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The White Bonus

Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America

Tracie McMillan

Henry Holt and Co.

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ISBN10: 1250619424
ISBN13: 9781250619426


464 Pages



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In The White Bonus, 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 white 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.

For readers of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us, McMillan brings groundbreaking insight on the white working class. And for readers of Tara Westover’s Educated and Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, McMillan reckons intimately with the connection between the abuse we endure at home and the abuse America allows in public.


Praise for The White Bonus

"The White Bonus buckles and snaps everything I thought I knew about race, space, place and bookmaking. This is what courage and absolute genius produce. We have never needed a book more than we need Tracie McMillan's The White Bonus."—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

"A painful, calm, and clear-eyed excavation of white complicity, The White Bonus is stunning in scope. McMillan will make you re-examine everything you thought you knew about American health and wealth."Beth Macy, New York Times bestselling author of Dopesick and Raising Lazarus

"Finding hidden systems that enrich a few at the expense of the many is Tracie McMillan’s superpower. Armed with an ethnographer’s sensitivity, a journalist’s instinct, a scholar’s capacity to see the value of both forests and trees, and a poet’s gift for turning words into feelings, she combines deep investigative research with personal stories to reveal that “whiteness” is America’s most lucrative fiction, the intangible asset that keeps on giving—and taking. The point of the book is not just to interpret the “white bonus” but to end it."Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"The White Bonus is a remarkable book from a peculiar gaze. McMillan's compulsively readable mix of memoir, policy and journalism shines a spotlight and collective responsibility on modern American inequality: indelibly racialized and crosshatched by economic class. A must-read for anyone seeking to better understand race, class, or both."—Darrick Hamilton, Founding Director of the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy, The New School

"This searing book, hard to put down, confronts difficult truths about racism’s direct and indirect gains for white Americans and losses for all. With often painful human detail, The White Bonus sharply explains how public policies and private actions regarding housing, schooling, crime, and health care, each inflected by race, affect personal prospects and collective outcomes."Ira Katznelson, award-winning author of When Affirmative Action Was White

"The White Bonus is an invaluable resource for understanding racism in terms of systems, rather than just attitudes. McMillan looks unflinchingly at the benefits and costs of racism through the lens of her own family's gains and losses. A reporter at heart, she digs through the archives of both personal trauma and personal finance to show how every story in the U.S. is actually a story about race."Lewis Raven Wallace, Abolition Journalism Fellow, Interrupting Criminalization and host and author, The View From Somewhere

"The White Bonus is an unusually daring book that explores how racism has given unfair advantages to white Americans as we all pursue the American dream. Tracie McMillan profiles a range of Americans to show how their "white bonus” results in advantages that can total hundreds of thousands of dollars. This original, compelling work investigates an undeniable inequity that America has too long ignored."Steven Greenhouse, journalist and author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor

"The White Bonus confronts head-on the widespread myth that white Americans will lose nothing if the nation finally ends anti-Black racism. By translating complex scholarship into layperson’s terms, this powerful work forces us to recognize the difficulties in reaching a point where most white Americans will support, actively, racial equity in the United States."—William Darity, Jr., Duke University

"In this eye-opening examination into the tangible and intangible advantages of being born white in America, McMillan uses her own family's story and those of everyday white Americans to quantify the cash value of whiteness. An important contribution."—Heather McGhee, New York Times bestselling author, The Sum of Us

"[A] fresh, urgent new look at the mechanisms of racism in America."Booklist

"Intimate and eye-opening . . . [A] compassionate invitation to white readers to hear, and reckon with, the story of race in America as deeply personal."Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


If American life is a river, relief from poverty and strife sits atop one of its slippery banks, and the American Dream sits safely back from its edge. Few of us manage to plant our feet firmly enough in that soil to...

About the author

Tracie McMillan

Raised in rural Michigan, Detroit- and Brooklyn-based writer Tracie McMillan has written for publications including the New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Mother Jones; Harper’s Magazine; Slate; and National Geographic. After putting herself through New York University and training under legendary reporter Wayne Barrett, she was the managing editor of the award-winning magazine City Limits from 2001 to 2005. A one-time target of Rush Limbaugh and a 2012-13 Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow, McMillan is also the author of the bestselling The American Way of Eating (Scribner, 2012). McMillan’s work has been recognized by the Sidney Hillman Book Prize, the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards, and Investigative Reporters and Editors, among others.

Tracie McMillan

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