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

Physician and social scientist Jonathan M. Metzl in conversation with VICE Media’s Rajul Punjabi


Ready for an in-depth conversation on a hot button topic dividing the U.S.? Join VICE Media's Rajul Punjabi and author-physician Jonathan M. Metzl for this important event.

About Dying of Whiteness
In Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland physician and social scientist Jonathan M. Metzl unmasks how the “success” of Trump-style conservative politics depends on rendering the lives of working class white supporters as expendable. An urgent narrative for our time, this is the story of how today’s core right-wing policies and positions emerged in red and purple states and became central components of the Trump platform. Metzl expertly shows how these positions, couched as interventions that would restore “greatness,” benefitted wealthy Americans and corporations, while at the same time boxing working class GOP supporters into voting against their own biological well-being.

Readers meet voters whose deeply personal struggles are connected to our most urgent political debates. Dying of Whiteness begins in Tennessee, where Metzl speaks with chronically ill GOP supporters whose medical treatments are severely curtailed because state politicians block healthcare reform and Medicaid expansion. He then travels to Missouri, where GOP and NRA efforts lead to dramatic expansions in gun rights, alongside dramatic rises in unintentional shootings and gun suicides by white citizens—in large part because gun rights legislation contains extensive plans for selling more guns, but zero strategies for public safety. He ends in Kansas, where massive state tax cuts enrich the already well-off citizens of the state, while eviscerating budgets at public schools—including schools attended by the children of working class GOP supporters.

Why do white voters continue to support politicians whose policies make their lives sicker, harder, and shorter? Metzl methodically unpacks how the GOP masks the material effects of its politics by casting issues such as guns, tax cuts, or anti-government sentiments as white racial “identities.” This effect is enhanced by tapping into deep historical tensions—gun ownership was a white prerogative in states like Missouri for over a century, for instance, and fears that minorities would “usurp” resources long undergirded resistance to healthcare reform in states like Tennessee. Metzl finds that these identities serve as powerful markers of “us-versus-them” group formation. But GOP politics extract shocking costs. He finds that, in Missouri, under the lax gun laws white voters favored, white men became 2.38 times more likely than men of other
races to die by firearm suicide. In Tennessee, opposition to the Affordable Care Act “cost every single white resident of the state 14.1 days of life.” And the Tea Party-fueled gutting of school funding in Kansas greatly increased the number of people dropping out of high school, which “correlates with nine years of lost life expectancy.”

Metzl draws on findings from focus groups, statistical analysis of population and life expectancy, and extensive in-depth interviews to show how anxieties about white decline enable policies that raise health risks for white Americans, and for\ society as a whole. Exploring the mortal trade-offs that working class white Americans make when they support politicians and policies that claim to restore white privilege leads to one of the books most startling findings: that 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.

Powerful, searing, and sobering, Dying of Whiteness ultimately argues for a progressive conservatism that emphasizes cooperation and common-cause, and that actively promotes the well-being of all lower- and middle-income Americans rather than disingenuously pushing its base supporters to chase false promises of supremacy.

About the Author:
Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl, M.D., PhD. 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 (The Protest Psychosis, Prozac on the Couch, Against Health), and is a prominent expert on gun violence and mental illness who has been interviewed on NPR, PBS, MSNBC, Fox, and many other media outlets. He hails from Kansas City, Missouri, and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. www.jonathanmetzl.com

Moderated by Rajul Punjabi:
Rajul Punjabi is a New York-based wellness editor who creates and shapes content on race and health, anxiety, social issues, fitness, gender, culture, and body image. Her favorite things to do are: rant about health outcome disparities, tell people what CBD oil actually does, and watch Beyonce's Homecoming every morning as an act of self-preservation and political resistance. Rajul is also teaches writing and reporting in the journalism program at City College of New York.