This illuminating and disturbing book explores how various
forms of white supremacy became expressed in policies, laws, and elected
officials, such as Donald Trump. Physician and sociologist Metzl details social changes in Missouri, Tennessee,
and Kansas, where white Americans backed changes that, ironically, dramatically
harmed them with gun suicides, school dropouts, worse healthcare, and shorter
life spans. For Metzl, “Whiteness” refers not to skin color but to a
political and economic system of white privilege.
Metzl's thesis that: “Trump supporters were willing to
put their lives on the line in support of their political beliefs” was, in fact, a sort
of “self-sabotage” (pp. 5-6). While a conservative political movement fostered white
racial resentment, largely in lower-income communities, the mainstream GOP did its part by crafting policies against the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes, and restrictions
on guns. An atmosphere of polarization and political stasis grew. Metzl writes:
“Compromise, in many ways, coded as treason” (p. 11).
Metzl focuses on the examples of Missouri,
Tennessee, and Kansas to “suggest how the racial system of American fails
everyone” (pp. 16, 20). He visits each state, leading focus groups,
interviewing formally and informally, reading newspapers, and inductively
formulating concepts that seem to explain the nonsensical behavior of rejecting
helpful programs. For example, because “risk” in Missouri has become a code name for possible attacks by black
people, white people buy guns, especially when restrictions are removed. Many white men feel that a gun (or many guns) restores their privilege, but suicide of white males, often low-income, goes up. Metzl’s statistics and
charts show contrasts with other states with stricter laws and lower suicide
rates. He calls for preventive medicine to lower such deaths.
For Tennessee, the Affordable Care Act offered many benefits
to poor or middle-income people, but Republicans (and especially Trump)
attacked it as big government over-reach, socialism, exorbitant cost, a program that would help minority people, for example “welfare queens.” “Cost”
became a proxy for the “we don’t like it,” even when the economics would
be favorable for good healthcare for all. Blacks were generally in favor of
ACA, but white blue-collar men swore by their independence and autonomy. Neighboring
Kentucky accepted ACA, and ten graphs included in the book clearly chart the better outcomes for
Kentucky in such areas as insurance coverage, death rates, and seeing a doctor.
Metzl returns to Kansas, where he grew up and recalls the pride
Kansans had in their state. Republican Governor Sam Brownback enacted massive
tax cuts with large reductions to state services and school funding, an
“experiment” in “epic defunding.” The GOP, Tea Party, Koch brothers, and
“trickle down” theories all played a part in benefiting the wealthy
financially, while minority and lower-income groups paid more. Infrastructure,
such as roads, suffered. Untested charter schools collected wealthy white
students, while public schools plunged in funding, test scores, and graduation
rates (see 17 graphs). Since education is a predictor of health, there are and
will be long-term costs to Kansans, especially for minority groups.
Metzl attacks the “Castle Doctrine” (“a man’s home is…”) as
a symbol of narcissism, individualism, and as a risk for all citizens when
social structures are abandoned. He closes with some hopeful examples of social
change for the better.
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