Alta Live: Author Tracie McMillan / Alta

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McMillan joins Alta senior editor Matt Haber to discuss her new book, The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America.

How much is it worth—literally—to be a white person in America? In her newest book, The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America, author Tracie McMillan follows five white subjects, including herself, to examine racial privilege. In this episode of Alta Live, McMillan sits down with Alta Journal senior editor Matt Haber to explain the hypothesis of her book, detail her math in calculating the value of whiteness, and reveal the surprises she discovered throughout her writing. At a time when Americans are more divided than ever, McMillan’s take is a vital one. Dive in with us for this eye-opening episode.


A rural midwestern transplant to New York City, Tracie McMillan is the author of The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America and the New York Times bestseller The American Way of Eating, which won the Books for a Better Life Award and the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism.

McMillan has received the Russell Sage Foundation’s fellowship, the MacDowell fellowship, and the Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan. Her essays and journalism have been published in the New York TimesMother JonesHarper’s, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles TimesNational Geographic, and elsewhere. She is a two-time finalist for a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, a Livingston Award Finalist, and the winner of the Harry Chapin Media Award, the James Aronson Prize for Social Justice Journalism, and a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award. She has spoken widely about her work and the topics it covers for audiences at places ranging from the Logan Symposium on Investigative Reporting to the Chautauqua Institution and from Seattle Town Hall to Texas A&M University.

Previously, McMillan served as a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism; the managing editor at City Limits magazine in New York City; and a member of the James Beard Foundation Media Awards Journalism Committee, where she pushed for broader racial, economic, and geographic diversity in judging panels. Her career began with an internship under the legendary investigative reporter at the Village Voice, Wayne Barrett. In 2023, she began editing coverage of worker organizing at the award-winning news site Capital & Main.


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 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 into 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.•

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