“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men” — Harry J. Anslinger
We know that the war on drugs is racist. We know that black men are arrested for drugs disproportionately — 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites. At any given time, 40 to 50 percent of black men between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five are in jail, on probation, or have a warrant out for their arrest, overwhelmingly for drug offenses. (93) The US imprisons blacks at rates higher than South Africa during the apartheid. We know this. Some explain that we attempted to rein in harmful drugs while we, as a society, were still racist. I am here to shatter this illusion. We never started the war on drugs because of its harm. We started it because of racism. Drugs are not harmful. They are not this unique danger to our society that we need to oppress and rein in. I will be writing a series of essays tackling each of the myths haunting the war on drugs. In this essay, I will try to explore the origins of the war on drugs to demonstrate how it was racist from the beginning.
Harry Anslinger was the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Harry started the war on drugs because of racism, prejudice, and fear. He argued that marijuana made blacks unleash their lust for white women. (17) He claimed that blacks and Hispanics used more marijuana than whites. Anslinger and his people believed that cocaine turned blacks into superhuman hulks who could take bullets to the heart without flinching. “It was the official reason why the policed across the South increased the caliber of their guns.” (27) Anslinger hated jazz because it wasn’t white, or as he explained:
“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.” — Harry J. Anslinger
He relentlessly cracked down on jazz musicians like Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker. In fact, Anslinger contributed to Billie Holiday’s addiction by planting drugs on her to make an example of the evil, black junkie. Yet, when Judy Garland confessed her drug use to him, he did not arrest her. This was the same with his friend, Joseph McCarthy, who also revealed to Harry his heroin addiction. Anslinger only had problems with non-whites.
Furthremore, Anslinger was afraid that the Chinese were after white women. He believed that the prevalence of drugs even after his repressive reign was due to a Chinese plot trying to corrupt White Americans. (43) As evident from his friendship with Joseph McCarthy, Anslinger was terrifed that the Chinese were trying to spread their communist poison throughout his beloved country. This might explain why he befriended Colonel White. White was Anslinger’s right hand man. He was Anslinger’s favorite subordinate and he was suspected of planting drugs on Billie Holiday – one of Harry’s favorite targets. White is also infamous for spiking womens’ drinks with drugs and strangling a Japanese man to death even though he wasn’t sure if he was a spy. White later bragged about it to his friends and had the picture of the poor man hanging on his wall. (28) These were the minds from which the war on drugs was born.
The war on drugs is racist. It has always been racist and is still racist. I kept this essay short, because I did not wish to bombard you with a slew of facts all at once. Instead, I will divide my argument into different parts that refer to each other. The first essay introduced us to the origin of the war on drugs. The second essay will cover the harms and costs of the war. The third and final essay will delineate the problem of addiction.
Chasing the Scream, Johann Hari
I don’t see how being a person of color makes one an expert on racism. That person may understand how it feels like to be a victim of racism. That person may tell you which aspects of racism especially bother them or their family. However, being a person of color doesn’t necessarily make one understand the psychological, socio-political, and economical causes of racism.
One might ask: how can you understand racism if you don’t listen to those who experience it? First, you don’t have to experience a robbery to study robbery. Second, one mustn’t assume that not considering victimhood as expertise means that one mustn’t listen to a person’s experience of racism. It’s probably wiser to gather data from people of color, because they usually are more aware of it than their white counterpart. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t take these testimonies at face value. One must test them to see if they’re true, see if they fit our current definition of racism, and decide whether it is wise to expand or re-define racism to accommodate certain testimonies; or see if it’s better to defer the testimonies to something else entirely like the availability heuristic or tribalism. This kind of work is very different from experiencing life as a person of color. So why do we reject this impersonal and objective method practiced by experts, and instead favor the subjective testimonies of people of color?
Growing up in America was tough. I was teased for smelling like seaweed, resembling Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee. None of my heroes resembled me, we ate different food, and my grandmother couldn’t speak a word of English. I felt left out. All of this changed, when I moved to Korea in 1999. There, I wasn’t teased for my appearance anymore. Instead, I was praised for speaking perfect English! All seemed gay and rosy until I realized something: I was different. My passport and birth certificate had a bald eagle, my Korean was shoddy, and I didn’t hate Black people. In the late 90’s, Koreans enjoyed making fun of African tribes, donning black face.
Before I came to Korea, my one and only friend was a kid named Aven. He came from a Black family in Philadelphia. His name was probably spelled Evan, but we were young and we were very sure about Aven. When I was made fun of due to my Asian origin, Aven came to my rescue. He was my hero. Once, he, his little brother, and I pretended we were pirates. Of course, we had to resort to violence and brandish brittle sticks with verve. During the climax of our battle, Aven’s little brother fervently ran towards a tall Atlas cedar. When Aven saw the impending catastrophe, he leapt forward and pushed his brother away. As a result, a beetling branch poked his right eye. By the end of the week, he was donning an eye patch; I exclaimed, “You became a true pirate!” Aven and I were brothers, the first sibling I met in America. When I told him I was going to Korea, he cried for three days, praying to God to undo my departure. Paying homage to our great friendship, the username of most of my accounts is ave1125 – November 25th is my birthday. With such a history, I couldn’t fully empathize with my peers who made fun of kids who had dark skin –they were teased for resembling a “깜둥이 (nigger).”
Despite the initial unease, I grew accustomed to Korea. Youth absorbs language and culture exponentially unlike its senile counterpart. I spoke Korean perfectly – though my reading comprehension was still a bit shabby. I had many friends, and I especially shone in my English class. Amidst my pubescent rustling, my parents presented me a plane ticket: I was to live with my uncle in California. I always knew I was American, I was referred to as the American kid by my friends, but it was no longer the intimate home where I played with Aven – it was a distant memory.
My uncle and I struggled to grow on each other. He was strict and organized; I wasn’t. I scuffled with the disparity between my world and the other Californians’ – this included my cousins. My uncle scrambled through his parenting toolkit, for he had another unruly child to foster. I also couldn’t decide on whom to model myself after: I wanted to be a gangster, a skater, a bohemian, and an Asian dandy. I wasn’t sure where I belonged to: I wanted to distance myself from the Fobs (Fresh off the boat), yet I didn’t really fit in with the White kids. So, I hung out with the Mexican and Black kids. I especially admired a cool, snazzy pair of twins called Jacob and Josh. Along with Paddy from Kenya and Paul from Korea, I carved my own path – accompanied by hours of Tupac. This obviously didn’t sit with my uncle very well. It didn’t help that Paul’s older brother Phil was an infamous delinquent.
Despite our discords and conflicts, my uncle and I grew very fond of each other; especially, by the end of his life. His death hit me very hard: he was my anchor. His death made me regret how I never lived up to his standards of intellectualism. Thus, I made a vow to make my uncle proud. Out of all of my interests, my fondness for philosophy always seemed to strike a chord with him. Hence, my interest in philosophy drastically increased – how I lost my philosophy major was also an incentive. It is in the nature of philosophy to incite an analytic mind. It is also common to seek for answers to life’s big questions from philosophy. With the help of philosophy and my friends from Randolph and Berklee, I found stability – I didn’t feel left out anymore. I loved my friends, I knew my country very well, I had a concrete quest for knowledge before me, and I was more certain of myself. I even felt a sense of belonging, until I read the news that is…
Donald Trump and the rest of GOP wish to harass our Mexican brethren with stricter immigration laws. Trump intends to build a wall on the border. Ted Cruz blames police brutality on Obama rather than systemic racism – a denigration of the Black Lives Matter movement. Mike Hukabee and the GOP wish to go back to the good days, when women had no rights. They believe it is sinful for a woman to have access to planned parenthood. Jeb Bush condemns Asian immigrants for having children in his country; he believes that children of immigrants like myself shouldn’t have citizenships. My country, my dear home, has turned into a monster that forsakes its brethren, sisters, mothers, and fathers. It has forsaken the telos of a home, which is to house and welcome its family. It renounces anyone who isn’t “mega-rich”: Jacob and Josh, my dear Lisa, Paddy, Paul, myself, and Aven. It repudiates its Christian virtues by worshiping an embodiment of Greed, Lust, Pride, and Wrath: Donald Trump.
Although I’ve christened America as my home and history, I’m rejected by it. The place I spent most of my years and efforts now repels me. I’m bullied for my Asian origin again. This time I don’t have Aven to come to my rescue. This time it is up to me, my brothers, and sisters to uphold the legacy of our mothers and fathers – of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, of John Rawls and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is now our turn to make change happen. Lincoln and Jeong Jo of Joseon (정조) once proclaimed, “we, the people, are the rightful masters” of this country. They are right. It is our duty to fashion a home that corresponds to its telos: a home that welcomes its brethren, sisters, mothers, and fathers.
Jon Stewart recently called racism as one of “America’s most devastating and urgent issue(s).” This statement resonates with the recent controversies surrounding Rachel Dolezal and police brutality. It is certainly horrific to witness a police officer mutilating a Black child. The moral bankruptcy of this kind of systematic oppression requires no sophistication to understand. What of Rachel Dolezal? Could we put her case in the same box of rotten apples? In this essay, I will argue that her case must be considered as distinct from the systematic oppression of minorities.
If one browses through the liberal media, it’s easy to find articles either criticizing Dolezal or appealing to tolerance. Although I am more sympathetic to the latter, I do not believe that the call for tolerance is truly apt for addressing the demons this case brings up. I say so, for demons do not correspond to the us-them psychology that has plagued mankind with wars and racism. Instead, they coincide with linguistic laxity. i.e.– we do not care to know what ‘race’ is.
In our daily lives, we treat many as Black, White, Latino, or Asian. It is almost essential to constructing social niches and personal identities, yet we do not seem to care whether the demarcation is a valid one or not. For instance, when a man’s features appear as sub-saharan African, we call him Black, even if he is only a quarter African. As long as he can talk the talk and look the part, we do not care whether the name we refer to him by conforms to the bulk of his genes. We enjoy talking about the problems that arise from ‘race,’ but we do not enjoy distinguishing non-race from race. We do not partake in the rigorous linguistic clarification that Wittgenstein once asked of us. We have forgotten a valuable lesson of Longfellow’s :
In the days of art
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part,
For the Gods are everywhere.
Surely, one cannot demand the level of rigor that Wittgenstein practiced from all of us. Nevertheless, words as significant as ‘race’ must be put to the test. We cannot let laxity keep feeding us obscurity.
Despite the laxity displayed by the ordinary usage of ‘race,’ we have “wrought” some notions “with greatest care.” For example, ‘gender’ is now treated as a matter of social or personal identity, whereas its biological connotations have been carried onto ‘sex’ altogether. Such separation of the biological from the social seems to be the key to solving the confusions caused by our linguistic laxity. As I’ve noted above, our confusion comes from the failure to differentiate the social from the biological: a half-Black person would be considered as Black by many. It is not wrong to consider that person Black, if he truly identifies himself as such. However, we still need to hold onto the biological definition for medical purposes. Thus, comes the biological-social division.
After Nina Davaluri won the Miss America pageant, my fellow Americans responded quite favorably:
“I swear I’m not racist, but this is America.”
“9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets miss America?”
She’s not from the Middle East. Her family’s from India. Also, is there a problem with an Arab American winning?
“Miss America or miss Al Qaeda?”
“Miss America? You mean miss 7-11.”
“Miss America, footlong buffalo chicken on whole wheat. Please and thank you.”
This is why America’s obese.
“Miss Kansas should’ve won. She represents true America.”
So, the South = America?
Whether you like it or not, the Hispanic population will take over. You must acknowledge the FACT that immigrants have been particularly important to the foundation and continuation of this country. I’ve heard that ignorance can often add spice to love making, as darkness allows imagination replace vision. Certainly, my people do like to take a walk through a damp, jet-black tunnel with our daughters’ hands. Barry White once said, “Love is the only thing one cannot get enough of.” Some Americans have taken up on Barry’s advice to push the boundaries of love; Trans-parental or trans-age would be the products of this courageous endeavor. Some even show the guts to go Trans-ethics. Nietzsche would be proud.
The excellent chart from the article below shows where different Leftists lie on a graph with 2 axes: x = suspicion <—> solidarity. y = Ethical <—> Structural. Suspicion means one doesn’t believe that we could come together to solve problems. Structural means that one doesn’t believe a person’s individual actions ever make a difference. It’s adequately complex, for Liberals do not live in the same house. Seems like I’m a plain re-distribution, social welfare liberal. Neither nihilistic nor radical.
The chart that shows different kinds of privileges merit some ridicule. Sure, they exist, but some of them deserve little attention, such “ageism” or “Pro-natalism”. If you’re 5 years old, you need to listen to your parents. If you’re 75 and can’t remember anything, you shouldn’t be teaching. Or, if you’re 68 and spout racist/sexist crap, you should be the last to raise a child alone. Now, Pro-natalism. Who asks another person whether they’re fertile or not? When it does happen, it uncannily resembles sexism. When men cannot reproduce, they don’t face as many trials as women do. Moving on. “Ableism”. They’re persons. Don’t take away their welfare! Discriminating based on disabilities can be ugly, especially amongst children, but some things cannot be avoided. One cannot compete against other basketball players with paralyzed legs. One cannot expect the population to suddenly find those with down syndrome to attract boys like Angelina Jolie. It’s not as flexible as race. When Black males have more power, we see them attracting millions on stages. The same cannot be said about disabilities. It’s difficult to acquire power to begin with. Lastly, “Elitism”. I have a problem with this label, because it isn’t as heinous as the other ones. You leave mathematics to a credentialed mathematician. It works. When the rare ones pop out, it’s due to the availability of credentialed works. However, debates can be ungodly when intellectuals are pit against the layman. In spite of this horror, I stand by Reason, because intellectual progress has served us well. By simply making knowledge digestible, available, and approachable, the horror tempers. One can allow living wage; expect small hospital bills; abolish racism, sexism, and classism; with the yearning of intellectual progress. Even skeptics of Reason come from thinkers; they always fall under a certain mode of thought, of intellect, and knowledge.
Postscript: As it is apparent in the post, my argument for Ableism is the weakest, for it is the trickiest one. Ableism is universally heinous like sexism and racism, but it is not identically heinous. Many of its specters lie within ignorance of the human body and health. The problem for a blind person isn’t necessarily, “Why am I treated like someone less than I am capable of?” It’s more along the lines of, “I don’t think these people know how to live as a blind person. Look at the buildings and stairs they make.” However, racism and sexism do not need further knowledge of the human body galore. Our current knowledge is sufficient to arrive to the conclusion, “We should treat each other fairly. We know many ways to do so. Therefore, we should adopt them” The question is how do we get there by fighting injustices, whereas, Ableism is a bit more complex. “Should we treat some disabilities differently from others? Does the definition of fairness change by different disabilities? How should we arrive there? Do we face more ignorance or injustices as obstacles?”