• Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples
  • Engaging


Racism affects every member of a society, not only the victims. When racism corrupts public policy, it impedes economic growth and harms everyone, including those the policy is supposed to benefit. Economist Heather C. McGhee found racism lurking at the heart of many of America’s most vexing problems, including failing infrastructure and the financial crash of 2008. In her research, she saw repeated examples of zero-sum thinking – the idea that one group benefits only at the expense of another. Fortunately, she also found many instances of people defying racism and uniting to build a better future.


When racism contaminates public policy, it hurts economies, and all members of society suffer.

In 2016, Heather McGhee, an African-American woman and an expert in economic policy, appeared on a public television program to speak about her field when she took a call from a man named Gary. He began by saying, “I’m a white male, and I’m prejudiced.” He explained that he stereotyped black men as dangerous gang members and criminals but professed a desire to change and become a “better American.” McGhee responded thoughtfully, and the exchange garnered more than eight million views on social media. After the on-air exchange, Gary and McGhee met in person, continued their dialogue and eventually became friends. McGhee showed Gary how racism influences American public policy, and Gary inspired McGhee to wonder whether racist public policies hurt not only minorities but also those they are designed to benefit and protect.

For example, America spends less per capita than any other developed nation...

About the Speaker

Economic and social policy expert Heather C. McGhee is a former president and senior fellow at Demos, a think tank. She wrote The Sum of Us.

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