Ethnocentrism, Class Discrimination, and the Historical Shortcomings of America’s War on Drugs Ethnocentrism, Class Discrimination, and the Historical Shortcomings of America’s War on Drugs In the mid to late 20th Century, the United States experienced several states of Cultural Revolution. The Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the anti-War Movement, and the increasing presence of a widespread, politically active and highly vocalized youth counterculture which led the United States government to feel that maybe they were losing control of their population.
The white, upper class men, who for centuries had subjugated the political realm, began to feel their grip on power slipping. By targeting drug use, the government would be free to deal with minorities, especially African Americans, Hispanics, and left-wing radicals, all while claiming that they were defending our country and our borders from the international drug trade, as well as ridding our streets of drugs and drug-related violence. Many in governmental positions were nervous, assuming that if drug use became widespread they would no longer be able to control a newer, freer thinking society.
With the launch of the War on Drugs by President Richard M. Nixon in 1972, the United States government and unwary citizens alike were embarking on a journey of clandestine, institutionalized race and class-based discrimination in order to ensure that the preponderance of governmental power would remain where it had securely been held long before the adoption of capitalism; with elite white males (Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2007; Macionis, 2009).
Following President Nixon’s declaration of War on Drugs in 1972, ensuing policy has included President Ronald Reagan’s militarization of the War on Drugs, the 1998 Souder Amendment to the Higher Education Act, and the prosecution of citizens in states such as California, where marijuana has been legalized, with federal crimes (Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2007; Macionis, 2010). These policies have had a progressively deleterious effect on our society which have resulted in the overcrowding of jails and prisons, denial of federal higher education financial aid, and unmerited life prison sentences for nonviolent repeat offenders.
In spite of this alleged crackdown, the majority of law enforcement officials have maintained that they are losing the War on Drugs. Moreover, statistical findings have consistently substantiated that the War on Drugs is irrefutably being lost; most illicit drugs are more widely available and affordable now than in 1972, when war was officially declared (Hanson, Fleckenstein, & Venturelli, 2009). Karl Marx is largely responsible for authoring the original sociopolitical philosophy of conflict theory, which has been adapted into many other theories that have developed since his death.
Essential to conflict theory is the idea of the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie, who control the methods of production in a capitalist society, control the proletariat through the exploitation of the proletariat’s labor resource. According to Marx, those who function as the ruling material force of society are also the ruling intellectual force: consequently, the bourgeoisie can maintain their status within society because, as the ruling class, they create the laws that govern the operation of society (Macionis, 2009).
In addition to organized oppression through the control of labor and wages, the bourgeoisie also control the proletariat masses by creating competition between them. By accentuating racial, ethnic, religious, and other differences, as well as the obvious competition for jobs, the bourgeoisie cultivate an attitude of hostility between the proletariats, which makes it much more difficult for them to unite against the ruling class in an effort to better their position in society. The labor situation within capitalism, according to Marx, makes it virtually impossible for workers to appreciate their full potential to perform.
As the Industrial Revolution took hold, crafts disappeared and monotonous, highly repetitive, unskilled positions within the copious factories that sprang up in the wake of the Industrial Revolution took the place of craftsmanship. This revolutionary change estranged workers from the products they were making, because they were no longer able to see the product being produced from beginning to end. Workers became further detached from their labor as it became increasingly apparent that even though they had jobs, often they id not make enough money to buy the very products they assisted in producing (Macionis, 2010). Marx envisaged a worker’s revolution, in which workers would unify in their struggle for egalitarianism. Possible reasons why Marx’s revolution never transpired include; improved safety standards, the movement from heavy industrial labor towards an information and service based economy, the shortening of the work day to eight hours, the implementation of employee benefit and retirement plans, and the all-pervading American belief in achievement ideology (Macionis, 2009).
There are a number of parallels which should be addressed when investigating the historical shortcomings of America’s War on Drugs in light of conflict theory. If Marx’s original conflict theory is based upon pitting the capitalist against the worker, then the Drug War may be understood as pitting the lawmakers against those affected by the laws. Although the means of the oppressor are somewhat different, the fundamental idea remains the same.
While the oppressed in Marx’s explanation of conflict theory were being used for their labor resources, the oppressed in the Drug War are being used to fill the indispensable slots in society that are required to sustain a lower class which provides a larger pool of cheap labor as well as ample recruitment opportunities for the US military (Macionis, 2009). Fundamentally, the War on Drugs functions to keep the people in power in power, and to push everyone that is not in power as far down as possible, until total dependency to those in power is inescapable (Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2007).
Laws against drug users are intended to explicitly limit their opportunities in society: Case in point, nonviolent drug felons are prohibited from voting in elections even after they are released from prison. At this point, they have been deprived of one of the quintessential rights and responsibilities of democracy, the ability to contribute to one’s own government. In view of the fact that the overwhelming majority of drug charges are levied against racial and cultural minorities through profiling, a disproportionately large number of African Americans, Hispanics, and lower class whites are convicted f drug charges (Harrison, & Karberg, 2003; Macionis, 2009). The reciprocal political disenfranchisement may not seem substantial enough to actually sway an election, nevertheless, when one compares the number of African American men who were unable to vote in the 1996 election, approximately 1. 4 million, to the total number of African American men eligible to vote in the 1996 election, approximately 10 million, the political ramifications of such stringent legislation becomes blatant (Fellner, & Mauer, 1998).
The Higher Education Act of 1968 was designed to expand educational opportunities for those who could not afford college through loans, scholarships, and grants. However, in 1998, an amendment authored by Congressman Mark Souder (R-IN) denied federal financial aid to anyone convicted on drug charges; in so doing, Souder ensured that drug offenders were to be punished twice: first through the justice system, and then, through denial of educational resources.
With higher education regularly being thought of as an essential step in the betterment of one’s life, the Souder Amendment has in essence told the lower class that while they are expected to become productive contributors to society, they are to do so without the benefit of higher education. Statistical findings have consistently revealed that the majority of drug offenders are not wealthy, high-level distributors, but more often, low-level participants who only posses small quantities of illicit substances for personal use (Hanson, Fleckenstein, & Venturelli, 2009; Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2007).
Legislation such as the Souder Amendment causes many minorities, especially in the inner city, to delve further into drugs by manufacturing and/or growing and selling drugs in order to achieve the kind of income level that a college graduate typically enjoys; and income that legislation such as the Souder Amendment makes impossible to pursue via formal education (Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2007). For two primary reasons the Souder Amendment is considered by many to be an excessive punishment.
First of all, drug charges are the only crimes which are affected by the Souder Amendment. Individuals convicted of violent and socioculturally deleterious crimes such as murder, rape, and assault are not denied the federal scholarship monies denied nonviolent drug offenders. Secondly, the denial of financial aid applies not only to those convicted of felony drug charges, but also to those convicted of misdemeanors: financial aid can be cut off indefinitely after multiple offenses.
This prohibits recovering addicts who are trying to readjust to society from receiving aid even after the successful completion of socially approved treatment plans. By ignoring the need for rehabilitation among addicts and the creation of opportunities among the working and lower classes, the HEA to all intents and purposes seals off the prospect of higher education from those most blatantly in need of a way to better their socioeconomic standing (Fellner, & Mauer, 1998; Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2007). The Drug War’s racial discrimination has been especially harmful in the African American community.
According to the Federal Household Survey, “most current illicit drug users are white. There were an estimated 9. 9 million whites [72% of all users], 2. 0 million blacks [15%], and 1. 4 million Hispanics [10%] who were current illicit drug users in 1998. ” Nevertheless, in the same year, African Americans constituted 36. 8% of those arrested for drug violations, over 42% of those in federal prisons for drug violations, and nearly 58% of those in state prisons for drug violations. Mandatory minimums have only made the problem worse.
For example, in 1986, before mandatory minimums for crack offenses became effective, the average federal drug offense sentence for African Americans was 11% higher than for whites. Four years later, after the implementation of harsher drug sentencing laws, the average federal drug offense sentence escalated to 49% for African Americans. Due to harsh new sentencing guidelines, such as ‘three-strikes, you’re out,’ “a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic men are more likely to be imprisoned for life under scenarios in which they are guilty of little more than a history of untreated addiction.
Such stringent sentencing laws will force states to both absorb the staggering cost of not only constructing additional prisons to contain increasing numbers of prisoners but also to warehouse them into old age. (Haney, & Zimbardo, 1998, p. 714)” Enforcement of drug laws is a very lucrative enterprise for local and state governments, as well as the federal government. Drug users have been singled out and forced to pay higher fines than other more dangerous criminals. For example, in Clinton County, Michigan, the maximum penalty for misdemeanor possession of marijuana is $1350 (1st offense), and up to one year in jail.
However, the maximum penalty for misdemeanor domestic assault (1st offense) is 93 days in jail, and approximately $400 in fines (Fellner, & Mauer, 1998). Undoubtedly, America’s War on Drugs has played a pivotal role in the oppression of the lower class in America. Just as the bourgeoisie of Marx’s time oppressed the proletariat through labor and control of capital, the political bourgeoisie of our time are oppressing the lower class through unsuccessful and harmful laws. These laws have detached members of the lower class from each other, and from their own government.
Numerous organizations, such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCN) are currently working to right these wrongs. References Dalton, J. H. , Elias, M. J. , & Wandersman, A. (2007). Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities, (2nd ed. ). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Fellner, J. , & Mauer, M. (1998). Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States.
Washington, DC: Human Rights Watch & The Sentencing Project. Haney, C. , & Zimbardo, P. “The Past and Future of U. S. Prison Policy: Twenty-five Years After the Stanford Prison Experiment,” American Psychologist, Vol. 53, No. 7 (July 1998), p. 718. Harrison, P. M. , & Karberg, J. (2003). Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2002. Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice. Macionis, J. J. (2009). Society the Basics, (10th ed. ). Upper saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice.