Dying of Whiteness

by Jonathan M. Metzl
First sentence: “Before Donald Trump could implement his agenda — in some cases, before he even took the oath of office — reporters and pundits were already tallying the negative implications of his proposals for many Americans.”
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Content: There is some racist language (the n-word is edited) and it’s in the sociology section of the bookstore.

The basic premise of this book is this: why do white voters vote for politicians that enact policies that, in the end, detrimentally effect white people (as well as people of color)? He specifically looks at three areas: gun laws (by studying Missouri), opposition to the ACA and Medicare expansion (in Tennessee), and in cutting funding to education (here in Kansas). He talked with ordinary people on all sides of the aisle to see how policies were effecting them personally, and their health specifically.

It was a fascinating book, looking at data (suicides by gun for white males are much higher in states with lax gun laws, so in that instance, these laws are literally killing people) as much as it exists (there’s not much data on health-related gun issues because of the ban on gun research passed by Congress, and it’s difficult to extrapolate health costs based on education). I’m not sure there was anything I didn’t already know (like the overall heath of people in states that expanded Medicare through the ACA is better than the ones who didn’t). What I found interesting was the reasoning people gave. They need to feel protected, against the “bad guys” so they buy guns. When someone dies, it’s because they didn’t see the signs, and not because they had access to a gun. It doesn’t make sense to me, but it does to them. Metzl wants white people to realize the cost of maintaining this hierarchy, one where people refuse to use the ACA because of the “Mexicans and welfare queens” who are abusing it. Or, in Kansas’s experience, defund education because “some” districts are “mishandling” their money. (As an aside: he quantified what I’ve been feeling for a while: the Brownback years of defunding education has given my youngest daughter a much worse education here than the one my oldest daughter got. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I felt that, but the data speaks: Kansas education, in fact, is much worse now than it was when we moved here.)

It’s not a light read, but it is an accessible one (I admit when he got into the data, I did some skimming). And I’m glad I took the time to read it.


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