The Inner Lives of Passively Suicidal Americans: Why Racism isn’t Just Bad for Black People

Carolyn RousePrinceton University (Cultural Anthropology)

Why should we care about declining white life expectancies in America? Whites have had advantages for so long, perhaps this is justice? After spending two years interviewing passively suicidal white Americans, in two counties with some of the worse health outcomes in the United States, I argue that we need to take seriously the reasons for passive suicidal behavior among lower income whites. What their inchoate political dispositions and ideologies reveal is the cruelty of America’s political economy. Our economic system was built on slavery and the foundation continues to rely on exploited labor to perpetuate the myth of America as the land of opportunity. The fact that many lower income whites would rather make life unlivable for themselves rather than help create a more just and equitable system for everyone points to a future of growing social inequality, economic desperation, and despair unless we change their minds about the value of labor and community. Altering our path requires first rejecting the orthodoxy that robots are taking our jobs. Rather, racism, neo-eugenics, and zero-sum thinking are keeping us from creating an inclusive economy for the 21st century.

Discussant: Julie Livingston, New York University

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