Chair of the Center for Practical Bioethics
Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine
University of Kansas City Medical Center
Mortality trends in low education white people in the US have worsened markedly since the turn of the 21st century. Researchers have documented rising midlife mortality in white people with a high school degree or less and an absolute decline in life expectancy in white people without a high school diploma. These related yet distinct trends became merged in press coverage and public discourse and labeled “deaths of despair,” due to drug overdose, alcohol abuse, and gun-related suicide as proximate causes. Studies and press coverage have explained these trends largely in terms prolonged economic deprivation associated with deindustrialization, automation, wage stagnation and loss, and consequent family disintegration. Others, however, have pointed to the role of racial status threat—the perception among white people that their social status is threatened by black and brown people. Whether causal explanations are anchored in “economic anxiety” or “status anxiety” or some integrated notion of “racialized economics,” whiteness is implicated. Dr. Erika Blacksher will describe a multidimensional concept of whiteness, discuss its potential role in these trends, and how they might inform assessments of (in)justice of these trends.
Dr. Blacksher’s talk will:
- Review worsening white mortality trends and related causal hypotheses
- Describe a multidimensional concept of whiteness
- Discuss how these causal hypotheses and concepts might inform judgements of the (in)justice of these mortality trends
- Identify several questions raised by the potential role of whiteness in these mortality trends for health equity research and engagement
Erika Blacksher’s research focuses on questions of responsibility and justice raised by white mortality trends in low education white people, the potential contribution of whiteness, and the role of civic engagement in building cross-racial and cross-class connections and political will for social and health equity policies. She is the John B. Francis Chair in Bioethics at the Center for Practical Bioethics and Research Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, both in Kansas City. Prior to these posts, Dr. Blacksher was Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Washington; Research Scholar for Public Health Ethics at The Hastings Center; and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar at Columbia University. She holds masters and doctorate degrees in Bioethics from the University of Virginia and undergraduate degrees in philosophy and journalism from the University of Kansas.