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 worst 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. Free and open to the public but registration is encouraged, 212-298-8640.

For buffet supper registration is also required.


Carolyn Rouse

Sociocultural Anthropologist, Princeton  University


Julie Livingston

Cultural Analysis and History, New York University

Carolyn Rouse is a professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University whose work explores how evidence is used to make particular claims about race and social inequality. She is the author of Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam (Univ.of California Press 2004) Uncertain Suffering: Racial Healthcare Disparities and Sickle Cell Disease  (Univ. of California Press 2009) and Televised Redemption: Black Religious Media and Racial Empowerment (NYU Press 2016).. She examines discourses of charity and development in relation to her own project of building a high school in a fishing village in Ghana. In the summer of 2016 she began studying declining white life expectancies in rural California as a follow-up to her research on racial health disparities. In addition Rouse is also a filmmaker who has produced, directed, and/or edited a number of documentaries including Chicks in White Satin (1994), Purification to Prozac: Treating Mental Illness in Bali (1998), and Listening as a Radical Act: World Anthropologies and the Decentering of Western Thought (2015).

Julie Livingston is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York University, where she is also affiliated with the Anthropology Department. She is interested in the human body as a moral condition and mode of consciousness, in care as a social practice, and in taxonomy and relationships that upend or complicate it. Her work is at the intersection of history, anthropology, and public health. She is the author of Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic(Duke University Press, 2012), Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana (Indiana University Press 2005), and numerous articles and essays on topics including aging, disability, disgust, suicide, and medical photography. Livingston is currently working on two new projects. The first is a book-length essay on the problem of growth and consumption as seen from southern Africa. The second is an ethnographic project on co-morbidity and aging in New York.

A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk: Buffet dinner at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).  Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public, but registration with New York Academy is required: 212-298-8640.

Event Registration:  If you will be registering for an event for the first time, the New York Academy of Sciences will ask you first to set up a user account with them. Registration is free and does not require divulging personal or financial information.

Sponsorship for this Series is generously provided by the New York Academy of Sciences, by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, by the Department of Anthropology, Hunter College, and by Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College

The Inner Lives of Passively Suicidal Americans: Why Racism isn’t Just Bad for Black People | Posted on September 20th, 2018 | Public Programs, Special Projects and Conferences