American society tried to convince me to hate my father based on a century-old lie, and it might have succeeded had I not learned more about who my mother was and remains. My parents’ romance began in 1977, a few years after my mother moved to Chicago from all-white Rockford, Illinois.
My father was the first black person she ever socialized with, and the night they met was her first time doing heroin. Rather than a traditional love story, their relationship reads like a manifestation of one of our country’s most enduring stereotypes.
There is no single reason drugs were initially outlawed in this country more significant than the fear of black men luring and corrupting little white girls (even those in their twenties through eighties). It is a paranoia that has persisted throughout the school integration era and even until today, such as when former Maine Gov. Paul LePage blamed his state’s heroin crisis on “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty.”
“These types of guys – they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home,” LePage said in 2016. “Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing.”
This framing allows the residents of Rockford and Maine to believe that dark, outside forces are more responsible for their children’s plights than alcoholism, abuse and bourgeois expectations of their home lives. My understanding of my beloved mother – based in part on observations of her and our family, painfully candid conversations between the two of us, and passages from a diary she kept at age 15 – colors my father as incidental in the development of an addiction that lasts to this day.
A lifetime of resisting race-based propaganda about drug use inspires a skepticism toward the modern trope of wealthy gay white men using crystal meth to seduce and sabotage young black gay men. It would be insanely naive to suggest such encounters do not occur or are unworthy of thoughtful discussions, but a boogeyman does not explain or reduce the prevalence of crystal meth use among a majority of black gay users who have never had a snowy sugar daddy.
Democratic donor Ed Buck is a demented human being who preyed on vulnerable black gay men by paying them with cash and drugs to fulfill his sexual fetishes, which resulted in the overdose deaths of two men at his home and a third who barely survived. The federal complaint that led to his Sept. 17 arrest details a pattern of horrifying exploitation and many acts that warrant imprisonment, such as allegedly slipping drugs into men’s drinks and injecting them with meth while they were unconscious.
As damning as the pleading appears, it cannot help but expose the familiar interplay of exploitation and usery between benefactors and financially desperate addicts, or a mother’s yearning conviction that her sweet boy’s woes were traceable to a single act a malevolence. It would again be naive to accept on first read any case brought by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency or to ignore the vacillating power dynamics within drug culture.
In a better world, Ed Buck would be dead instead of the men he targeted, and if he committed any number of alleged acts he should die in jail. However, to view his case as “drug-induced homicide” expands a novel criminal liability for millions of users who could be prosecuted when their contribution to an overdose was incidental.