Electoral Politics
First Year Read Programs
Guns/Gun Policy
Human Rights
Mental Health
Racism/Racial Justice
White Privilege

Jonathan Metzl MD, PhD, is an acclaimed physician, psychiatrist, and sociologist who speaks and writes on a range of topics including guns, gun violence, and race, gender, and social justice in healthcare.

He is the author of the groundbreaking new book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland. A New York Times bestseller and named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Esquire and the Boston Globe, the book is an in-depth look at why so many working-class white Americans support politicians whose policies are literally killing them. The book was also the winner of the 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

Dr. Metzl’s quest to understand the health implications of “backlash governance” led him across America’s heartland where he interviewed a range of everyday Americans. He examined how racial resentment fueled pro-gun laws in Missouri, resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. And he shows these policies’ costs: increasing deaths by gun suicide, rising dropout rates, and falling life expectancies. White Americans, Dr. Metzl argues, must reject the racial hierarchies that promise to aid them but in fact lead our nation to demise.

Dr. Metzl is the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry, and the Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He received his MD from the University of Missouri, MA in humanities/poetics and Psychiatric internship/residency from Stanford University, and PhD in American Culture from University of Michigan, A 2008 Guggenheim fellow, Professor Metzl has written extensively for medical, psychiatric, and popular publications and appears regularly on television and radio.

His other books include The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease, Prozac on the Couch: Prescribing Gender in the Era of Wonder Drugs, and Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality.


"Jonathan M. Metzl draws on his dual acuity as physician and social scientist to help make sense of the urgent issue of our time: how individuals not only act against their self-interests, but also support policies that contribute to their own early demise. A threadbare social safety net, further unraveled by virulent racism, has given way to an ailing body politic. Empathetic and poignant, (his) vital work exposes how an investment in whiteness works to the deficit of us all.
― Alondra Nelson, Columbia University and Social Science Research Council

"Jonathan M. Metzl brilliantly illuminates the shocking ways that white supremacy, through backlash governance, kills white people too. Moving deftly between mountains of data and compelling storytelling, (he) makes a vital contribution to our national conversation about racism and its discontents. Metzl uncovers the contemporary paradox of whiteness: a struggle to preserve white privilege in the midst of the declining value of whiteness."
― Dorian Warren, President, Community Change, and Co-Chair, Economic Security Project

“Policy makers, scholars, and the public at large need to read Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness. He forcefully but with empathy demonstrates how poor and working-class whites are literally killing themselves by supporting polices on guns, health care, and taxes framed as defending white authority but which, in truth, benefit the white elite.”
— Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, James B. Duke Professor of Sociology, Duke University


"Dying of Whiteness unveils how the very policies marketed to white people as 'making America great again' end up harming the well-being of whites as a demographic group. This is must reading for anyone interested in understanding the current racial landscape of the United States."
― Jelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism, Columbia Journalism School


Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Shaped the American Pandemic Moment
Jonathan Metzl’s award-winning 2019 book, Dying of Whiteness, provided a warning: white Americans were drawn to politicians who pledged to make their lives great again, but whose policies actually placed them at greater risk of illness and death. Racial resentment fueled pro-gun laws in Missouri, caused resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and drove cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. The direct results of these policies? Increasing deaths by gun suicide, rising dropout rates, and falling life expectancies.  As Dr. Metzl shows in this talk, rather than mobilizing a course correction, falling life expectancy became the core on which was built an ever-more-expansive political movement during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to widespread dismantling of public health infrastructure and reinforcement of racial and class hierarchies.  This talk ultimately offers a smart and necessary plan for working collectively toward a society that would be healthier for everyone.

Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms
In this talk, Dr. Metzl breaks down four frequent assumptions that often arise in the aftermath of a mass shooting: 1) that mental illness causes gun violence, 2) that psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime, 3) that shootings represent the deranged acts of mentally ill loners, and 4) that gun control “won’t prevent” another shooting. “No current psychiatric diagnosis manifests itself in core symptoms that include aggression toward others, and many mental illnesses in fact produce the opposite effect,” explains Metzl. Even when mental illness is a factor, these events almost always reflect larger cultural stereotypes and anxieties about race, class, and politics. Unfortunately, those issues become obscured when mass shootings come to stand in for all gun crime, and when “mentally ill” ceases to be a medical designation and becomes a sign of violent threat. In this thought-provoking presentation, Metzl uses scientific evidence and engaging story-telling to paint a nuanced picture of the increasingly lethal realities of American life—and how we can move forward.

Structural Competency: New Medicine for Inequalities That are Making Us Sick
As the US health care system looks to adapt to new, post-pandemic norms, we must begin to address the inequities made even more apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic. How can we reimagine and redesign the health care delivery and education systems through a lens of health equity and racial justice? Dr. Metzl argues that the answer lies with Structural Competency which calls for a new approach to the relationships among race, class, and symptom expression. While many health care professionals, social workers, and public health practitioners have long addressed structural determinants of health, clinical care has been focused on the individual, and often restricts the scope of cultural competency training to the beliefs and behaviors of individual patients. In this keynote, Dr. Metzl underscores how Structural Competency aims to develop a language and set of interventions to reduce health inequalities at the level of neighborhoods, institutions, and policies.   

Protest Psychosis: What the Race-Based Overdiagnosis of Schizophrenia in the 1960s Reveals About Today’s CRT Wars
Battles over the role of “race” in education and the structures that uphold racial privilege and inequity burst into the national spotlight in the 2020s.  But the origins of the debate, and the politics that undergird it, track back decades, and play out in unexpected ways. In this thought-provoking talk, Dr. Metzl provides an analysis of how, within the sociopolitical context of the 1960s and 1970s, the intersection of race and mental health altered the way that mental illness was diagnosed, understood, and treated in the United States. Once considered a nonthreatening disease that primarily targeted white middle-class women, Metzl provides an historical exploration of how schizophrenia became associated with the perceived hostility, rebellion, mistrust, and violence of Black men during the Civil Rights movement. Part historical case study and part social commentary, Metzl utilizes the complex history of the Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ionia, Michigan to showcase the detrimental impact that shifting definitions of schizophrenia had on Black men, and the implications of that history for CRT debates in the present-day.

COVID and Society: How The Pandemic Has Reshaped Our World
The COVID-19 pandemic set into motion a series of events that will reshape society in lasting ways, from how we live, work, and learn, to the social issues we protest and aim to change, and the stories we consume. These changes will be shaped by innovations from fields including technology, medicine, architecture, humanities, politics, science, and economics. Ultimately, the post-COVID era will affect how we think about ourselves, our relationships with others, our sense of social and racial justice, and perhaps most importantly, our place in the world for years to come. In this talk, Metzl explores the pandemic’s impact on our past, present, and future. By engaging in the narratives from politicians, artists, activists, doctors, scientists, educators, and many more, he paints an illuminating portrait of our current moment, as well as answers looming questions: How will we address diversity, equity, and inclusion? What is the future of our jobs and careers? What have we learned about battling misinformation? This is an important presentation that covers everything from structural inequality to public health to our social and economic futures.