Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland

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A physician reveals how right-wing backlash policies have mortal consequences — even for the white voters they promise to helpNamed one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Esquire and the Boston GlobeIn the era of Donald Trump, many lower- and middle-class white Americans are drawn to politicians who pledge to make their lives great again. But as Dying of Whiteness shows, the policies that result actually place white Americans at ever-greater risk of sickness and death.Physician Jonathan M. Metzl’s quest to understand the health implications of “backlash governance” leads him across America’s heartland. Interviewing a range of everyday Americans, he 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. And he shows these policies’ costs: increasing deaths by gun suicide, falling life expectancies, and rising dropout rates. White Americans, Metzl argues, must reject the racial hierarchies that promise to aid them but in fact lead our nation to demise.

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“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 raising gun suicides, poor healthcare, and falling life expectancies.”―Esquire

“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

“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 (starred review)

“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

“A provocative, instructive contribution to the literature of public health as well as of contemporary politics.”―Kirkus Reviews

“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

“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

About the Author

Jonathan M. Metzl is the Frederick B. Rentschler II professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and director of its Center for Medicine, Health, and Society. He is the author of several books and a prominent expert on gun violence and mental illness. He hails from Kansas City, Missouri, and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

A physician reveals how right-wing backlash policies have mortal consequences — even for the white voters they promise to helpNamed one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Esquire and the Boston GlobeIn the era of Donald Trump, many lower- and middle-class white Americans are drawn to politicians who pledge to make their lives great again. But as Dying of Whiteness shows, the policies that result actually place white Americans at ever-greater risk of sickness and death.Physician Jonathan M. Metzl’s quest to understand the health implications of “backlash governance” leads him across America’s heartland. Interviewing a range of everyday Americans, he 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. And he shows these policies’ costs: increasing deaths by gun suicide, falling life expectancies, and rising dropout rates. White Americans, Metzl argues, must reject the racial hierarchies that promise to aid them but in fact lead our nation to demise.

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