The full title: Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland
Length: 9 hours and 42 minutes
The author: Jonathan Metzl, M.D., Ph.D., a psychiatrist who writes a lot about structural racism and health
An author fact that might surprise you: Metzl has a master’s degree in American poetry from Stanford University and did his master’s thesis on the poetics of mental illness (per his CV: https://www.jonathanmetzl.com/curriculum-vitae/).
The narrator: Jamie Renell, an actor
Something about the narrator that might surprise you: Renell is an accomplished Aikido practitioner (per his resume on jamierenell.com).
Where to get the book: Check with your library to see if they have it on Overdrive or some other audio platform. If not, Audible (audible.com) offers it for 20.99 (U.S. dollars).
Why I read it: I attended a talk that Metzl gave about Dying of Whiteness in 2019. (That presentation inspired me to write about a blog post about health policy literacy.)
The gist: Metzl examines health outcomes through the lens of gun laws in Missouri, healthcare policy in Tennessee, and school funding cuts in Kansas. The white Missourians he interviewed were, for the most part, opposed to increased restrictions on gun ownership, even in cases where they had lost loved ones to gun violence. Several saw their guns as protection against possible attacks by blacks. In Tennessee and Kansas, large numbers of low- and middle-income whites supported cuts to social funding because of concerns about racial minorities receiving too many benefits.
But here’s the irony: The policies that many of Metzl’s white interviewees supported ended up having a net negative impact on their demographic group. The harm came, on the population level, in the form of decreased life chances and lost life years. This led Metzl to conclude that it is not so much government spending and racial minorities that are a threat to his lower-income white interviewees as it is the psychological investment in whiteness that leads many of them to support policies that go against their own self interests.
Describing “the construction of whiteness” as a “castle under siege,” Metzl writes, “Ever more guns, or ever more tax cuts, or healthcare system rejections promise to make the citizenry great again or to afford protection but in reality only weaken the foundation.”
What I liked most about this book: The interview excerpts, the data, and Jamie Renell’s delivery.
One point the author made that surprised me: In Missouri, a state with a strong gun culture and pro-gun laws, being a white male is a health risk factor.
Why I recommend it: The book is educational, well researched, and could not be more relevant to the times in which we live. Even if you don’t agree with all of Metzl’s analyses, you will likely walk away from his book with a data point or a story that will improve your understanding of the structural and psychological factors underlying health disparities in America.
What I’m planning to read next: Another Metzl book called The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease.
Is there a book about health in general, social determinants of health, or structural racism in healthcare that you would recommend? If so, I want to know about it. Feel free to post your recommendation in the Comments section below or send it to me directly through the Contact page.