A Tale of Two Drug Wars (Part 2)

Last week, I wrote about how the legalization of weed in Colorado doesn’t automatically connect to the War on Drugs–or to the incredible racial bias in a blatantly racist criminal justice system–unless we allow it to.

Today, in 2014, the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. When the majority of these people are of color, and who–as studies show–are serving time for an activity they do at similar rates to whites, then we can’t ignore the role policy can make in changing the outcome for the fate of entire group of people.

David Brooks wrote an article in New York times about the use of Marijuana, and how it could have dangerous outcomes if made legal. His argument is valid, and I think everyone should give it a read. And although I understand his views better than many may think, I don’t think Brooks understands–or if he does, then he just chooses to ignore–one important detail: the cost of racism in the lives of African-Americans, and if policy is responsible for it, then we must look to policy to change it.

blog-72The War on Drugs is one of the leading catalyst when you examine urban inequality. It has destroyed black families, communities, and has left a third of African-Americans without an actual political voice. When I think of the legalization of marijuana, I’m not thinking about a drug that people want to use for recreational use, I’m thinking about so many young African-American men who have given up their lives to an unfair justice system, while white men the same age will never have to pay such consequences because the privilege that is hidden beneath their skin.

Brooks’s article boasts of white privilege. It’s convenient for a middle-class, professional, white male to feel comfortable with weed remaining illegal, because that would never impact his own success, or the success of his children. But on the other side, it’s also convenient to expect that legalizing weed won’t be the host of another set of problems.

The problems with so much discourse on the war on drugs is that it ignores key realities: even when drugs are being used at similar rates, when you put drugs in  communities  that are majority of people of color and poor, the outcomes become a lot more dangerous–with or without laws to incriminate.

 The liberal agenda, with all of its pure motives, ignores what drugs represent to many inner city, marginalized communities. You go to any urban metropolitan city with a large black population, and they’ll tell you what drugs represent in their communities. On one end, they will tell you how drugs are the broken dreams and aspirations of forgotten youth, the destruction of families, the last barrier behind the salvation of black America. They’ll tell you that drugs have done more damage than good, and that they want them completely vanished.

And then there becomes another narrative, where in some cities that once were industrious havens like Detroit, they’ll tell you how de-industrialization, globalization, and discrimination kept African-Americans at the margins of an ever-changing and evolving economy. How the shift from industry to service jobs put African-Americans at a disadvantage. In hard times, African-Americans have never benefited, and the only way to survive was through an underground economy. To an African-American, when the country you live in has never played by the rules or treated you fairly, and when you’re looking at a world that will hardly except you, then selling drugs doesn’t look so bad.

Pretending that legalizing marijuana is going to solve all the problems that were perpetuated from the war on drugs is as ridiculous as it sounds, and that very idea underestimates–or maybe just chooses to neglect–how persistent American racism is. Ending a war on drugs means bringing to account the forces that have historically marginalized people of color, and that is something this country has never been good at.


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