40 Years of the ‘War on Drugs’
Discriminatory Policies Have Intensified Racism
BY JESSICA SIEGEL
For nearly four decades, the so-called “War on Drugs” has been playing out in the United States, a battle supposedly designed to save Americans from illegal drug use, abuse, and whatever resulting dangers and criminality come from drugs.
But in 2019, in an America that has been divided by a history of racism and divisive politics, it’s important to note that the War on Drugs really isn’t about drugs. Historians, researchers, and activists have long argued that this “war” has always been more about race than drugs, about demonizing black Americans and other communities of color. The war has been, and continues to be, racially biased—and the results have ruined more lives than they’ve saved.
The seeds of racial tension that the War on Drugs started planting 40 years ago continue to be sown. The “war” has failed to stop drug use and abuse, but it’s nurtured and cultivated an American divide that even its creators might never have imagined.
How Did We Get Here?
To understand the War on Drugs, we’ve got to first return to its roots. Although it didn’t officially begin until the 1980s, its history can be traced to a century earlier. In the late 1800s, the Populist Movement united people of lower socioeconomic statuses in their common grievances against the upper classes. This movement was comprised mostly of farmers with economic hardships who came together with a united voice to promote their shared economic and political interests. The Populist Movement was also very successful in uniting poor people of various races, including blacks and whites. United poor black and white farmers represented a powerful and unified voting bloc. The upper-class elites viewed this allegiance as a threat to their power and, as a result, there were concerted efforts to disband the Populist Movement to diminish its power as a social and political force.
Race, Gender, Class:
How some of society’s most controversial issues are examined in the media
Editor’s Note: The Reporters Inc. is pleased to present exclusive excerpts from a new compilation of readings that examine present-day matters of race, gender and class in the media. Told from rhetorical, social, scientific, critical and cultural perspectives, we’re including pieces that explore everything from body image, sex trafficking and economic inequality to cultural stereotypes about women as propagated on the reality TV dating show, The Bachelor. University of Illinois at Chicago Associate Professor Rebecca Lind edited Race/Gender/Class/Media: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers and she starts us off with this introduction.
Laying a Foundation for Studying Race, Gender, Class, and the Media
By Rebecca Ann Lind (Editor)
Rebecca Ann Lind (PhD, University of Minnesota) is associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the department of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include race, gender, class and media; new media studies; media ethics; journalism; and audiences.
From Sesame Street, Schoolhouse Rock and Dora the Explorer to fake news, filter bubbles and sexting, ours is a mediated society. Much of what we know about, care about, and think is important is based on what we see in the media. The media provide information, entertainment, escape, and relaxation and even help us make small talk. The media can help save lives, and—unfortunately—can cause harm.
The average American household has the television set on about eight hours a day. Worldwide, the average internet user is on social media more than five hours per day. Compare that to our involvement with other social institutions. How much time have we spent in the classroom in our entire lives? With a faith community? How does that compare to your time spent with media? How can the media not affect us in some way?
A primary assumption underlying media research is that the media do matter—what we see, read, and hear affect us in some way. Different types of scholars, however, approach the matter of media effects differently. Social scientists try to model their research on the natural sciences and strive to maintain objectivity. They often employ experimental or survey methodologies testing for precise and narrowly defined media effects (such as how people’s opinions change as a result of media exposure, how people’s perceptions of others or about the world in general are affected by what they see/hear/read, or whether people behave more aggressively after being exposed to violent media content). (more…)