"Dying of Whiteness": How White Culture Acts Against White People

Jonathan Metzl ties individual stories of white resentment that he encounters with the structures of racial anxiety in America that have caused whiteness to become a mortal risk.


Ting Ting Shi, She/Hers

Courtesy of https://www.dyingofwhiteness.com/

In Dying of Whiteness, physician and sociologist Jonathan Metzl argues that a fundamental cause of lost life in white populations in Missouri, Tennessee, and Kansas is whiteness itself. In analyzing the effects of pro-gun policy in Missouri, anti-ACA sentiments in Tennessee, and austerity politics on education in Kansas, Metzl shows that white Americans have given up their lives and well-being to protect their spot at the top of social hierarchies and to defend their notion of privilege. Metzl ties individual stories of white resentment that he encounters with the structures of racial anxiety in America that have caused whiteness to become a mortal risk.




Metzl uses his own whiteness to reveal how white supremacy can fundamentally alter the lives of an entire country and the insidious impacts that legitimizing white supremacy can have on public health.

With the rise of the Tea Party and the election of Donald Trump in 2016, America saw the rise in popularity of conservative politicians, who were predominantly supported by white Americans, especially those of the lower- and middle-classes. But, as Metzl shows, the right-wing policies that pledged to make white lives great again put those same lives at risk and further harmed public health. Metzl uses his own whiteness to reveal how white supremacy can fundamentally alter the lives of an entire country and the insidious impacts that legitimizing white supremacy can have on public health. In a series of interviews across the American heartland, Dying of Whiteness tells the story of how racial anxieties catalyzed the repeal of gun control laws in Missouri, prevented the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and generated vast cuts in education funding in Kansas. The common thread for such different policies was that conservative politicians in these states framed each legislation as major steps in restoring greatness to white lives and white America. Yet, as Metzl demonstrates through analyzing health data, white gun suicides, deaths from preventable causes, and school drop-out rates all increased. The policies that were advertised to save white lives did the exact opposite.

Dying of Whiteness captures the intersectionality of the public health field, indicating that issues of health and social problems cannot be separated and that solutions to either must address both.

Describing how whiteness can be characterized as a social determinant of health and a cause of a shorter life, Metzl's analysis of whiteness and its relation to health outcomes further proves how systemic and social structures initiate important sociological processes that have massive effects on the health of all people, especially white people. Dying of Whiteness captures the intersectionality of the public health field, indicating that issues of health and social problems cannot be separated and that solutions to either must address both.