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When Addiction Has A White Face

February 09, 2016

~ An Analysis of America’s Reaction to the Opioid Epidemic Versus the 1980’s Crack Epidemic ~

“WHEN crack hit America in the mid-1980s, for African-Americans, to borrow from Ta-Nehisi Coates, civilization fell. Crack embodied instant and fatal addiction; we saw endless images of thin, ravaged bodies, always black, as though from a famined land. And always those desperate, cracked lips. Our hearts broke learning the words ‘crack baby.’

But mostly, crack meant shocking violence, terrifying gangs and hollowed-out inner cities. For those living in crack-plagued areas, the devastation was all too real. Children learned which ways home were safe and which gang to join to avoid beatings, or worse. 

Even for those of us African-Americans living at a relatively safe distance, there were soul-deadening costs. City centers, and by extension black neighborhoods, were seen in the national imagination as lawless landscapes. We were warned of a new wave of ‘super predators,’ young, faceless black men wearing bandannas and sagging jeans. The addicted, those who preyed on them and those caught by class, geography and especially race were swept together. At the edges of my 12-year-old mind was the ominous sense that no matter how far crack was from my actual life, I was somehow associated with the scourge.

Once again, African-Americans were cast as pathological, an indistinguishable and unsympathetic mass. The plight of Black America was evidence of its collective moral failure — of welfare mothers and rock-slinging thugs — and a reason to cut off all help. Blacks would just have to pull themselves out of the crack epidemic. Until then, the only answer lay in cordoning off the wreckage with militarized policing.”

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