A lab focusing on the impact of social systems on the health of individuals and communities


The Politics of Race in America

A conversation with Jonathan Metzl, Dorothy Roberts, and Anthea Butler about Dying of Whiteness and the politics of racial resentment

Fields of Knowledge
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Politics / Economics
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Health Ecologies Lab

Contributing Institutions

Jefferson Humanities & Health and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, Sidney Kimmel Medical College

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought and the Health Ecologies Lab are pleased to announce The Politics of Race in America, a conversation with Jonathan Metzl, Dorothy Roberts, and Anthea Butler about the politics of racial resentment its impact on public health, on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 from 6:00-8:00pm. The event will also mark the launch of Metzl's new book Dying of Whiteness (Basic Books, 2019), and will be followed by a reception and book signing. This event is co-presented with Jefferson Humanities & Health and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, Sidney Kimmel Medical College, as well as The Penn Program on Race, Science and Society (PRSS) at the University of Pennsylvania.

With the rise of the Tea Party and the election of Donald Trump, many middle- and lower-income white Americans threw their support behind conservative politicians who pledged to make life great again for people like them. But as Dying of Whiteness shows, the policies that result actually place white Americans at ever-greater risk of sickness and death—and in the end, threaten everyone's well-being as well. Physician Jonathan M. Metzl's quest to understand the health implications of "backlash governance" leads him across America's heartland. Interviewing a range of Americans, he uncovers how racial anxieties led to the repeal of gun control laws in Missouri, stymied the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and fueled massive cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. Although such measures promised to restore greatness to white America, Metzl's systematic analysis of health data dramatically reveals they did just the opposite: these policies made life sicker, harder, and shorter in the very populations they purported to aid. Thus, white gun suicides soared, life expectancies fell, and school dropout rates rose. Right-wing backlash policies had mortal consequences — even for the white voters they promise to help.

Powerful, searing, and sobering, Dying of Whiteness ultimately demonstrates just how much white America would benefit by emphasizing cooperation, rather than by chasing false promises of supremacy. White Americans, Metzl argues, must reject the racial hierarchies that promise to aid them but in fact lead our nation to demise.

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Jonathan Metzl is the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, where he also directs the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society. He is also a Psychiatrist and the Research Director of The Safe Tennessee Project, a non-partisan, volunteer-based organization that is concerned with gun-related injuries and fatalities in America and in Tennessee. He is a prominent expert on gun violence and mental illness and has written extensively for medical, psychiatric, and popular publications. His books include The Protest Psychosis, Prozac on the Couch, and Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality.

Dorothy Roberts is the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at the University of Pennsylvania, and the founding director of the Penn Program on Race, Science & Society in the Center for Africana Studies. Her pathbreaking work in law and public policy focuses on urgent contemporary issues in race, gender, health, social justice, and bioethics. Her books include Killing the Black Body and Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century.

Anthea Butler is Graduate Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. A historian of American and African American religion, Professor Butler's research and writing spans religion and politics, religion and gender, African American religion, sexuality, media, religion, and popular culture. Her books include Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making A Sanctified World.

"I kept thinking that at some point, the drive for self-preservation might trump political ideology. Why would someone reject their own healthcare, or keep guns unlocked when their children were home?

Yet because the frames that politicians cast around these and other issues hued with historically charged assumptions about privilege, it became ever more difficult for many people with whom I spoke to imagine alternate realities, or to empathize with groups other than their own. Compromise, in many ways, coded as treason."

-- Jonathan Metzl, Dying of Whiteness