The Media’s Role in Racializing the War on Drugs at a Glance.


America in the 1980’s had a new villain plastered across newspapers and television: illegal drugs. Ronald Reagan’s campaign and much of his time in office was spent implementing formal policies addressing the issue of illegal drugs in the United States. Due to the very nature of drug crimes the decision of where to police for violations of the War on Drugs policies were up to the discretion of police officers. The discretion of where to police in combination with the constant and pervasive media distortion resulted in an extremely biased and racialized War on Drugs era. Through the media’s portrayal and societal stereotyping African Americans were the face of drug crimes, specifically crack cocaine use in the United States. The media’s portrayal resulted in a new system of racial enslavement for minority populations. The  drastic and repetitive distortion of the black community in relation to drug crimes in various media outlets made the War on Drugs a war against the black community.

Three Pieces of Supporting Evidence 

The War on Drugs campaign was presented to the world as a colorblind attack on dangerous illegal drugs harming the United States citizens and economy. The new War on Drug policies shifted drug use from a public health concern to a criminal act. The policies included harsher sentencing for minor possession charges and mandatory minimums. These policies were especially focused on a new form of cocaine, rock crack cocaine. Instead of helping people who were addicted to drugs they were now see as the enemy, not the victims. Nancy Regan explained this new stance in the following quote,”There is no moral middle ground. Indifference is not an option. We want you to help us create an outspoken intolerance for drug use. For the sake of our children I implore each of you to be unyielding and inflexible in your opposition to drugs” These policies were crafted in a way that appeared as if they were neutral to race, but the way these policies were portrayed in the media and implemented showed there underlying biases. These policies were presented to the world through the public addresses, media coverage, news headlines, and pop culture outlets. The distortion of these public media sources created a stereotypical face of War on Drugs criminals, African Americans. For example, in a public service announcement addressing the dangers of crack cocaine the white Hollywood actor Clint Eastwood, famous for his tough on crime persona utilized phrases like, “Then again if you go ahead and try them at least it won’t be out of ignorance, just stupidity.” On the other hand when African American individuals addressed the crack epidemic in popular culture and public platforms very different language was used. For example, in La Toya Jackson’s single “Just Say No!” which was created in collaboration with Nancy Reagan and supported the First Lady’s Just Say No campaign the language used in her song presents a more compassionate and sympathetic perspective than that used by actor Clint Eastwood. La Toya even says, “Brothers and sisters. What are you crying for? People are dying. What are they dying for? You’ve got to be so strong. Don’t let them lead you on. And take you in Into their misery.The juxtaposing rhetoric used between these two prominent War on Drugs supporters helps express how it was presented to the public in an extremely racialized context. The distance Clint Eastwood’s language puts between him and the “stupid” choice to use drugs compared to the affectionate and sorrowful words La Toya utilized in relation to the crack epidemic help bolster this racialization of the War on Drugs in the media.