Forty-three percent of the country believes discrimination against whites is as large a problem as discrimination against blacks. This is likely the same crowd incapable of discerning “white privilege.” White privilege is the freedom to f#*k up and still be seen as human. It is manifested when a sitting president can devise public policy to “criminalize” and “disrupt those communities” of blacks, have your aide admit to it years later and even that doesn’t cause the country to rise up in outrage. That President used heroin to arrest, disrupt and destroy entire communities by design; white privilege is the freedom to do an about-face overnight and care about heroin users and alter public policy to cater to them because they are now overwhelmingly white. It is when HIV can mean nothing to you when blacks have it but you use every government resource to combat the disease when whites get it from drug use. Still can’t see it?
Drug policy has always perfectly illustrated white privilege and been used as a tool to harm black communities. As the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger launched the war on marijuana. His motives were that,
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others. Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men”
Anslinger’s agency blatantly fabricated data to justify their drug war and many states throughout the country gladly embraced his war as part of their larger Jim Crow apparatus to harm black communities. Of course, when college students became associated with the drug in the 1960’s the public perception shifted on the drug but for blacks, marijuana is still thought of as a display of deviance. To this day, in some states blacks are six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana although whites use the drug at equal rates. Still can’t see it?
Whites and nonwhites were equally represented among first time heroin users before the 1980’s. Even so, the heroin epidemic in the 1960’s was largely thought of as a black, inner city problem, along with the crime wave attributed to it. There was a clear response. In 1973 New York’s Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, enacted drug laws that would soon sweep the nation. Drug dealers and users were given harsh, mandatory jail sentences. Rockefeller also had help from the federal level.
The Nixon Administration- according to Nixon’s aide John Ehrlichman– saw blacks as a political enemy and decided to associate them with heroin and in doing so criminalize them and “disrupt” their communities. On the federal and state levels, the strategy worked. Albert Rosenblatt, a New York prosecutor during Rockefeller’s tenure noticed that whites were also committing plenty of crimes and doing drugs but the people being sent to prison under Rockefeller’s laws were almost entirely black and brown. Said Rosenblatt, “We were aware of it. I mean, it’s hard not to be aware of it when you see a courtroom and when you see a cadre of defendants…most of whom were people of color.” Even with such blatant injustice and admission of racist motives by a President, America isn’t outraged. Still can’t see it?
In today’s world, around 90 percent of first time heroin users are white. There is an “epidemic” in America stemming from this comeback drug. White and rural communities are witnessing overdose deaths and feel a sense of helplessness, much like blacks felt in the 1980’s when crack hit the streets. Of course, federal drug laws were enacted at that time which further devastated black America; laws that established a 100-1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine, the choice of middle class whites. Today, politicians on both sides are responding to the new, white, heroin epidemic with compassion and not criminalization. Long time crime and punishment warriors, like Congressman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, have discovered overnight that drug addicts are people and need treatment, not prison. Forty-two states have passed legislation to make Naloxone, a heroin overdose drug, readily available. The President responded with a $133 million request to broaden drug treatment and even train first responders in the use of Naloxone to help overdose victims. I recall no such efforts to salvage crack addicts in the hood. Still can’t see it?
The heroin epidemic has also highlighted the tangential effects of drug use. Rural communities are witnessing an outbreak in new HIV cases due to the use of shared needles. While HIV isn’t new, the policy responses we see today are. Since the 1980’s there has been a strict prohibition on the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs. In 1998, the HHS Secretary announced findings that needle exchange programs were effective at reducing HIV transmission and did not encourage more drug use but it didn’t matter. As recently as 2012, Republicans were still defending this prohibition. Now that the issue is a white one, however, the Republican-controlled Congress has done a 180 and changed that policy. In another striking case study, Republican Governor Mike Pence of Indiana issued a state of emergency early in 2015 after rural Scott County saw 79 new HIV cases. Ironically, well before 2013 ended, Marion County (Indianapolis is the county seat) had 124 cases of black males infected and that same Governor saw no cause for alarm. Seriously, can you still not see it?
Police departments across the country are responding to these new, white drug addicts in powerful ways. Some are even allowing addicts to walk into a police station with drugs at no consequence, if they’re seeking help. I can only imagine what would happen if Negroes walked into a police station with crack and pipe in hand. Politicians are singing a new tune, overnight. Still, the words of Nixon’s aide are haunting and the consequences still reverberate in black communities. To be a drug addict and still considered human is a privilege. To have HIV and not be sent to jail but actually seen as worth saving is a privilege. If you still can’t see it, it’s simply because you don’t want to.