White Health Benefits of Histories of Enslavement: The Case of Opioid Deaths

Ryan Gabriel, Michael Esposito, Geoff Ward, Hedwig Lee, Margaret T. Hicken, David Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Popular media and researchers have given increasing attention to the perceived growing alienation and despair of white Americans. The narrative of white decline has been particularly robust in light of the recent uptick in premature deaths of whites from opioid use, but this national conversation has lacked consideration of potential associations between opioid mortality among whites and durable legacies of white advantage that were established through historical racial violence. We provide an initial analysis of how contemporary patterns of white opioid mortality in the counties of southern states relate to the presence of slavery and postbellum institutions of racial social control in those counties. We find that areas in the South with higher rates of past enslavement are associated with contemporary reductions of white vulnerability, in this case, opioid mortality. This finding supports the thesis that historical institutions of racial control offer a protective benefit within the modern white population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-156
Number of pages15
JournalAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by The American Academy of Political and Social Science.


  • Ku Klux Klan
  • lynching
  • opioids
  • slavery
  • white advantage


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