Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Drug Coverage

Dorothy Roberts has an excellent piece up on disparities in media coverage of White versus Black teenage drug addictions. NPR did a report on OxyContin abuse by upper-class Whites. It all the hallmarks of a "normal" drug report--dealing by students, theft to pay for the addiction, trying to be "cool" by taking the drugs (specifically, the sentiment amongst Prep School students that this was what real rich white kids did). But Professor Roberts notes:
What struck me most about the NPR program was its totally sympathetic stance toward the plight of these teens and their parents. The interviewer never asked the teens if they had a problem with acting "white" or their parents why they didn't motivate and supervise their children like "Asian parents." There was not even a hint of blame for anyone: as one mother said, these children just "got grabbed by something that was greater than [them]." Nor was there any indication that any of the teens had been in trouble with the law for their crimes or placed in foster care for their parents' neglect. Most will probably complete the drug treatment program, graduate from their highly-ranked suburban high schools, and go on to college, their brush with drug addiction and crime a forgiven momentary lapse in their privileged path to success.


Can you imagine a similarly sympathetic discussion of addiction, drug dealing, and theft with a group of black teenagers and their parents? The last remotely similar NPR program I heard involving black teens was about the juvenile detention center in Chicago, under investigation for its abusive treatment of its almost exclusively black population, many of whose offenses were far less egregious than those of the white OxyContin addicts in Massachusetts. Some commentators on this blog are fond of blaming the poor parenting skills of black adults and bad attitudes of black children for their failure to achieve. Is it possible that the hugely disproportionate placement of black children in juvenile detention and foster care - and the stereotypes that go along with it - contribute to the "achievement gap?"

The question is, why do we have such different mentalities (and policies) when it is White children with the addiction as opposed to Blacks? Both are amongst the dealing class. Both are committing crimes to support the addiction. Both are encouraged by powerful social cues. But it is only Blacks who we immediately give up on, label lost causes, and shunt off into prison (or prison-esque school tracking programs) without a look back. Clearly, something is motivating this. But if not racism, then what?

4 comments:

The probligo said...

The question is, why do we have such different mentalities (and policies) when it is White children with the addiction as opposed to Blacks?

Put bluntly, it is racial discrimination.

It is the kind of discrimination that argues that social programmes and wealth redistribution on racial grounds is anathema.

It is the kind of racism that argues "equality of education" based upon ability to pay...

It is the kind of racism that ignores the existence of deep continuing social injustice.

It is the kind of racism that gives currency to jokes like "What do you think of Roe V Wade? Ans - I don't care how they get out of New Orleans" when you bear in mind that most of those unable to leave were coloured.

It is the kind of racism that creates riots in Sydney, and racial taunts against sports opponents in Perth.

Yes, it happens here in NZ. See my comments in January this year about Brash Donnie's Orewa speech and the resulting election campaign based on "equal rights" and "one rule for all".

It is a "polite" racism.

Get off yer nag, probligo... its dead!

Anonymous said...

The reason it was reported the way it is is not because the students were white as opposed to black, it is because they were upper-class and not poor.

The reason you can't imagine that blacks would have been reported the same way is because you correlated being black with being not upper-class.

If it were a black _upper-class_ kid in the same situation, he'd be in the same boat as the white kid.

Its the economic status that drives the bias, not race. Its the same reason why celebreties get off on crime and poor people get thrown behind bars.

It may be discrimination, but it is not racial.

jack said...

Above Commentor:

Not that you're wrong per se but how do we know that its economic discrimination and not racial? It seems to me that poor white drug use story would have more in common with the rich-white story than the poor black story. I just don't see kids from rural West Virginia being viewed as hopeless drug addicts and being crowded into prison.

So maybe its just the urban poor eh? (You can call them what ever you want but that doesn't change the fact that they are discriminated against because of the color of their skins.)

You're right though, theres no reason to think it isn't just economic discrimination. So how about a reason to think it is?

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