The white bonus Five families and the cash value of racism in America

Tracie McMillan

Book - 2024

"In The White Bonus, Tracie McMillan asks a provocative question about racism in America: When people of color are denied so much, what are white people given? And how much is it worth--not in amorphous privilege, but in dollars and cents? McMillan begins with three generations of her family, tracking their modest wealth to its roots: American policy that helped whites first. Simultaneously, she details the complexities of their advantage, exploring her mother's death in a nursing home, at 44, on Medicaid; her family's implosion; and a small inheritance from a banker grandfather. In the process, McMillan puts a cash value to whiteness in her life and assesses its worth. McMillan then expands her investigation to four other wh...ite subjects of different generations across the U.S. Alternating between these subjects and her family, McMillan shows how, and to what degree, racial privilege begets material advantage across class, time, and place"--

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2nd Floor New Shelf 305.8/McMillan (NEW SHELF) Due May 28, 2024
New York : Henry Holt and Company 2024.
Main Author
Tracie McMillan (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xiv, 444 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Author's Note: On Method and Language
  • Prologue
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. My Grandparents
  • Chapter 2. Katrina Rectenwald: Work
  • Chapter 3. My Parents' Childhoods
  • Chapter 4. Lindsey and Maryann Becker: School
  • Chapter 5. My Parents as Parents
  • Chapter 6. Jared Bunde: Crime
  • Chapter 7. My Childhood
  • Chapter 8. Barbara Nathan Katz: Poverty
  • Chapter 9. My Young Adulthood
  • Chapter 10. My Adulthood
  • Epilogue: What Came Before
  • Postscript: What Came After
  • Appendix: The Cash Value of Racism
  • Glossary: Tallying the White Bonus
  • The White Bonus Index
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

McMillan's (The American Way of Eating, 2012) family, like many white families, long told a tale of their own history that relied heavily on thrift, good sense, and self-determination. Race did not feature. In The White Bonus, McMillan uncovers the myriad ways in which she and her family benefited socially and financially from their whiteness. These benefits included access to credit, educational and job opportunities, and financial support from older generations. McMillan does not flinch from the uncomfortable elements of her family's history, including her grandparents' open racism, her father's physical abuse, and her years of financial precarity. She also shares the stories of other white Americans, whose suffering--while real and painful--is nonetheless alleviated by their whiteness. In an appendix, McMillan tallies up the dollars-and-cents value of the "white bonus" she and the others profiled in her book have received, emphasizing that these calculations represent the bare minimum amount of financial benefit they received. It all results in a fresh, urgent new look at the mechanisms of racism in America.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this intimate and eye-opening study, journalist McMillan (The American Way of Eating) documents the direct economic benefits of whiteness. Using three generations of her own family as her core example, she reevaluates her own history, acknowledging the depth of racism in Michigan, where her family has lived for generations, and tracking how racist public policies of the 20th century, like redlining and the G.I. Bill, not only discriminated against Black people, but elevated the status of white families. She draws on four other white subjects' life stories to shed more light on how encounters with racist policy shaped white lives, including a nurse whose union involvement made her conscious of her own family's "colorblind racism"; a pair of sisters whose white family dealt with the fallout of the white flight that changed the demographics and funding of their local school; and a young man whose whiteness provided a second chance after a teenage drug trafficking conviction. McMillan formally runs the numbers at the end of the narrative, solidifying her point: decades of racist public policies have provided outsize resources to white families in ways substantial and quantifiable, even as individual families felt they were simply making the best choices for themselves at the time. It's a compassionate invitation to white readers to hear, and reckon with, the story of race in America as deeply personal. (Apr.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The cost of being Black in America. Award-winning journalist McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating, combines investigative reporting and memoir in a penetrating look at the material advantages of racial privilege. "For a very long time," she writes, "I thought race and racism 'happened' only to people who were not white." Using her own family as one example, and profiling four others, she investigates the impact of whiteness on individuals of different generations, from different parts of the country, who have one thing in common besides whiteness: "Each subject has spent most, if not all, of their life in America's shrinking middle class." In an appendix, she tallies each person's monetary "bonus," which includes expenses such as a family's coverage of ACT prep courses, car insurance, subsidized rent, and direct inheritances. Money alone, though, does not account for whites' "unearned power." One woman, for example, was offered a nursing scholarship by a counselor who told her Black co-worker not to bother. Racial prejudice, McMillan notes, often takes the form of implicit bias, "assumptions people make about others without much conscious thought"--in this case, the assumption that a Black woman lacked the ambition or ability to "bother" about furthering her education. A teenager arrested for dealing LSD was helped by having both of his parents in court, showing solidarity. He avoided a jail sentence, McMillan asserts, because he was white: "the constant association in news accounts of Blackness with dysfunction and hardship could lead a judge in Waterbury to see a Black family and assume they faced poverty and hardship and could not manage their child." Among many advantages that McMillan examines are fair labor laws that exclude agricultural workers and service workers; housing covenants prohibiting sales to Black families; and lack of access to well-funded public schools. A well-researched, disquieting examination of inequality. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.