DYING OF WHITENESS by Jonathan M. Metzl


How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland
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Nationalism, meet mortality: A social scientist and psychiatrist examines the interplay of racial identity and health.

Metzl (Center for Medicine, Health, and Society/Vanderbilt Univ.; The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease, 2010, etc.) identifies several public health trends related to white identity politics and the left-behind sentiments of its adherents. One epidemiological chain goes like this: Whites without opportunity in the hinterlands drop out of high school at ever higher rates. According to studies by the author and others, “failure to attain a high school diploma correlated with nine years of life lost, in conjunction with rising rates of smoking, illnesses such as diabetes, and missed doctor visits.” Want to guarantee a disaffected white rural populace? Slash the education budget, as former Kansas governor and Trump appointee Sam Brownback did. Similarly, Metzl lucidly examines rising rates of suicide by gun, noting that from 2009 to 2015, “non-Hispanic white men accounted for nearly 80 percent of all gun suicides in the United States, despite representing less than 35 percent of the total population.” Although gun suicide is a clear threat to the public health, “whiteness” includes adherence to views that privilege the Second Amendment at the expense of any public good. In other words, although everyone knows there’s a problem, the problem is variously attributed to nonwhite criminality or mental illness, not the easy availability of guns and lack of background screening. Furthermore, writes the author, the numbers point to the fact that “non-Hispanic white, male, self-identified conservative Republicans over the age of thirty-five overwhelmingly owned and carried the most guns in the country.” Opposition to the Affordable Care Act has hinged on the notion that the undeserving (read: nonwhites) are free riders on a system that the government has no business being involved in. And so forth. While Metzl notes that white identity politics has enjoyed great successes, he concludes that they come at significant cost and “heighten the calculus of risk.”

Long on description, shorter on prescription; still, a provocative, instructive contribution to the literature of public health as well as of contemporary politics.

Pub Date: March 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5416-4498-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2019


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