Cameron Craig, IUP
One day last month, I had walked into my boss’s office and we started discussing which demographic in the United States uses drugs and alcohol the most. I work in the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs program in the IUP Center for Health and Well-being. My boss, Ann Sesti, told me that black people tend to smoke marijuana more than they drink alcohol. As a history major, I wanted to see the facts that proved what she said. I went online and found research to show that black people drink more than they smoke. I also found that white people actually use more drugs than most people do. In fact, white people even drink more than black people do. They are the top race in the U.S. that drinks alcohol and are in second place when it comes to using drugs. This came as a shock to me because black people are often seen as the race that uses the most drugs and alcohol. The question I want answered is why black people are portrayed as alcoholics and drug addicts by society.
Far too often, black people are labeled addicts. This has been a common misconception for years. The black community has one of the lowest rates of drug and alcohol usage in the country. So where is the idea of black people using drugs and alcohol at high rates originating? It would have to be the media. A lot of the time, the most common form of media that holds popular views of black people is the music industry. Rappers are making songs about selling drugs and smoking weed. To someone who is unfamiliar with the black community, this might be their only way of learning but in a negative way. Another form of media that portrays black people negatively is the movie industry. In most black movies today, they will show us either drinking liquor or smoking a blunt like it’s a normal thing to do. Due to media portrayal, this creates the idea that it’s okay for people to assume that black people drink and smoke. The news is also a media outlet that portrays us as addicts. Whenever you turn on the news, there is always a black person that is either being arrested for the using of or possession of drugs. They only talk about black people who are using or selling drugs so they’re viewed as the people who tend to use drugs and alcohol the most. They don’t talk about the white people who use or sell drugs. The news also likes to highlight the black celebrities that are caught using drugs or drinking excessively. This is another example, if a person of another race has little or no experience with the black community, the media is their only way of learning about it and it is taken in a negative way. History has a big part to play in this.
Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the republican leaders targeted the black community in their “war on drugs”. They felt as though we were the most problematic when it came to the war, but some may argue that they were just trying to find a reason to oppress the black community in the United States. The war had helped aid in the rising arrest and prison rates that targeted black people. This left a lasting effect, not only on the media portrayal, but also on the black family dynamic because they were creating reasons to send blacks to jail. It was a contributing factor to children growing up without a mother or father. Another reason why black people are seen as alcoholics is because they have more access to alcohol. If you ever drive through an urbanized black neighborhood, you will drive past at least one liquor store every four to five blocks. It’s sad because it almost seems like they are targeting the urban communities to drink more. Even though black people are seen in the eyes of the public as alcoholics and drug abusers, that does not match up with the facts about the racial groups in the U.S. that use drugs and alcohol at higher rates.
When it comes to facts, black people use drugs and alcohol at a much lower rate than perceived. We are among the races with the lowest percentages of alcohol and drugs users. Only about 13 percent of the black population in the U.S. uses drugs, as opposed to other races, such as the white population, leading the statistic with 20 percent drug use. Continuing, only about 22 percent of the black population in the country drinks alcohol. The population with the highest percent of alcohol users is white people, with about 51 percent alcohol consumption.[i] The percent changed when we researched the rates of drug and alcohol usage in racial groups on college campuses. Research shows that black students have the lowest rate of alcohol usage. With only 23 percent of black students on college campuses that drink, this is the lowest rate of all the racial groups in the U.S.[ii] This rate is the same for black students at PWI’s (Predominantly White Institutions) and HBCU’s (History Black College Universities). The white student population in the U.S. drinks at a high rate of 50 percent; but white students at HBCU’s drink at a rate of 22 percent versus white students at PWI’s who drink at a rate of 40 percent.[iii] Research also shows that black people are six times more likely to get pulled over and searched for drugs.[iv] This is related to the high rate of black prisoners in the U.S. In fact, there are more black people in jail for the use and possession of drugs. Meanwhile most of the drug users in the U.S. are white.[v] This research shows that black people are among the races in the U.S. with the lowest rates of drug and alcohol usage, but also shows that because we’re seen as drug addicts and alcoholics, we’re targeted by politicians and police officers.
Here at IUP, there are offices and organizations on campus that are working to lower the rate of drug and alcohol usage in all racial groups on campus. The most notable office is the Alcohol, Tobacco, and, Other Drugs Program in the IUP Center for Health and Well-Being. They have created a social media campaign called the “Who Are You at IUP Campaign”, which uses social media as a platform to educate students about drugs and alcohol and the safest ways to use them. It was created in the fall of ‘15 by a graduate student named Joseph A. Twumasi-Ankrah. His vision was to use seven fictional hypothetical characters and create an Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for each of them. The campaign is only in its second year of existence and has already shown effectiveness on campus. Students are now able to recognize the campaign or one of its characters. My supervisor, Jessica Oren, and I run the social media campaign and we both oversee all the accounts with the help of grad students in the office. I believe that the campaign will continue to grow as we try to reach more students on campus.
Overall, the work I do with the IUP Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Program and the Who Are You at IUP Campaign is to try and educate students about drugs and alcohol. I also try to disprove the social stereotypes made about racial groups in the U.S., as I am a black man and do not like how black people have been stereotyped as addicts. I hope that someday as a nation, we all come together and tear down the social barriers so that we may better understand each other.
[i] "Racial and Ethnic Minority Populations," Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed April 19, 2017.
[ii] Kapner, Daniel Ari, "Alcohol and Other Drug Use at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Infofacts/Resources," Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention (2008).
[iii] Kapner, Daniel Ari, "Alcohol and Other Drug Use at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Infofacts/Resources," Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention.
[iv] "Blacks Arrested More for Marijuana." Race Report. Accessed April 19, 2017. Race Report.
[v] "This One Chart Perfectly Explains The Racism Of The US Justice System," Addicting Info | The Knowledge You Crave, September 08, 2014, Accessed April 21, 2017.