People in the United States refuse to pass more gun control laws because of white supremacy and “white privilege,” according to a Vanderbilt University professor out of Nashville.
As The Tennessee Star reported in March, that professor, Jonathan Metzl, authored a new book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland. In the book, Metzl said “explicit racism” motivates certain white people to cling to these conservative points of view.
This week, Metzl told The Guardian in an interview that “the intensity and polarization of the U.S. gun debate makes much more sense when understood in the context of whiteness and white privilege.”
“White Americans’ attempt to defend their status in the racial hierarchy by opposing issues such as gun control, healthcare expansion or public-school funding ends up injuring themselves, as well as hurting people of color,” Metzl said.
Metzl added that guns are “particularly charged social symbols.”
“So many aspects of American gun culture are really entwined with whiteness and white privilege,” The Guardian quoted Metzl as saying.
Metzl did say, however, that gun owners are worthy of seeking out for conversation.
“I think that pathologizing all gun owners gets us further away from any kind of solution that might bring people together,” Metzl said.
“I do think there are many positive things about gun culture. My argument is a lot more centrist than I think people realize. It’s not just about supremacy and oppression. It’s also about history and tradition and generational meanings. I came away from this research very respectful of gun ownership traditions in many parts of the country, and things people were telling me about guns suggesting safety and protection, about the community networks that gun ownership lets people forge.”
As The Star reported in March, Metzl’s book focused on three specific areas — Medicaid expansion in Tennessee, school funding in Kansas, and gun laws in Missouri.
“In his book, Metzl explains that today’s skepticism toward gun control and government programs has a long history in the segregated South and Midwest, where gun ownership, affordable health care and quality education were considered privileges that only whites deserved,” according to a Vanderbilt press release about the book.
“Likewise, those attitudes reflected a view of whiteness that emphasized extreme self-reliance—the idea that individuals can and should be solely responsible for the health, safety and well-being of themselves and their loved ones.”
Quoting Metzl, the Vanderbilt press release said this view is linked to backlash following the U.S. Civil War and federal interventions to end segregation. Metzl also said these attitudes resurged following the election of former Democratic President Barack Obama.
Metzl has said “whiteness itself has become a negative health indicator.”
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