Re: Cocaine, coca, and crack

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Sat, 13 May 1995 02:06:46 -0500

Ruby's long reposting of "The new politics of coca", apparently out of an
article in the May 15th New Yorker, says a lot about Eurocentric
rejection of chewing coca leaves, which has somehow gotten conflated with
the use of cocaine extracted from those leaves. The article (rightly,
IMHO) alleges that there's a lot of racism underlying attempts to
eradicate the use of coca (not cocaine) in South America.

That's not all the racism in the article, however. Look at this part:

> From the Caribbean coast where Vespucci first encountered coca, enormous
> quantities of refined cocaine hydrochloride now leave for Miami and other
> ports in North America and Europe.

-----HOGWASH! Miami just isn't the major port of entry any more. Most of
the coke that comes into the US nowadays comes through Central America via
Mexico--frequently through Los Angeles and Chicago. Citing Miami may
reflect some kind of outmoded view taken from "Miami Vice", but it shows
the author isn't paying much attention to what's going on here today.

> In both North and South America, fewer affluent people are putting this
> "powder cocaine" in their noses than did so a decade ago . . .

-------Oh, yeah? Who says so?

> . . . but an enormous surge in the use of crack cocaine, a purer,
> smokable form of the drug, has occurred in the underclass, and
> especially among disadvantaged youth in inner cities. The news is full
> of stories about crack houses, crack babies, crack addicts, and crack
> wars. These patterns of use cause as much alarm and as many demands
> for repressive action in South America as they do in the North. It was
> sensational publicity about crack cocaine that escalated the war on
> drugs, and it is fear of crack cocaine that continues to paralyze
> efforts to reform drug policy.

Yup, there they are, the dreaded "underclass". There's no mention of the
perception that crack is somehow a characteristicly black addiction.
White folks are the only snorters of white powder, in this view, and no
red-blooded white person would smoke crack. Of course we all know who the
underclass is. And this whole thing is a pile of racist crap.

It ain't fear of crack cocaine that continues to paralyze anything. It's
a deliberately created fear of allegedly drug-crazed blacks. There's no
other explanation for the fact that mandatory sentences for possession of
crack are much harsher than sentences for possessing powder cocaine, or
the fact that you have to be holding a helluva lot more powder cocaine
than crack cocaine before you get into serious trouble with local law
enforcement or the DEA. No explanation other than racism will acount for
the hysteria about crack (which, after all, is just another form of
cocaine) or the fact that a great part of the explosion of prison
populations in the US is because of the harsh sentences given in crack
cases. And guess who most of those imprisoned on crack charges are?

Now let me go back to that perception that crack use equals black users.
It just ain't true. What is true is that conviction and imprisonment on
crack charges disproportionally fall on African Americans. People who
point to the racism underlying our drug laws don't get much attention in
the mainstream media; they're drowned out by stories about the horrors of
crack. There's a curious inversion of the "invisible man" of old-
fashioned U.S. racism. Today's invisible man is the white customer of the
crack dealers, the white dealer who provides the crack that kids smoke in
my local (not quite lily-white) high school, the white middleman in the
crack trade that reaches local industries in this not really urban town.
That invisibility makes it easy for racists to peddle their poison about
the threat of crack in the underclass. . . the black underclass, of
course. Just as in the material Ruby quotes, after a while the poison
peddlers don't even have to mention that they're talking about black
people. The subliminal message is carried by the words "underclass",
"disadvantaged youth", and "inner cities". So far, this has been a mighty
successful racist tactic.

Which is why I didn't want to let the material Ruby quoted pass without
comment. The only way to stop racism is to blow the whistle anytime it
crops up.

Ooops! Just to avoid any possible misunderstanding, I am in no way
holding Ruby responsible for things somebody else said just because she
quoted them.

-- mike salovesh anthro dept northern illinois univ, de kalb, IL, 60115