Tuesday, November 3, 2015

White Privilege and Killing Useless Eaters: The Death Rate for Middle-Aged White People Without a High School Education is Rising at an Extreme Rate

Sharing some initial thoughts...

All human suffering is to be condemned. My sense of linked fate extends to my brothers and sisters on both sides of the color line. With those qualifications having been noted, while I am concerned and send positive energy out to all folks who are struggling in these perilous times, I have no tears, loss of sleep to be experienced because, or great sadness for the white victimology blues channeled by The New York Times' new story on the rising death/suicide rates among white middle-aged people who do not have a high school education.

Life is hard. When black and brown folks suffer it is quotidian and "just life as usual" in these United States. When white folks in the same cohort encounter challenges it is headline worthy in one of the country's (and world's) leading journals of record.

Ultimately, the white racial frame and white privilege are in overdrive this week.

White heroin addicts get sympathy and empathy on 60 Minutes while people of color are erased from the story--the latter is a group to be punished for drug use; the former is to be helped for they are "sick" and "made a mistake".

American society has historically been oriented around giving unearned advantages, resources, and opportunities to white folks en masse--and especially to white folks who are semi-skilled and lacking in education.

Outside observers often ask why Americans do not have a more pronounced sense of linked fate on matters of class across the color line. The answer? The white poor and working classes were given material and psychological incentives to hate and shun black and brown people. It would seem that according to the sociologists whose work is cited by The New York Times' "Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds" that said bargain may be breaking and bending just a whee and tiny bit.

The Times observes:
Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling. 
That finding was reported Monday by two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton, who last month won the 2015 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, and Anne Case. Analyzing health and mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from other sources, they concluded that rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease anddiabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. 
The analysis by Dr. Deaton and Dr. Case may offer the most rigorous evidence to date of both the causes and implications of a development that has been puzzling demographers in recent years: the declining health and fortunes of poorly educated American whites. In middle age, they are dying at such a high rate that they are increasing the death rate for the entire group of middle-aged white Americans, Dr. Deaton and Dr. Case found.
The mortality rate for whites 45 to 54 years old with no more than a high school education increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014. 
“It is difficult to find modern settings with survival losses of this magnitude,” wrote two Dartmouth economists, Ellen Meara and Jonathan S. Skinner, in a commentary to the Deaton-Case analysis that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 
“Wow,” said Samuel Preston, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on mortality trends and the health of populations, who was not involved in the research. “This is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households.”
Being "free, white, and twenty-one" still pays a ton of dividends in the United States. Alas, it would seem that having to deal with an iota of the life challenges and reduced opportunities that black and brown people have struggled with for decades and centuries on a daily basis is driving many white people to self-medicate, as well as kill themselves with pills, booze, and likely guns, ropes, and other means too.

But before one opens up the water works and rings the bell of public panic and concern, do not forget that those working class and poor whites who are killing themselves because the possessive investment in whiteness is not paying--at least to its historic gross standards--the same dividends to its owners, investors, and other beneficiaries as in years past, that white folks still have orders of magnitude more wealth, income, and other resources as compared to people of color in the same cohort.

As Louis C.K. keenly observed, being white in America is still a pretty damn good deal. If you selectively forget that fact, then you choose to overlook one of the dominant forces in American social and political life.

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