Taking a practice course on working with people of color really opened my eyes to the world around me. I find myself watching news coverage on different racial issues in a completely different mind-set. Growing up, it was difficult living in such a conservative town because at one point, I think it almost trapped me in a bubble. Like most white people, I was unaware of my racial identity until I walked into an environment where I was, for the first time, a minority. You don’t necessarily realize you are privileged just because you’re “white”—you don’t think of yourself in racial terms since white is the norm. That is the benefit of being white- you don’t have to think about race unless you want to.
Although explicit racial discrimination has become much less common over the years, we cannot deny the fact that racism as a whole is still prevalent in our white dominated society. In the past it was perfectly legal to deny people of color access to jobs, housing, voting and other rights based on their race alone. It is true, that civil rights reforms made these practices illegal- yet discrimination still exists, and why is that? Racism is deeply embedded in a system that shapes all members of society, yet dominant culture justifies racism as solely being a problem of the past- blaming today’s racism on isolated acts by an individual lacking moral character. Just as racism has been taught to our society over the years, it is something that society must now unlearn. Systems that have woven racism into their structures must all be reformed if we want to eliminate racism once and for all.
When considering drug addiction and how it relates to white privilege-it becomes obvious that there has been a clear-cut shift in attitudes surrounding addiction over time. In the past, our nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined as a ‘black crack epidemic’ based in poor, predominantly black urban areas. The public’s response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences, while images of these ‘black crack users’ were plastered across the media. Today, the drug abuse crisis is different because use has skyrocketed among whites. In result, a growing army of families affected by heroin have begun arguing for society to alter the language surrounding addiction. They believe that their loved ones addiction should not be seen as a crime-but as a disease. Those in positions of power are displaying increasing amounts of empathy for those suffering from addiction. But, in a society still largely divided along racial lines, our willingness to express compassion is affected by the ways in which we personally identify with those suffering.
We cannot deny the clear presence of white privilege at this point, especially when considering addiction. Now that drug and alcohol abuse has become a predominately “white” crisis, society wants to decriminalize these behaviors and treat addiction as a disease. It’s almost ironic when you think about it. Only 30 short years ago, society refused to accept the idea that addiction was a disease, nor did they consider the fact that addicts, regardless of their racial background, deserve adequate treatment for these conditions. At this time, society was too caught up in perceiving drug addiction to be nothing more than a ‘black crack epidemic’ that could only be combated with stricter policies for abusers.