It’s cute that politicians across the country are taking up the very real and very serious opioid addiction epidemic that’s taking place in rural and suburban white communities, but I can’t help but feel confused and overlooked by the fact black communities have been suffering because of drug abuse for decades.
Over the weekend, I heard a white politician from somewhere refer to drug addiction as “drug misuse”. My jaw almost hit the floor. Drug…misuse. “Oops, I’m chopping up pills, liquefying them and shooting them up!“ This codified description of drug abuse and addiction to humanize and show gentleness to a segment of drug users who are somehow divergent from the standard image of drug addiction, and thus more deserving or compassion.
But when crack was swallowing black communities whole, and terms like ”crack baby“ were introduced into our lexicon, America recoiled in racist disdain and became hyper-vigilant against black boogeymen, ”Super Predators“, locking up or killing scores of black men, breaking up families and fracturing communities. To this day, the myths and stereotypes of the black community at the height of the government-sponsored crack epidemic continue to define the perception and prosecution of black people in this country, while privatized mass incarceration still profits from it.
Last year, Lisa Ling’s ‘This Is Life’ went to Chicago to chronicle and compare how drug addiction (and the criminality that accompanies it) are handled on different sides of the Metro area. On the poor, black side, black drug users are treated harshly by law enforcement and the justice system, brutalized by the system, and are left with no rehabilitation or hope. But in the white suburbs, a police department has a program that allows local (white) addicts to turn themselves and their drugs in return for treatment. Which is how it should be…for all of us.
Watch New York’s Cardozo Law School Professor Ekow Yankah’s powerful PBS essay about the double standards in the ways in which America handled drug epidemic in black communities decades ago, compared to how they’re handling the opioid epidemic in present day white communities, below.
By Erin White*, AFROPUNK contributor