Book Review–The Sum of Us, Heather McGee

Part of my commitment to being a White ally to is to continue to educate myself about race and issues of racial equity, to reduce the burden on the folks of color around me to keep me informed and to help me do better in my daily interactions and decisions that may have disproportionate impacts on them. When The Sum of Us was released, I knew it would be going onto my reading list, although it took the recent rerelease to paperback to remind me to pick up a copy.

The Sum of Us is beautifully written, thoughtful and clear, with McGee’s detailed knowledge of the economic underpinnings of so many of our decisions to illustrate and substantiate her argument that racism and the policies that arise out of fear of progress for Black Americans is harming all of us.

What does this have to do with lifting weights? I talk a lot of about privilege. Mostly, I focus on issues of gender, ability/disability, body size, and economic privilege, because these are the issues that I have personal experience with. As a White ally, I do believe it is my responsibility to talk about race and racism, but I don’t think it is my job to define the problem, but rather to respond to the feedback and believe the input I get from communities of color when I learn something is problematic. Unfortunately, I live in a state (Oregon) that was founded as Whites only, and over a century and a half of intentional efforts to keep it lacking in diversity has done the job well–and the gyms and other fitness spaces I interact with reflect this relative lack of diversity. Furthermore, I suspect that the lack of representation in the online and media spaces that drives me nuts as a queer woman must be doubly problematic for my fellow lifters of color. We’re all stuck listening to primarily White men, but when a woman enters the space, she is far more likely to be a White woman.

McGee argues that there are hidden costs of racism for all of us, and I see echoes of the hidden costs of sexism that I witness in the world of lifting. I wish I had access to the wealth of data that McGee brings to the table to argue her point, as I have no doubt that gendered spaces result in less quality and access for everyone, too. For any of these issues of privilege and systemic oppression, if we want them to change, we must change the underlying thoughts that fuel them. As McGee says, “It’s the beliefs that must change, if we want to change the results.”

Inequality anywhere is a threat to equality everywhere. Our lives are richer, literally fuller of possibilities and with more access to opportunity, when we are committed to improving the quality of life for everyone. I’m grateful for Heather McGee writing The Sum of Us, for helping to deepen my understanding of these issues and continue the work of learning how to better advocate for real equality for all of us.

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