Gary Younge is a columnist for The Nation, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and an award-winning writer for The Guardian, where he wrote about whiteness in America. His most recent book is Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives. This interview has been edited and condensed.
You can listen to Gary Younge on the Start Making Sense podcast.
Jon Wiener: A month or two ago, you set out on a trip across America, going from the whitest state, Maine, to the blackest, Mississippi. What exactly where you looking for?
Gary Younge: I’m black and British. Over the years when Obama was in power, white journalists would talk about what that meant for black Americans. I felt that we were now in a particularly racial moment. And it is a strange contradiction how rarely the media will discuss white people, because white people are seen as a default—in the same way that nobody asks me, “When did you come out as straight?” The interrogation of white people, of whiteness, is all too rare. And when it does happen, sometimes it ends up being an interrogation of racism, which is perfectly plausible but not the same thing. My idea was to travel through the country and look at this group of people who, ethnically at least, single-handedly put Trump in the White House. People who he seems determined to represent. And to look at those pockets of both pain and privilege in white America. The idea also was that we would only speak to white people, and only about white people.
JW: What did you look for in Maine?
GY: In Maine I wanted to hear about the opioid epidemic. I drove around with a paramedic who fears that one day she will find her sister, who is an addict. We spoke to a guy called Andrew who’d been opioid dependent and who’d managed to get out of that situation and had been sober now for a while. He had managed to do so without any criminal record. It is progress, in a sense, that the opioid epidemic is now understood as a health crisis. Even Trump says so. Whereas the crack epidemic was understood as a crisis of culture and crime. That’s one of the things about white privilege: Even when you’re on your back in the street with a needle hanging out of your arm, it could always be worse. You could be black.
JW: From Maine you went to Johnstown, Pennsylvania.