Points has a post on the history of black support for the war on drugs.

When I began researching grassroots responses to crack-cocaine I found myself—albeit naively—both surprised and confused by heavy-handed, aggressive calls for more policing and harsher sentencing from working and middle class black urbanites. Was this unique to the period? Did this represent a specific and different response to the marketing invention of crack? Moreover, I found myself asking: What motivated calls to stigmatize and scapegoat members of their own local communities? Why would local leaders deliberately attract negative attention to their already beleaguered districts, thereby further perpetuating negative stereotypes regarding the debasement of inner-city culture? Where were the progressive voices calling for moderate, rational, public health responses?

“Rational”? Pretty condescending. It’s not to difficult to imagine this being a very rational response when trying, against great odds, to build and maintain strong, upwardly mobile minority communities in cities and neighborhoods that are constantly on the edge of disaster.

In spite of that, it’s a worthwhile read.

As, I’ve pointed out in previous posts, while policies like the crack sentencing guidelines have had horribly racist effects, the policy was supported by the Congressional Black Caucus.

4 thoughts on “Black-lash

  1. Jason,

    Taking the word “rational” out of context is both presumptuous and problematic. Please do not presume that I intend to disparage or diminish the hard work of people desperate for help. If you read the post again (or several other posts on the topic) you will see that I also argue quite explicitly that these attempts are strategic, well-organized, and in many ways, effective.

    Referring to a public health response to drug abuse as “rational” is not a value judgement upon earlier responses pursuing alternative routes. The post does not claim that grassroots responses were irrational. I would however argue aggressively that any rational policy discussion resulting from the grassroots activism treated above should include public health solutions. The reality that public health solutions were not so much as debated leading up to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and 1988 is trending towards irrationality. This, though, should be pinned on Congress–specifically groups like the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control led by Charles Rangel, not grassroots activists.

  2. Michael,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I’m not familiar with your other writing, but I re-read your post and I see you point. What I liked about the post in the first place was your description of the context for African American support for these policies.

    However, the use of the word “rational” is troubling for me. Maybe my reaction to it has led to an unfair assumption on my part. It’s often used by people (often in public health) who believe they are value neutral and simply describing a self-evident Truth. This frames “others” as having not a different opinion or seeing different truths, but as having faulty thinking, ignorance and/or willful blindness to the Truth.

    If I misread your use of the word, I apologize.

    Hey, I said it was a worthwhile read and encouraged people to go to your post!

    All the best,


  3. The phrase “inner-city culture” is contextually questionable in how its being used, in my opinion?

    Not sure if this is coded speech or whether the precise wording is a misnomer???

    Can you explain what it is and clarify the definition by what you mean, Jason?

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