FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

In Order to Address Racism, We Must Confront the Drug War

This past week has brought an intense time of reflection and critical self-examination for many Americans. In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, there have been emotionally-charged conversations about the way young black men are viewed in the U.S. and how valued their lives are. All the way up to President Obama we are witnessing soul-searching attempts to confront the complicated role of race in our culture. In a public address, President Obama said 35 years ago, he could have been Trayvon Martin and was routinely racially profiled before he became a senator.

Revealed throughout the Zimmerman trial, as Trayvon Martin’s character was scrutinized for signs of how threatened Zimmerman may have felt by him, was the uncomfortable truth that racism results in black men being commonly viewed as menacing simply for being human.

From clothing to intoxicants, what is normal and innocuous in another context becomes sinister when associated with black men and boys.  Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie is a sign of millennial individuality and irreverence, whereas Trayvon’s hoodie is a sign of being a “wannabe gangster.” From Martha Stewart to Justin Bieber, marijuana is becoming increasingly socially acceptable. And although no one recommends marijuana use by teenagers, when was the last time someone made a case for justifiable homicide of a suburban white kid by noting trace amounts of THC found in their system, as was done in the case of Trayvon?

Being black means living a life saturated by double standards. When the skin you live in is viewed as inherently suspicious, anything you do can provoke fear and hostility. It takes a special effort to convince people of the humanity and worth of a young black man in a way that is not required for others. The day after the Zimmerman verdict, a friend and I went to see the film “Fruitvale Station,” a poignant and powerful account of the life of Oscar Grant, a young black man from Oakland, and the events leading up to his death at the hands of a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer in 2009.

Trayvon and Oscar were from opposite sides of the country and in many ways lived different lives but in the aftermath of their murders, as arguments were put forth for why they could have been seen as suspicious or potentially threatening, a history of involvement with drugs was cited. Drugs remain an enduring part the collection of social and historical biases commonly summoned to put the character of young black men under a microscope. The underlying assumption seems to be it is not so much a matter what you do but who you are.

From caffeine to nicotine to aspirin to alcohol, when was the last time most of us have experienced a truly “drug free” day in our lives? By and large, we regularly consume some sort of substance that alters how we feel or offers pleasure instead of pain. This is why drug prohibition has been such a pernicious tool for perpetuating bias, corruption and bigotry. When the power is granted to selectively criminalize behavior that everyone engages in, unequal applications of law and social judgment are inevitable. This is why civil rights advocate and academic Michelle Alexander calls the drug war “The New Jim Crow.”

Frank conversations about race at the national level are long overdue. If any good is come from the Trayvon Martin tragedy, hopefully it will include bringing this dialogue to the forefront. But we absolutely cannot talk about race without talking about the war on drugs. This failed social experiment not only leads to the disproportionate targeting, arrest, conviction and incarceration of people of color, despite equal rates of drug consumption across race, it fuels the underlying thread of judgment, stigma and marginalization that permeates how we value human life and enable acts of violence.

Sharda Sekaran is managing director of communications for the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail