Journalist Tracie McMillan examines systemic white privilege in new book 'The White Bonus'

FLINT, Michigan — Journalist Tracie McMillan, who was raised in Holly and authored the 2012 New York Times bestseller, 'The American Way of Eating,' is promoting her latest book, 'The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America.' In it, McMillan examines how her family and four others have benefited financially over generations by being white alone.

Her in-depth and honest investigation uncovers how years of inequity in trade unions and zoning laws, along with school and bussing discrimination, have provided financial security to these middle-class white families. Furthermore, she uncovers how institutions in our country continue to provide these benefits at the expense of Black America.

Flintside had a chance to speak with McMillan about her background in writing, the inspiration for her latest book, and much more.

Flintside: Tell me a little bit about your background and your ties to the Flint area.

Tracie McMillan: “Yes. I grew up in Holly and graduated from Holly High School in 1994. I got a partial scholarship to NYU and have pretty much been in New York since. My first book ('The American Way of Eating') came out in 2012 and was sufficiently successful that I landed a fellowship at the University of Michigan which allowed me to save enough money to buy a house in Detroit. So I have roots in New York where I have professional work and a long-standing community and I also keep ties in Detroit.” 

Flintside: When did you develop your passion for writing?

T. McMillan: “I was always very interested in writing and was very curious. I had lots of questions, which led me into journalism. I started as an investigative reporter at The Village Voice and was trained by a reporter, Wayne Barrett,  who was very thoughtful about matters of race. And while I was in college I had a chance to study history in a way that I had not while in Holly schools, so at the start of my career as a journalist, I was very interested in questions of poverty and equity as well as race and gender.”
The cover for 'The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America.'
Flintside: What was the genesis for the idea of your new book and how long was the process from start to finish?

T. McMillan; “I’m white and grew up without a lot of money, and I was growing frustrated with conversations around white privilege. Particularly because in elite media circles, quite often, white privilege is confused with white wealth when that’s not normally the case. I’ve learned that racism not only operates to hurt Black people but to help white people, at least by comparison.

So, 'The White Bonus' is an example of calculations for the way that racism has benefited an individual white person; including me. I wanted to see how much I got or saved because of white privilege. I wanted to track this to policies and practices that were helping white people. I didn’t know this until starting the book, but it turns out that almost all of the money that’s been passed down through generations in my family can be traced to racism benefiting white people.”

Flintside: You cover the lives of five families, including your own. Was it difficult to find subjects to talk to?

T. McMillan: “It wasn’t that difficult. I was hoping to cover poor, middle-class, and rich families, but I was only able to find middle-class families to talk to because I think those are the families that understand how precarious they are, so they're interested in finding out how this advantage works.”

Flintside: Did anything surprise you while working on this project?

T. McMillan: “Mostly I was just surprised as to how much of the history of racism in my community and my family had been unspoken. To me, it was just really confounding and upsetting to see how much this very recent history had been hidden from me. You don’t even have to go back to the enslavement period to find serious evidence of white supremacy written into policy and racism written into private practice.”

For more information on Tracie McMillan and to purchase a copy of 'The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America,' visit:
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.