Re-Imagination Nation, We Imagine US

Episode 2: Heather McGhee, Manuel Pastor

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Published on: March 22, 2023

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In our second episode, we learn about solidarity economics with members of SCoRE (Solidarity Council on Racial Equity). Author Heather McGhee talks with Maria about her cross-country journey challenging zero-sum game ideas that progress for some must come at the expense of others. Then, sociology professor Manuel Pastor discusses models for a more inclusive economy designed so that we can all prosper together.

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Maria Hinojosa: [00:00:04] Hey, it’s Re-Imagination Nation. I’m Maria Hinojosa. Have you thought about how racism costs everybody in this country? The public thinker Heather McGhee, also a member of SCoRE, has actually written that book, it’s called The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. In order to kind of understand this idea, Heather got in her car and she drove across the country and she was documenting the impact that this zero-sum paradigm has on our country. That idea, which is that progress for some has to mean that others are going to lose something. But is it true Heather McGhee has become an expert in the conversation around economics and race, and she’s trying to understand why there are not systems in place to support the most vulnerable Americans. So today, my conversation via Zoom with Heather to learn more about her work and her vision for a reimagined world. So if you can help us imagine a society in the future where there is racial equity, can you paint a picture for what that looks like? 

Heather McGhee: [00:01:26] Well, first of all, as a person who likes to measure progress in a future that is racially just and equitable, there is zero correlation between your skin color and your outcomes in life and how you are treated by the systems in our society. You can be as likely to be wildly successful financially and to live in a community that meets all of your needs if you are black, white or brown. There is really just no more correlation between your success and prosperity and happiness and treatment by our systems and the color of your skin. So that’s the measure I’d want to take and it’s completely within our grasp. I think it is a place where the biodiversity of our ecosystem is restored. It’s a place where we have new species of plants and animals cropping up on the planet every day instead of mass species extinction. And why do I start there? I mean, that might be strange. We’re talking about human equality here, but I do believe that there is a fundamental link between the way that the powerful and our economic systems treat and exploit that which they have already dehumanized our air and water, our environment and the animals, and how the wealthy and powerful and our systems treat people that they’ve dehumanized. And so that’s an indicator that everybody could see walking through the woods or drinking the water or looking out their window. Is our ecosystem flourishing? Because so often in an ecosystem that is flourishing, we have people that are flourishing. And indigenous wisdom teaches us that. In a racially equitable future, people know their neighbors and their neighbors don’t look like them. The neighborhoods that we live in reflect the country’s broader diversity. We are in a culture of lifetime learning. Our schools are well funded because we no longer drain the public pool of resources in order to avoid sharing across lines of race. There is a culture of lifetime learning. People are able to afford to go to college tuition and debt free. I’m releasing a book soon called The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. And the central parable at the heart of the book is the story of when towns across the country once had beautiful grand resort style public swimming pools that were the central meeting place in towns and allowed young people and families to sort of positive place to spend the hot summer days. And they were sort of a melting pot in many instances in many areas of the country for white ethnic immigrants. And many of them were whites only or segregated. And when the civil rights movement began to win victories to desegregate and integrate these pools that were paid for with everyone’s tax dollars, so many of those towns drained their public swimming pools rather than integrate them. And of course, the lesson there is that white Americans lost out on a public resource as well. I like to say that we’re sort of all sitting in the bottom of a drained pool now in this age of austerity. So I believe and I envision a world in which we refilled the pool of public goods, but this time for everyone. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:05:21] Heather, do you have an example of success in the fight for equity? 

Heather McGhee: [00:05:27] Yes, thankfully, in the course of writing my book, I travel across the country and talk to hundreds of people. I came across these things. I started to call the solidarity dividend, which was the idea that just as divide and conquer is sort of the oldest trick in the playbook of those who want to keep the economic and social distribution exactly the way it is, people coming together across lines of race can do what none of us can do on our own. And I came across lots of different examples of that. In Richmond, California, a multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual group of refugees, immigrants, African-Americans and progressive white folks got together to take on Chevron, which was the big polluter in their community, and win and community benefits agreement. That is really a model of a just transition in the country. I saw in the stories of fast food workers in Kansas City, one black, one white who are you know, they food work is the most degraded work in our economy. It’s the most inequitable in terms of CEO pay to average worker pay. It’s a thousand to one ratio and they’re organizing, which put race at the center and put racism as a divide and conquer weapon at the center and saw across racial solidarity as the key to overcoming opposition was extremely inspiring to me. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:07:05] Heather McGhee is an activist and the author of the Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Manuel Pastor, who’s a professor at the University of Southern California, proudly calls himself a nerd. He actually helped create a concept known as solidarity economics. It’s basically an idea to research and create new models for a new inclusive economy. And Manuel Pastor is imagining that that kind of solidarity economy could bring this country out of the pandemic. So Manuel, when you think about the future, when you write about it as an academic for you, it’s all about how the future can get better and there can be more equity. So can you paint that picture on the other side of the looking glass? What does that look like, that society?

Manuel Pastor: [00:08:17] Well, first, to explain my optimism, I am the son of an immigrant who came to the United States in the 1930s with papers that were imperfect and was given a chance to legalize during World War Two, when he was given a choice between being deported or joining the U.S. Army. I come from a working-class family that held values of solidarity as being strong, and I come from a generation that helped to end the Vietnam War and move the civil rights movement and the Chicano rights movement, Latino rights movement forward. We’ve seen in California a tremendous ability to go from an era of xenophobia and hate to early 1990s to a state that’s leading on addressing climate change, on protecting immigrants, and on raising the minimum wage. I am sometimes asked if I wake up in 10 years from now, 15 years from now, 20 years from now, and it’s the world I want. What does that world look like? What is the first thing I do when I get up in the morning? And I always answer that question 15, 20 years from now, the first thing I’m going to do is get up and figure out what protest I need to go to because I know that there’s going to be another injustice that I need to tackle. That said, what I am hoping that we see in a decade from now is a considerably shrunken criminal justice system and mass de-incarceration, that we see a system that treats immigrants, regardless of status, like the human beings that they are and creates the opportunities for people to survive and to thrive. And I’m hoping that we see an economy where mutuality is the norm and not individual self-interest, where we understand that people are at the center of our economy and we’ve made it possible for people to live, to survive, to thrive, and to contribute.

Maria Hinojosa: [00:10:53] If there was something that you could change in society that you believe would deliver racial equity what would that thing be? 

Manuel Pastor: [00:11:00] When we talk about what solidarity means for racial equity, I know that means listening to each other, walking in each other’s shoes, understanding the sensuality of anti-black racism, understanding the fear that our current system of immigration strikes into the heart of terrorized immigrant communities. But we’re not going to solve any of that unless we also have a solidarity economy. That is that we’ve got an economy that functions to make sure that people can survive, make sure that shortages that need not exist cease to exist. And then we begin to think out of abundance rather than out of scarcity because when we do, we can begin to see each other as part of our human family and not as groups and individuals. We need to struggle against in a competitive system to make sure that we get what we need. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:12:06] Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California, Manuel Pastor. He’s also the director of the Equity Research Institute. Re-Imagination Nation was produced by Futuro Unidad Hinojosa and PRX as part of the We Imagine US project. Executive producers are myself and Diane Sylvester, our senior supervising producer is Gregory Branch, podcast producer is Andres Caballero, project editor is Kalif Watkins. The engineer is Leah Shaw, our production manager is William Oak’s the fourth, production coordinator, Jessica Ellis, Assistant Project Manager, Raul Perez. Our music was composed by Michael Ramos. The Re-Imagination Nation Project is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a partner with communities where children come first. I’m your host, Maria Hinojosa. Join us for our next episode of Re-Imagination Nation. You can find us online at, PRX, or wherever you get your podcasts on. And don’t forget to check out our companion fiction podcast series, The Long Way Around. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:13:41] Next time on Re-Imagination Nation, activist Saru Jayaraman is dedicated to getting food servers there DOF. And also joining us is Kent Wong from UCLA’s Labor Center. That’s next on Re-Imagination Nation.

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