Your performative 4/20 Snapchat is at the expense of people of color
Happy end of tax season! Just kidding.
(Am I using the implied intoxication of my readership as a crutch for less funny jokes? Perhaps).
Merry 4/20. I’m just assuming that’s the proper terminology, given that it rhymes. In any case, whether you’re spending the day working or posted on your roof “blazing” with friends (as the kids call it) — I salute you. Today is primarily about having a good time, enjoying oneself and relaxing. Right?
Why is it then that on this day each year, I’m never completely at ease? In some ways, I’m actually more on edge than normal. This has little to do with weed itself and everything to do with the flawed, hypocritical culture it’s been adopted into.
As weed continues to be legalized across the country and we all join hands in celebration, it’s important to recall the racist origins and undertones that continue to inform America’s “War on Drugs.”
It’s cool to watch people smoke fat blunts on Instagram and live their fullest lives, but it’s also a bit misguided, tone-deaf even. Because despite the progress that’s been made, there really are no winners in this “war” —especially not people of color.
America has been “fighting” The War on Drugs since long before Nixon (spoiler: we’re losing). I place the term “fighting” in quotes given the fact that this isn’t actually a war, but rather a proxy politicians have used throughout history to fuel a hero complex and unite the country against a common enemy. But at a cost to whom?
The War on Drugs goes way beyond Nixon in the 70s — in the 1930s, a neurotic dude named Harry Anslinger commissioned the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and called for total drug prohibition, with severe sentencing for anyone who offended. At this time in America, xenophobia ran high given the influx of Chinese and Mexican immigration. Anslinger and other politicians prayed upon this fear by ostracizing minorities and painting them as drug-mongering criminals.
Sound familiar? Oh, that’s probably because it still happens all of the time. People of color, and namely black and brown people have always been disproportionally prosecuted for marijuana use and possession, despite the fact that marijuana use is actually relatively equal across racial boundaries:
Data c/o the Brookings Institution
Police continue to scope out lower income neighborhoods at higher rates and make heavier arrests in these areas, while white kids smoke in their parents homes consequence-free. This is something Jay-Z sums up very eloquently in this video for the New York Times appropriately titled “The War on Drugs is an Epic Fail”:
Just as black and brown people have suffered punishment and incarceration disproportionally as a result of these unfair laws and prosecution tactics, black and brown people will also not enjoy the luxuries and benefits that come with legalization to the same extent that others do.
For one thing, the legal sale and distribution of marijuana is largely controlled by white people, but that’s a whole other convo for another article. Nevertheless, while increased legalization will likely aid some institutional problems regarding unequal sentencing, black people will continue to be charged and arrested for drug related offenses at higher rates than their non-black counterparts.
This is why it can be frustrating to see 4/20 culture adopted by the mainstream world as these issues continue to persist.
That being said, this unequal sentencing is a topical issue is gaining momentum in the public sphere. Cynthia Nixon announced her bid to run for governor of New York back in March, with marijuana legalization at the forefront of her platform.
Nixon has actively acknowledged the clear racial disparity when it comes to drug sentencing: in one campaign video, she describes marijuana as being “effectively legal” for white people, and insists that we “stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.”
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As Nixon’s campaign continues to pick up, we can only hope that other politicians join her in speaking out on this issue and, more importantly, actively redressing it.
Not to kill your vibe, but cyphing on Snapchat is a privilege we don’t all enjoy the same way. On this super awesome holiday, it’s important to remember how weed operates in society at the expense of black and brown people. With the demand for legalization should come the demand for people of color’s protection against the injustices of the prison system.