A physician reveals how right-wing backlash policies have mortal consequences -- even for the white voters they promise to help
Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Esquire and the Boston Globe
In 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.
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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
—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, EconomicSecurity Project
"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
"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, DukeUniversity
"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
—Dr. Alfredo Morabia, editor-in-chief, American Journal of PublicHealth