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Drugs and Racial Constructions

Race, Ethnicity and Law

ISBN: 978-1-78714-604-4, eISBN: 978-1-78714-603-7

Publication date: 25 May 2017



In this chapter, I examine how racial disparities in punishment for nonviolent drug crimes align with significant differences in how the black and white drug problems are constructed in media, law enforcement, and academia.


By examining differences in how the black and white drug problems have been constructed over the past 70 years for the opioids (heroin, prescription painkillers), cocaine (both powder and crack), and marijuana, I illustrate how these distinct representations of the black and white drug problems accompany more punitive policies in response to black drug epidemics even as white drug epidemics are typically met with tolerance or indifference.


Historically, powerful interest groups like media and law enforcement have benefitted from circulating myths and exaggerations about the illegal drug problem that encourage punitive drug policies. By contrast, at least some academics have benefitted from taking the opposite tack and debunking many of these myths. Unfortunately, academics have been less willing to challenge myths about the black drug problem than the white drug problem. Indeed, some academics actually reinforce many of the myths about the black drug problem promoted by media and law enforcement.


This chapter builds upon a substantial academic literature that challenges myths about illegal drug use by whites. However, it goes beyond this literature to consider the paucity of similar academic research exposing media and law enforcement myths about the black drug problem.



Covington, J. (2017), "Drugs and Racial Constructions", Race, Ethnicity and Law (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 22), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 251-268.



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