Main Navigation

The economic cost of racism and the zero-sum paradigm with Heather Mcghee

Heather McGhee is speaking at the U on Nov. 17.

In 2016, a C-Span call went viral when a white caller who proclaimed himself prejudiced asked Heather McGhee, author of “The Sum of Us, What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” how to overcome his racial bias and be a better American. She graciously thanked him for acknowledging his fears and prejudices and outlined a path forward by providing achievable changes to mend racial divides. She advised him—and everyone—to get to know Black families, join a Black church, understand that nightly news overrepresents Black crime and underrepresents White crime and to become educated about the history of African Americans in this country.

The Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah will host McGhee for the annual Tanner Lecture on Human Values, Thursday, Nov. 17, 7 p.m., in the S.J. Quinney College of Law Moot Courtroom. In her original lecture, McGhee will address structural racism, the economy and the benefits gained when people come together to practice what McGhee calls the “Solidarity Dividend,” which is working together across racial lines to accomplish what they can’t do on their own. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required and can be obtained through Eventbrite.

“Heather McGhee’s work shows us how racism doesn’t only continue to hurt communities of color in this country. It also helps further the exploitation of poor White communities and keeps us from enacting policies that would help the American public across the board,” said Jeremy Rosen, acting director of the Tanner Humanities Center.

McGhee takes on America’s economy and the mission to end racial zero-sum thinking—one group’s success comes at the expense of another. She explores why the economy so often fails all American people by journeying around the nation, exploring stories ranging from rising student debt to the financial crisis, the lack of universal health care and collapsing public infrastructure, always landing on racism as the common issue.

“McGhee’s attention to civic engagement has never been timelier,” said Hollis Robbins, dean of the College of Humanities. “For example, the desire of older generations ‘to pass down the value of voting to the younger generation. What can we do to narrow the age gap in voting?’ McGhee asks. This will be an important policy conversation a week after the midterm elections when we ponder the results and our hopes for a more equitable future.”

In addition to her book, McGhee hosts The Sum of Us podcast, delivered a TED talk in 2020 and has appeared on The Daily Show, NBC, MSNBC, NPR and more. She serves as the chair of the Board of Color of Change, the country’s largest online racial justice organization.