If you’ve seen Abby’s documentary, The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales, you won’t forget the wisdom imparted by the formidable writer and policy analyst Heather McGee. In the film, Heather reminds us that the economy is not like the weather–it is actually something we can control. And, crucially, she tells a story about American history that’s not told often enough: how deep seated racism in the 20th Century helped unravel a whole host of government policies responsible for creating the largest middle class the world had ever seen. Because so much of their powerful and thought-provoking 2021 conversation never made it into the documentary, this week Abby goes into the vault to share an extended version. Too often, Heather tells Abby, American history gets “Disneyfied.” It’s important, she says, that people know the truth, because “when we don’t know what the powerful will do in order to keep power, we are vulnerable to the powerful doing it again”. Heather’s insights, based on her groundbreaking book, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, help explain why so many Americans are working full time, yet unable to pay their bills.
Heather designs and promotes solutions to inequality in America. Her first 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 was long-listed for the National Book Award and Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, among numerous other awards. In the summer of 2022, The Sum of Us was adapted into a Spotify podcast by Higher Ground, the production company of Barack and Michelle Obama. The Sum of Us will be adapted into a young adult readers’ version by Random House Children’s in February 2023. Heather’s 2020 TED talk, “Racism Has a Cost for Everyone” reached 1 million views in just two months online.
Heather has testified in Congress, drafted legislation, and developed strategies for organizations and campaigns that won changes to improve the lives of millions. For nearly two decades, she helped build the non-partisan “think and do” tank Demos, serving four years as president. Through her regular media appearances, she elevates the concerns of working families on programs including NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Heather is the chair of the board of Color of Change, the country’s largest online racial justice organization, and volunteers for numerous other boards in the fields of philanthropy and social justice. Heather graduated from Yale University and the University of California Berkeley School of Law, and has honorary degrees from Muhlenberg College, Niagara University and CUNY School of Public Health. She lives in Brooklyn with her urbanist husband and a chatty pre-schooler.