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Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland

DYING OF WHITENESS does not fuck around. The 'dying' in the title is literal, and some of the anecdotes about it are kind of gruesome. The book concludes with an anecdote about a white woman in Missouri who bought a gun during the protests in Ferguson, was waving it around while riding in a car, and accidentally shot herself in the head with it when her car hit another car. As a metaphor for America, it works dishearteningly well: our racism is literally so self-destructive it's like shooting ourselves in the head.

I found the implications of Metzl's work incredibly disheartening--no doubt worsened by the fact that it's mid-December and I haven't seen the sun in what feels like weeks. But I would still recommend it. It isn't a fun book to read, but it's exhaustively researched, and includes a lot of data both in the form of statistics and in the form of focus groups and other interviews. If you're the sort of person to be convinced by information, this book will absolutely convince you that white supremacy is the rot at the heart of America.

And even for folks who are already anti-racist, this book is an important contribution to the literature. Metzl focuses not on the state of the hearts of individual people, but on the systemic problems that come from racism and affect everyone, true believer in whiteness or not. Lax gun laws are passed because politicians are catering to white fear of black marauders, but everyone who lives in a place with lax gun laws is at higher risk of completed suicide by firearm. Education is defunded to cater to white agony over funding some service that might benefit the children of immigrants, but all children who go to public schools are harmed by lack of funding.

Systems thinking is incredibly important if we're trying to find effective solutions. And despite my discouragement this winter, I am still trying. I hope you are too.


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