Heather McGhee to Discuss How Racism in American Politics and Policymaking Hurts the Economy

Posted Mar 31, 2023

When Civil Rights leaders successfully pushed for segregated public swimming pools to be integrated, many cities either sold the pools to private entities or drained them and closed them down for good. These closures didn’t just hurt Black people, though – they also prevented White people from enjoying the pools. That is a small example of a civic policy decision hurting everyone.

Here’s a bigger example: Mississsippi is one of 10 states that rejected federal funding to expand health insurance for the poor. The missing funding has fueled a full-blown hospital crisis in the state. Hospitals are closing and rural economies are suffering.

Heather McGhee calls these and other examples of policy decisions rooted in racism that hurt everyone “Drained Pool Politics.”

McGhee will discuss the connection between racial inequality and the American economy in her talk for the Vernon L. Pack Distinguished Lecture Series at 7 p.m. on April 4, at Church of the Messiah (just a block east of the Campus Center at the corner of Home and State streets). Get more information and register at otterbein.edu/pack.

McGhee’s specialty is the economy, and her book, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, spent 10 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and is a Washington Post and TIME Magazine Must-Read Book of 2021.

From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, McGhee found a common root problem: racism. Racism has costs for White people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. What do we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm — the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others? McGhee has traveled the country exploring these questions and more:

  • How did public goods in this country — parks, pools, functioning schools, and more — become private luxuries?
  • Why did unions collapse, wages stagnate, and inequality increase?
  • Why has our country thwarted universal healthcare, unlike the world’s advanced economies?

McGhee’s relationship to Otterbein runs deeper than her visit to campus. Otterbein was the first Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center in Ohio to be designated by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), and McGhee’s book, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, is being incorporated into Otterbein’s TRHT work this spring. McGhee’s mother, Gail Christopher, is the architect of the TRHT model. 

McGhee also designs and promotes solutions to inequality in America. Over her career in public policy, she has crafted legislation, testified before Congress, and helped shape presidential campaign platforms. She has worked on such issues as “debt-free college,” bringing it into the center of the 2016 presidential debate; voting rights, arguing before the Supreme Court and helping to win pro-voter reforms in five states over two years; and living wages, leading the research campaigns behind successful wage increases for low-paid workers on federal contracts, as well as at McDonalds, Walmart, and other chain retailers.  

She regularly appears on NBC’s Meet the Press and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Deadline White House, and All In. Her 2020 TED talk is entitled Racism Has a Cost for Everyone. Her opinions, writing, and research have been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Politico and NPR. McGhee’s conversation on a C-SPAN program in 2016 with a white man who asked for her help to overcome his racial prejudice went viral, receiving more than 10 million views and sparking wide media coverage that included a New York Times op-ed, a New Yorker piece, and a CNN town hall. For more information, visit www.heathermcghee.com.

Here are few resources that might be of interest in advance of McGhee’s visit:

  • Interview with Trevor Noah on the Daily Show (approx. 9 minutes long)
  • TED Talk: “Racism has a cost for everyone” (approx. 15 minutes long)
  • Podcast Series: “The Sum of Us” – available wherever you receive podcasts, originally broadcast on Spotify, 9 episodes (each 30-55 minutes in length)

To learn more about McGhee’s advocacy and policy work, and to find additional resources, videos, and articles visit https://heathermcghee.com/.

Get more information about the event at www.otterbein.edu/pack. Click HERE to RSVP.  Please note, no physical ticket will be needed for this event, although an advanced RSVP is appreciated as capacity is limited.