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GCORR Book Study: Dying of Whiteness by Jonathan M. Metzl (Religion & Race)

GCORR Book Study Guide: For Small Groups & Individual Reflection

GCORR remains committed to supporting and resourcing the Church in its journey of dismantling racism. We are aware that people learn and grow in many ways due to the rich diversity of humanity.

Our hope is that this study guide resource will help you on your anti-racism journey, deepen your faith, and strengthen your mind and spirit to continue working for a more just and equitable world.

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Dying of Whiteness by Jonathan M. Metzl

Author and physician Jonathan Metzl based the findings in his book on a six-year research project he conducted across the southern and midwestern United States. Between 2013 and 2018, Metzl met and talked with people from different racial/ethnic groups, economic realities, and social locations, asking them about their own lives to weigh in on the “hot-button” political topics—namely health care, guns, taxation, public education, and the appropriate role of government—which comprise cornerstones of the contemporary white, conservative agenda.

What Metzl found—and the central theme of this book—is evidence that white Americans, particularly low- and middle-income white people—often vote against and eschew governmental laws and programs that could improve their lives and livelihoods if they believe that “undeserving” immigrants, unhoused persons, BIPOC people, and some women will also benefit.   

Metzl explores the political rhetoric and dogma rooted in historic and systemic racism, white American identity, fear, and disdain for “the other,” and anti-immigrant sentiments that inform these attitudes in white people. He suggests that many white Americans are literally “dying of whiteness,” making political, social, and moral “tradeoffs that negatively affect their lives and livelihoods in support of larger prejudices and ideals” (Metzl, p. 5).

Metzl further asserts, “The white body that refuses [medical] treatment rather than supporting a system that might benefit everyone then becomes a metaphor for, and parable of, the threatened decline of the largest nation” (Metzl, p. 6). He goes on to say that as white resentments have become codified into laws, the death rates of all Americans—including white people—increase (p. 8).

According to Metzl, “A host of complex anxieties prompt increasing numbers of white Americans…to support right-wing politicians and policies, even when these policies actually harm white Americans at growing rates” (pp. 9-10).

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How To Use This Study

This study guide is divided into four sessions, which follow the organization of the book:  

  1. Introduction and Part 1: Missouri
  2. Part 2: Tennessee 
  3. Part 3: Kansas 
  4. A Faith Challenge in Dying of Whiteness 

Sessions may be completed each week for a 4-week study.