Talked with a good friend yesterday about the drug war, specifically about marijuana legalization in our home state of Washington. My husband worked on the initiative 502 campaign to legalize. Our friend, a black woman, expressed her concerns about how legalization will hurt black people in our state while white people will profit from legalization. She understands why we support ending the drug war (because it issues arbitrary long sentences for possession of an illegal substance, destroys families and communities, and is racist in its implementation), but she is fearful of the repercussions this new law may have on the black community. We talked about how new laws that aim to “level the playing field” or “end racist policy” can sometimes create new oppressive systems and how white people can end up benefiting more than black people. And just to be clear, its this whole “white people benefit more than black people” thing that keeps racism in American (and is the definition of racism!).
The prison system in our country is very profitable. This system relies upon people filling the jail cells to make money. Our jails are overcrowded and filled with people who have non-violent drug charges, and a disproportionate number of these people are black and brown. The owners of private prison companies and the many companies who rely on “prisoner labor” will not stand to lose profits because a state or two has legalized marijuana. With a history of chattle slavery, Jim Crow segregation, red-lining by banks to withhold capital from black families, sub-prime mortgages and pay-day lenders preying on communities of color… what will our country do next to disenfranchise black Americans?
If we look at the new emerging marijuana market in Washington state, the recipients of retail licenses are overwhelmingly male and almost exclusively white. When will we have an economic market that is available and profitable for black women and men? When we compare the net worth of households in the USA along racial and ethnic lines, the wealth of black families has remained stagnant since the 1980’s, while wealth amongst white families has risen by almost 11%. With this wealth gap between white and black communities, its no wonder that black individuals and families are starting fewer businesses. Fewer young black men and women have wealthy family members who can lend or invest start up funds for new ventures… such as, a new pot selling store!
I’m not hating on the many people who have received licenses in Washington, I’m happy for you and I’m even happier about the revenue our state will collect from this new market. But I do want to call attention to the ongoing “white supremacy” within America’s economic markets and I am calling for it to end. We will never “level the playing field” and close the “opportunity gap” if we do not address the heart of the matter, which is money and wealth. Access to capital is the only way to “succeed” in “capitalism.” When large communities within our society are consistently stepped on and ignored when it comes to “wealth gaining” activities, these groups will never “rise” within this system. When 50% of all African American boys do not graduate high school, these individuals do not have access to wealth, and may never access a living wage job. Thus, their families will remain without wealth and will struggle financially. Half of black American boys do not graduate high school! That has a ripple effect and will affect all members of their community and their families. That is roughly a quarter of the black community that is not getting an education. Education is supposed to be the “ticket out of poverty.” A third of all black men will likely see the inside of a jail cell at some point in their life. Where is the effing outrage?!?