Communities were worse off, not just because of the lack of a community pool, but because there was a willingness to destroy a part of a community infrastructure that harmed everyone rather than allowing Black community members to share in the pool. What McGhee is reporting matches what Kevin Kruse reported in White Flight about racial attitudes of White Atlantans. According to Kruse, when a space or activity was integrated, the common assumption of White people was not that this space is not an integrated park or school or public transportation or community, but that it became a Black-only park or school or public transportation or community. Kruse suggests that this is what gave rise to the rise of libertarian opposition to common good spending. McGhee is approaching from a different perspective.