In this episode, Tim speaks with Dr. Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, and the author of the new book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland. In his groundbreaking volume, Metzl sets out to explore and answer the question: why do working class and struggling white Americans so often seem to vote against their own interests? Electing politicians who vote against public health care initiatives (like Obamacare) from which they themselves would benefit? Or politicians who vote for fewer restrictions on gun availability even as white gun suicide rates skyrocket? Or politicians who vote to cut funding from education budgets upon which they themselves depend?
Wise and Metzl discuss the latter’s explosive findings from months of research in Tennessee, Kansas and Missouri—findings that illuminate how white fear (of black criminals, of “wasting” tax dollars on people of color, and of squandered resources in “urban” school districts) lead many whites to support right-wing policies that only make their own lives less livable. As one white man in Metzl’s study, who was dying of an untreated illness but couldn’t afford health care, put it: he would rather die than go on Obamacare, because he doesn’t support tax dollars going to welfare recipients and “illegals.” That man, who indeed has since died, is perhaps the best (but hardly the only) example of how white racial resentment harms not only its intended targets, but ultimately can destroy whites as well.
A powerful and illuminating conversation about a critical topic, this episode of Speak Out With Tim Wise will force us to ask the critical question: can we build a movement for justice in a nation where whites are so blinded by racial resentments and anxieties as to not even care for their own well-being, to say nothing of the well being of others? And if we are to build such a movement, what will it take to overcome the politics of resentment so aptly chronicled in Metzl’s research?