Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Morality in Black and White

Speaking of arbitrary morality, does anyone talk much about the disparity between the reaction to the crack plague of the 80's compared to the current response to the methamphetamine epidemic? The Montana Meth Project is a perfect example; from the subtitle of the webpage we read:
Prevention. Outreach. First-time use. Who was worried about "outreach" and "first-time use" when crack was decimating black communities? Outreach back then meant the long arm of the law reaching out to haul your ass to prison, and the drug was considered so heinous that first-timers were never cut any breaks. In fact, they ramped up the prison time for crack users well beyond that for other types of (white, middle-class) cocaine users, and the only compassionate approaches aimed at prevention and rehab were ususally spearheaded by black leaders and social workers. Young black addicts were demonized: Crack Babies! Crack Whores! Crack Killers! The fact that it was the black neighborhoods themselves that were suffering most of the crime, and that white users who went slumming for dope were mostly let off the hook, never even entered the public mind.

But now that HBO will be running its documentary "Montana Meth" on March 18, you can bet that white America will be poppin' the top on a big ol' can of empathy for the mostly white, rural, and working- to middle-class addicts of this horrendous drug. Already the remarks made by politicians have tipped their hands:
"We are noticing that a lot of kids in junior high and high school that are A students and that have a great home life are starting to get hooked on meth, and it's going to wreck their lives (says Rep. Jeff Johnson, Minnesota)."

"It's like acknowledging a family problem," says Rep. Teresa Henry. "Where you think if we just don't talk about it, it will go away or it will reflect badly on the family. And the reality is a significant number of members of our community family are in trouble and are struggling and we all need to respond to it."

They talk of how innocent the victims are, how beautiful the towns are that they hail from, how tragic the whole thing is, and how the only real solution is shutting down access to the materials from which the drug is made. No white politician in the 80s ever raised the possibility that crack was a problem of our "community family".

Yes, meth is a problem, and it does send people round the bend. And prevention and education are powerful tools if they are used by truthful, credible people. And the horrorshow mess we made of the crack problem should not be repeated with meth. But the rank cruelty of the differences in how they are perceived, and the blatant racism of it that eludes the average Yuppie (just like it eluded him during Katrina), should be highlighted at every possible moment. It's not just abuse of substances that ruins a community; it's the reaction of the community to it. In the case of crack we made a bad situation worse, not just for the immediate term, but for generations to come. Rubbing the faces of its victims in further legal inequities only seals our fate, and theirs.

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