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Dying of Whiteness
How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland
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In election after election, conservative white Americans have embraced politicians who pledge to make their lives great again. But as physician Jonathan M. Metzl shows in Dying of Whiteness, the policies that result actually place white Americans at ever-greater risk of sickness and death. Interviewing a range of everyday Americans, Metzl examines how racial resentment has fueled progun laws in Missouri, resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. He shows these policies' costs: increasing deaths by gun suicide, falling life expectancies, and rising dropout rates.
Now updated with a new afterword, Dying of Whiteness demonstrates how much white America would benefit by emphasizing cooperation rather than chasing false promises of supremacy.
Winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
DYING OF WHITENESS
BEFORE DONALD TRUMP could implement his agenda—in some cases, before he even took the oath of office—reporters and pundits were already tallying the negative implications of his proposals for many Americans. This isn’t surprising; changes in government policy inevitably create winners and losers. The twist here was that Trump’s plans would hurt the working-class white populations who formed the core of his own base.
“Trump Voters Stand to Suffer Most from Obamacare Repeal and a Trade War” announced an NBC.com piece soon after the 2016 presidential election, quoting George Washington University economist Michael O.
Moore. “I think you’re going to get a disproportionate impact on people who supported Donald Trump but maybe don’t realize that his policies may end up hurting them instead of helping them,” Moore claimed. Salon echoed Moore’s assessment: “Donald Trump is about to victimize his own voters.” Meanwhile, a lead editorial in the New York Times announced that “Trumpcare Is Already Hurting Trump Country.”1
Trump didn’t bother denying any of it. During an interview on Fox News in March 2017, Tucker Carlson told the president that “counties that voted for you, middle-class and working-class counties, would do far less well” under the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “Yeah. Oh, I know that. It’s very preliminary,” Trump replied.2
As promised, the new administration soon pushed a steady stream of cuts to health care delivery systems, financial regulations, environmental protections, job and child support programs, and drug treatment initiatives, all of which imperiled communities and locales where government functions were weak to begin with.3
Of course, voters endorsing politicians whose policies seem likely to hurt them is nothing new. Many Southern and midwestern states boast long histories of leaders who enact laws that disadvantage their own constituents and constituents who nonetheless repeatedly vote for these same politicians. As I show in the following chapters, that dynamic took on particular urgency in the decades leading up to the Trump presidency, when an emerging American conservatism promised to make white America “great” in ways that directly harmed lower- and middle-income white voters who supported conservative politics and policies in the first place.
This book details a seeming contradiction that I observed with increasing frequency during six years of research across the midwestern and Southern United States. Between 2013 and 2018, I traveled to places like Franklin, Tennessee; Olathe, Kansas; and Cape Girardeau, Missouri—in Sarah Palin’s once controversial words, the “real America”—and asked people about urgent and contested political issues facing the American electorate, including health care, guns, taxes, education, and the scope of government. I wanted to learn how people balanced anti-government or pro-gun attitudes while at the same time navigating lives impacted by poor health care, widening gun-related morbidity, and underfunded public infrastructures and institutions.
I uncovered a diversity of complex opinions. Many people with whom I spoke longed for a middle ground in an increasingly polarized political climate and remained surprisingly open to compromise even under an endless drone of Twitter feeds and news reports that suggested America was in the midst of civil Armageddon. Grieving white mothers of gun suicide victims in Missouri told me that guns and the NRA represented “our way of life,” while at the same time lamenting that local governments did not mandate background checks, gun safes, and trigger locks. African American men in Tennessee voiced support for Obamacare because they believed that expanded health insurance benefited low-income black, white, and Hispanic populations alike and in ways that could help everyone. Kansas parents who identified as Republicans and Tea Party supporters wished that their lawmakers would raise state taxes to bolster the public school system. These and other persons, whose voices appear frequently throughout this book, suggest how on-the-ground reality is far more complicated than are the polarized positions we are frequently fed—positions that benefit politicians, donors, foreign governments, or corporations by convincing different groups of Americans that they have nothing in common with each other. At many points along the way, I became convinced that reasonable people of vastly divergent, pro-this or anti-that backgrounds might find middle ground if left to their own devices.
But just as frequently, when I met with middle- and lower-income white Americans across various locales, I found support for a set of political positions that directly harmed their own health and well-being or the health and well-being of their own families. For instance, in early 2016, I spoke with Trevor (most identifying details are changed throughout this book, unless otherwise noted), a forty-one-year-old uninsured Tennessean who drove a cab for twenty years until worsening pain in the upper-right part of his abdomen forced him to see a physician. Trevor learned that the pain resulted from an inflamed liver, the consequence of “years of hard partying” and the damaging effects of the hepatitis C virus. When I met him at a low-income housing facility outside Nashville, Trevor appeared yellow with jaundice and ambled with the help of an aluminum walker to alleviate the pain he felt in his stomach and legs.
As it turned out, debates raged in Tennessee around the same time about the state’s participation in the Affordable Care Act and the related expansion of Medicaid coverage. Had Trevor lived a simple thirty-nine-minute drive away in neighboring Kentucky, he might have topped the list of candidates for expensive medications called polymerase inhibitors, a lifesaving liver transplant, or other forms of treatment and support. Kentucky adopted the ACA and began the expansion in 2013, while Tennessee’s legislature repeatedly blocked Obama-era health care reforms.
Even on death’s doorstep, Trevor wasn’t angry. In fact, he staunchly supported the stance promoted by his elected officials. “Ain’t no way I would ever support Obamacare or sign up for it,” he told me. “I would rather die.” When I asked him why he felt this way even as he faced severe illness, he explained, “We don’t need any more government in our lives. And in any case, no way I want my tax dollars paying for Mexicans or welfare queens.”
Trevor’s attitude points to an existential question at the center of my explorations: Of what was Trevor dying? At the most basic level, he died of the toxic effects of liver damage caused by hepatitis C. When the liver becomes inflamed, it fails to filter toxins from the blood and loses the ability to produce vital compounds such as bile and albumin. Without treatment, death comes by systematic deterioration. Jaundice gives way to ascites, which then gives way to hepatic encephalopathy and coma. It’s an exceedingly slow, painful way to go out.
Yet I could not help but think that Trevor’s deteriorating condition resulted also from the toxic effects of dogma. Dogma that told him that governmental assistance in any form was evil and not to be trusted, even when the assistance came in the form of federal contracts with private health insurance or pharmaceutical companies, or from expanded communal safety nets. Dogma that, as he made abundantly clear, aligned with beliefs about a racial hierarchy that overtly and implicitly aimed to keep white Americans hovering above Mexicans, welfare queens, and other nonwhite others. Dogma suggesting to Trevor that minority groups received lavish benefits from the state, even though he himself lived and died on a low-income budget with state assistance. Trevor voiced a literal willingness to die for his place in this hierarchy, rather than participate in a system that might put him on the same plane as immigrants or racial minorities.4
Trevor also slowly died because the dogmas and hierarchies he supported reflected the agendas of politicians who clamored that health care reform and Medicaid expansion represented everything from government overreach to evil incarnate. Anti-ACA invective found particular champions in GOP lawmakers in Tennessee, a once centrist state that turned hard right. These politicians repeatedly made sure that Tennessee did not create its own Obamacare exchange, expand Medicaid, or embrace the health care law in any way.
Thus, routine screenings, filled prescriptions, visits to doctors’ offices, and many other factors linked to better health outcomes rose steadily in Kentucky in the four years after that state expanded Medicaid. Such trends lifted the overall well-being of many Kentuckians and particularly helped people who suffered from what are oddly called preexisting conditions like hepatitis C—oddly, in my opinion, because “preexisting” assumes that a person’s existence begins at the consummation of health insurance coverage. Meanwhile, preventive care and proper treatment remained unattainable for many lower-income Tennessee citizens, in large part because of their state’s political choices.
As a physician, I had some sense of the complex medical and psychological explanations for Trevor’s symptoms. I worked in an intensive care unit during my internship, where I saw firsthand the devastating effects of organ failure. I then trained in psychiatry, where I came to appreciate how people’s deep defense mechanisms and projected insecurities can lead them to act in ways that seem at odds with their own longevity.
Yet the more I spoke with Trevor, the more I realized how his experience of illness, and indeed his particular form of white identity, resulted not just from his own thoughts and actions but from his politics. Local and national politics that claimed to make America great again—and, tacitly, white again—on the backs and organs of working-class people of all races and ethnicities, including white supporters. Politics that made vague mention of strategies for governance but ultimately shredded safety nets and provided massive tax cuts that benefited only the very wealthiest persons and corporations. Politics that, all too often, gained traction by playing to anxieties about white victimhood in relation to imagined threats posed by “Mexicans and welfare queens.” Dying for a cause then amounted to a modern-day form of kamikaze. But in this case, death wasn’t announced with headlines of a flaming plane flown into a battleship. Instead, this form of death was slow, excruciating, and invisible.5
I met many people like Trevor over the course of my research. People who were dying in various overt or invisible ways as a result of political beliefs or systems linked to the defense of white “ways of life” or concerns about minorities or poor people hoarding resources. People like Trevor who put their own bodies on the line, rather than imagining scenarios in which diversity or equity might better the flourishing of everyone. The stories these people told me became jumping-off points for a more sustained investigation of how particular American notions of whiteness—notions shaped by politics and policies as well as by institutions, history, media, economics, and personal identities—threaten white well-being.
My narrative highlights a reality that liberal Americans were often slow to realize: Trump supporters were willing to put their own lives on the line in support of their political beliefs. As a result, when viewed more broadly, actions that may have seemed from the outside to be crazy, uninformed, or self-defeating served larger political aims. Had Southerners like Trevor embraced the Affordable Care Act and come to depend on its many benefits, it would have been much harder for politicians like Trump to block or overturn healthcare reform. Similar arguments hold true for a number of the topics I analyze in the pages that follow, where on-the-ground white Americans make tradeoffs that negatively affect their lives and livelihoods in support of larger prejudices or ideals. By design, vulnerable immigrant and minority populations suffered the consequences in the most dire and urgent ways. Yet the tradeoffs made by people like Trevor frequently and materially benefitted persons and corporations far higher up the socioeconomic food chain—whose agendas and capital gains depended on the invisible sacrifices of lower income whites.
I track the full extent to which these political acts of self-sabotage came at mortal cost to the health and longevity of lower- and, in many instances, middle-income white GOP supporters—and ultimately, to the well-being of everyone else. The white body that refuses treatment rather than supporting a system that might benefit everyone then becomes a metaphor for, and parable of, the threatened decline of the larger nation. Rather than landing a man on the moon, curing polio, inventing the internet, or promoting structures of world peace, a dominant strain of the electorate voted in politicians whose platforms of American greatness were built on embodied forms of demise.
DYING OF WHITENESS explores the effects of what became central GOP policy issues—loosening gun laws, repealing the Affordable Care Act, or enacting massive tax cuts that largely benefited wealthy persons and corporations—on white population-level health. Over the course of my research for this book, I studied the intersecting histories of race and health in Southern and midwestern states. I collected any number of published reports detailing injuries and deaths among white Americans, even when the injured or deceased appeared to have no obvious connection to racism or politics. I also tracked the health effects of what various authors have called anti-government, anti-tax, pro-gun, and oft-Republican forms of “white backlash conservatism”—a dynamic illustrated by Trevor’s rejection of the ACA because of concerns about nonwhite minorities taking away his resources. I repeatedly found examples of policies, politics, or products that claimed to restore white authority but silently delivered lethality. An example that I discuss at length below: pro-gun legislators, the NRA, and gun advertisements touted the abilities of semiautomatic weapons to restore white men’s “privilege” and the “balance of power” in an ever-more-diverse world, even as firearms emerged as leading causes of white, male suicide. I then took deep dives into data from a number of scientific and medical databases in order to track systematically the health and mortality consequences that followed political decisions like Tennessee’s refusal to expand Medicaid or Missouri’s choice to ease regulations governing the purchase and carry of firearms.6
These inquiries unearthed trends that inform the book’s central arguments. First, a host of conservative political movements emerged (or reemerged) in Southern and midwestern states over the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries that brought into mainstream US politics once fringe agendas, such as starving government of funding, dismantling social programs, or allowing free flow of most types of firearms. These movements—ranging from the Tea Party to iterations of libertarianism funded by the Koch brothers, to the Freedom Caucus, to the so-called alt-right given voice through outlets such as Breitbart—arose from vastly different agendas and points of origin. However, their interests grew ever-more aligned as they came to power in Southern and midwestern states in ways that shaped state agendas, national GOP platforms, and, ultimately, policies of the Trump administration. As this played out, theories of backlash conservatism gave way to something even more powerful: practices of backlash governance.
Second, these increasingly unified forms of conservatism advanced politically through overt or implicit appeals to what has been called white racial resentment. In other words, these agendas gained support by trumpeting connections to unspoken or overt claims that particular policies, issues, or decisions served also to defend or restore white privilege or quell threats to idealized notions of white authority represented by demographic or cultural shifts. This was both a top-down process (politicians used racial resentment as a tool for class exploitation) and a bottom-up one (the language of white resentment became an increasingly accepted way of talking about whiteness more broadly).7
To be sure, groups like the Tea Party rose to prominence for a wide array of cultural, economic, and religious reasons, many of which had relatively little to do with whiteness or race. Lower-income communities left behind by globalizing economies, disenchantment with Democrats, and the growing influence of corporate lobbies and megarich donors on party politics unquestionably played major roles. A number of people with whom I spoke, when I explained the thesis of my book, told me that positions that appeared to reflect racism instead reflected a larger, color-blind “hatred of the poor.”
Yet a major part of these movements’ appeals lay in rallying cries that tapped into emotionally and historically charged notions that white Americans should remain atop other racial or ethnic groups in the US social hierarchy, or that white “status” was at risk. This is not to say that any one specific person was expressly racist. Rather, frameworks of white racial resentment shaped debates about, and attitudes toward, various public policies and acts of legislation. Sometimes, the racial agendas of these calls to arms were overt and obvious. For instance, posters of then president Obama photoshopped as an African witch doctor with a feather headdress and a bone through his nose began to appear at anti-ACA Tea Party rallies. In 2016, former Missouri Republican Party director Ed Martin told a cheering Tea Party for Trump rally in Festus, Missouri, that “Donald Trump is for Americans first. . . . You’re not racist if you don’t like Mexicans.” (That same year, the Tea Party Patriots funded Asia-bashing advertisements featuring fictional Chinese executives in suits speaking Mandarin and laughing about how they were able to buy thousands of acres of Missouri farmland.) At other times, the racial underpinnings of the agendas appeared all but invisible to people on the ground, as with decisions to rally around issues such as guns, health insurance, or public schools—issues whose racially charged histories had been obscured by the passage of time.8
Third, the policies that took shape when these once fringe forms of conservatism entered the mainstream GOP and assumed legislative power often negatively affected the health of middle- and lower-income populations. While some of these policies and actions directly affected health care, others not expressly linked to health, such as the proliferation of civilian-owned firearms, nonetheless carried profound medical implications. White backlash politics gave certain white populations the sensation of winning, particularly by upending the gains of minorities and liberals; yet the victories came at a steep cost. When white backlash policies became laws, as in cutting away health care programs and infrastructure spending, blocking expansion of health care delivery systems, defunding opiate-addiction centers, spewing toxins into the air, or enabling guns in public spaces, the result was—and I say this with the support of statistics detailed in the chapters that follow—increasing rates of death.
Fourth, a wide array of middle- and lower-income people experienced negative health consequences from these policy decisions—again, largely because the policies involved elaborate strategies for tearing down community structures for middle- and lower-income Americans but hardly any blueprints for building them back up. Minority and immigrant communities, often the targets of backlash’s ire, suffered greatly and needlessly. But the data I track in this book reveals the shocking extent to which the health and well-being of white Americans suffered from the health effects of these policies as well. Such effects played out in public ways—such as when white concertgoers died in high-profile mass shootings linked to gun policies (or lack thereof) enacted by conservative white politicians. Other effects were far less obvious—such as the long-term implications of blocking health care reform or defunding schools and infrastructure.9
Finally, as with Trevor, many lower- and middle-income white Americans continued to support these policies and ideologies—with their inherent links to narratives of imagined victimhood and domination—even after their negative effects became apparent and promises made by politicians such as Trump unraveled. Indeed, for a variety of reasons, white Americans in parts of the United States saw unprecedented drops in life expectancy over the time of my study. But instead of scrapping these state-level policies as examples of historically bad governance, they became the foundations for legislation at the national level, in the form of Trump-era tax bills, gun policies, health care strategies, and other ill-fated initiatives. All the while, the issues themselves—such as guns, health care, or taxes—accrued larger symbolic or moral meanings in ways that rendered conversations about the effects of specific policies ever-more difficult.10
The confluence of these trajectories led to a perilous state of affairs that I analyze in the sections that follow. Succinctly put: a host of complex anxieties prompt increasing numbers of white Americans like Trevor to support right-wing politicians and policies, even when these policies actually harm white Americans at growing rates. As these policy agendas spread from Southern and midwestern legislatures into the halls of Congress and the White House, ever-more white Americans are then, literally, dying of whiteness. This is because white America’s investment in maintaining an imagined place atop a racial hierarchy—that is, an investment in a sense of whiteness—ironically harms the aggregate well-being of US whites as a demographic group, thereby making whiteness itself a negative health indicator.
Claims about lower- and middle-income people who vote against their self-interests often use frameworks based in economics. Scholars and writers have long argued that the Republican Party rose to influence in the US South by taking advantage of white backlash against integration and civil rights to cajole white working-class people to vote against their own financial self-interests. Thomas Frank, in his modern classic What’s the Matter with Kansas?, writes that backlash conservatism rests on the foundation that “ignoring one’s economic self-interest may seem like a suicidal move to you and me, but viewed differently it is an act of noble self-denial; a sacrifice for a holier cause.” In her thoughtful study Strangers in Their Own Land, Arlie Hochschild poses the paradoxical question: “Why, with so many problems [in poor white communities], was there so much disdain for federal money to alleviate them?”11
My research measures just how deeply modern-day American backlash conservatism demands that lower- and middle-class white Americans vote against their own biological self-interests as well as their own economic priorities. Over the course of the narrative, I meet with white Americans who continue to support GOP policies, even as these same policies negatively affect their own health in measurable ways. The ways that these persons literally bet their lives and livelihoods on such policies and politicians forced me to recognize, time and again, the depths of their investments in GOP policy issues.
To be very clear, it is in no way my intention to expose anyone with whom I spoke as being duped or uninformed. Many of the people I met were trying to get by as best they could under deeply challenging circumstances. I tried to be transparent with people about the aims of this book, which led to honest conversations that challenged my own core beliefs. As the following chapters make clear, many people I spoke with were not exactly thrilled with their own political leaders and fought for reform in unexpected ways. I uncovered numerous other examples of working-class white resentment directed at other white people. As essayist Sarah Smarsh puts it, “Most struggling whites I know live lives of quiet desperation mad at their white bosses, not resentment of their co-workers or neighbors of color.” Moreover, health is just one of the many factors people take into account when making decisions that affect their lives—and writing this book has made me think repeatedly about choices I make in my own life that might negatively impact my own longevity.12
Perhaps most important, I myself am a white American who grew up in the Midwest. Any approach I might adopt that suggests them, conservatives, versus us, enlightened liberals, is tempered by the fact that I, too, receive the benefit of the doubt when I walk down the street and that I am neither profiled by police nor subject to arrest and incarceration by ICE agents. I have no doubt that many of the conversations I recount in this book reflect commonalities between myself and the people I interview. It seems to me a lost opportunity to address Southern forms of whiteness as existing only in another “country,” rather than as exaggerations of systems of privilege that surround North and South, liberal, progressive, and conservative, interviewee and interviewer both. It’s too easy to blame the rise of white nationalism on politicians like Trump, Jeff Sessions, or Steve Bannon and far harder to address how the ideologies these politicians support benefit white populations more broadly. In this sense, the larger conversation about the effects of whiteness is the one we, white Americans, badly need to have.
Coming from the Midwest and writing about my home states—I grew up in Kansas and Missouri and now live in Tennessee—also made me keenly aware of just how much the politics of backlash upended the ground-level conciliatory work done since slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and other vestiges of a shameful past. This work at least tried to rectify inequality through policies that promoted principles of diversity and social justice, but were rendered impossible by political agendas that defunded supporting governmental programs and agencies. All the while, politics fueled by racial resentment eroded faith in hallmark American democratic institutions more broadly.13
I kept thinking that at some point, the drive for self-preservation might trump political ideology. Why would someone reject their own health care, or keep guns unlocked when their children were home? Yet because of the frames cast around these and other issues hued with historically charged assumptions about privilege, it became ever-more difficult for many people with whom I spoke to imagine alternate realities or to empathize with groups other than their own. Compromise, in many ways, coded as treason.
THE HEART OF
- "Provocative...brings a unique blend of psychiatric insight and data analysis-as well as some nifty philosophical insights into what people mean by concepts of risk, cost, and community-to a problem that will no doubt persist even beyond our current presidency."—Boston Globe
- "Malcolm X began by adoring whiteness, grew to hate white people and, ultimately, despised the false concept of white superiority--a killer of people of color. And not only them: low- and middle-income white people too, as Metzl's timely book shows, with its look at Trump-era policies that have unraveled the Affordable Care Act and contributed to rising gun suicide rates and lowered life expectancies."—Ibram X. Kendi, New York Times Book Review
- "Traveling through the American heartland, a physician deconstructs how right-wing policies have fatal consequences, even for the voters they purport to help. Metzl paints a blistering portrait of a subculture so in thrall to racist ideology that they willingly invite rising gun suicides, poor healthcare, and falling life expectancies."—Esquire
- “Jonathan Metzl chillingly shows how white identity permeates present-day policymaking outside of Washington.”—Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post
- “It is the rare book that has the potential to transform thinking so thoroughly that it offers to change a paradigm. Jonathan Metzl has written such a book with Dying of Whiteness. The conventional understanding of health disparities must take a different shape because of this groundbreaking work.”—American Journal of Public Health
- There is a propulsive force to this account that is hard to shake. That’s because of the data Metzl assembles: compelling, grim, and arresting data, presented in clear prose and heartbreaking charts and tables…In the end, it is Metzl’s shocking conclusions that keep ringing in your head long after you put his book down.”—Public Books
- "Remarkable...Through field interviews, research and public-health data, Metzl shows that whites are harming themselves along with everyone else, and in drastic ways...A weighty but smooth read, devoid of polemics or jargon."—Minneapolis Star Tribune
- "There is a propulsive force to this account that is hard to shake. That’s because of the data Metzl assembles: compelling, grim, and arresting data, presented in clear prose and heartbreaking charts and tables…In the end, it is Metzl’s shocking conclusions that keep ringing in your head long after you put his book down.”—Christian Century
- "Groundbreaking...Metzl methodically and adeptly marshals statistical evidence that policies promising to bolster white Americans' status have instead made life 'sicker, harder, and shorter' for all..."—Publishers Weekly
- "A provocative, instructive contribution to the literature of public health as well as of contemporary politics."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Insightful and original."—National Book Review
- “Metzl details social changes in Missouri, Tennessee, and Kansas, where white Americans backed changes that, ironically, dramatically harmed them with gun suicides, school dropouts, worse healthcare, and shorter life spans…A rich, nuanced and complex book…A major contributin to public health, sociology, and American studies.”—LitMed
- "Metzl allows citizens to speak for themselves, adding authenticity to his project...As the tragedies that Metzl illustrates become more widely known, perhaps reason and humility will regain their place in American political discourse."—Chapter 16
- "Here is the diagnosis, America, and it's not reassuring: failing health, falling graduation rates, guns everywhere. Our fantasies are driving us to an early grave, and Jonathan M. Metzl is lucid and careful and mercifully clinical in telling us exactly how this public health disaster came to be. Read it today: there's still time before the autopsy."—Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter With Kansas? and Listen, Liberal
- "Dying of Whiteness unveils how the very policies marketed to white people as 'making America great again' end up harming the well-being of whites as a demographic group. This is must reading for anyone interested in understanding the current racial landscape of the United States."—Jelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism, Columbia Journalism School
- "Dying of Whiteness brilliantly demonstrates the tremendous impediment that white racism and backlash politics pose to our society's wellbeing, at a time when many white Americans quite literally would rather die than support policies they see as benefiting people of color. Jonathan M. Metzl issues an urgently needed call to acknowledge the deadly toll of investing in whiteness-and to work collectively toward a just society that would be healthier for everyone."—Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body
- "Copious data have long shown us the deadly effects of racist health policies on African Americans. But in Dying of Whiteness, Jonathan M. Metzl powerfully shows us this coin's reverse: the deadly effects on white populations of contemporary policies promulgated by vengeful politicians to 'restore' an imaginary white superiority, and embraced by resentful, marginalized whites. Dying of Whiteness illuminates the dual devastation wrought by policies that limit access to care for the poor of every race."—Harriet A. Washington, author of Medical Apartheid
- "In his pathbreaking and provocative book, Jonathan M. Metzl draws on his dual acuity as physician and social scientist to help make sense of the urgent issue of our time: how individuals not only act against their self-interests, but also support policies that contribute to their own early demise. A threadbare social safety net, further unraveled by virulent racism, has given way to an ailing body politic. Empathetic and poignant, this vital work exposes how an investment in whiteness works to the deficit of us all."—Alondra Nelson, Columbia University and Social Science Research Council
- "In this paradigm-shifting tour de force, Jonathan M. Metzl brilliantly illuminates the shocking ways that white supremacy, through backlash governance, kills white people too. Moving deftly between mountains of data and compelling storytelling, Dying of Whiteness makes a vital contribution to our national conversation about racism and its discontents. Metzl uncovers the contemporary paradox of whiteness: a struggle to preserve white privilege in the midst of the declining value of whiteness. This is a must-read if you want to understand how race and the color line operate in twenty-first-century America."—Dorian Warren, president, Community Change, and co-chair, Economic Security Project
- "As a progressive Missouri state legislator, I applaud Jonathan M. Metzl's dive into policies and agendas which are destructive to those most in need. He is correct in that racial resentment is the primary reason Medicaid expansion was not allowed to be debated on the House floor the past eight years. He is also correct in exposing racism as a primary reason why my home state of Missouri has loosened gun restrictions even though suicides, accidental, and domestic shootings have skyrocketed in every zip code-including in predominantly white areas. Racial overtones also color healthcare and gun legislation debates in the Capitol, as well as many lobbying efforts. Dying of Whiteness boldly exposes the devastating consequences of these politics for everyone, and calls on us to push back against racial resentment for the benefit of all."—Hon. Stacey Newman, Missouri House of Representatives, 2010-2018
- "Policy makers, scholars, and the public at large need to read Jonathan M. Metzl's Dying of Whiteness. He forcefully but with empathy demonstrates how poor and working class whites are literally killing themselves by supporting policies on guns, health care, and taxes framed as defending white authority but which, in truth, benefit the white elite."—Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, James B. Duke Professor of Sociology, Duke University
"Jonathan M. Metzl goes to Missouri, Tennessee, and Kansas to understand why people support gun, health,
and school policies they will suffer from. An informative snapshot of how 'the other half' live and die."—Dr. Alfredo Morabia, editor-in-chief, American Journal of Public Health
- On Sale
- May 12, 2020
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Basic Books