Dr. Carl Hart is Columbia University's first tenured African-American science professor. He recently releases his book, “High Price”. The memoir and part research book demystify the anecdotal facts most perceive about drugs.
For most, drugs are the destructive ingredient in destroying people lives. Hart contends his hardcore research facts prove otherwise. Hart also uses his personal stories to illustrate several socioeconomic and psychological factors are the essential destructive ingredients and drugs merely “exacerbate” the underlining issues.
The books serve as an educational tool to disrupt societal groupthink surrounding drugs, and dispel the idea that drugs ruined the black community. Society’s misperception lead to harsh government regulation, and higher incarceration rates for blacks. Drugs are no longer the harmonious scapegoat for other issues – racism and poverty. He holds the current generation responsible to teach youth to acknowledge the truth about drugs.
Adding the book to your book club will spark some healthy and needed contentious debates with your colleagues. Black Men’s Dossier converses with Dr. Carl Hart to dig into the book and rap about the misinformation on drugs.
This book challenges everything we have been told about drugs, and its effects on society. How is it that we went decades being fed the same information?
People want to believe things others say. It requires a lot of work to find out the truth about most things like the effect of drugs. It’s easier to just believe the information that is being fed to us by society and the media. Parents for example can just tell their kids ‘avoid drugs’ and then their done. They don’t have to think about it, or learn any more. They can move on to other issues. The problem is the consequences to this type of laziness. The poorer black community is the ones that are affected the most.
Your suggestion is to decriminalize drugs, but why not just legalize drugs?
My concern is that if we don’t have the corresponding amount of education that goes along with intermediary step of decriminalization and just have legalization they [society] will attribute things to drugs when they are not actually caused by drugs. So, I am concerned that we will end up in the same place, because people are going to point to every possible thing that related to drugs, when it’s not [the cause].
So I'm asking that we decriminalize drugs and have this corresponding amount of education, new education, and real education about drugs. Then if we decide legalization is the next step that's fine. I'm not opposed to legalization. I just want to make sure we have the education to go along with it.
Do you think this book has had a great effect on opening up the dialogue on society being ignorant to the true effects of drugs?
I think so, but it’s still a lot of work. We have to resist the temptation to blame drugs for everything. One of the major things that I hope the book does is help people to conceptualize these problems. In the title, there's nothing about race, but the book is really also about race, and how we've been hoodwinked, and how we avoid dealing with real racism. I hope that also comes through.
Your goal is to eliminate the myth that crack destroyed black communities. How do you explain this to people who have personally seen the use of crack destroy their family?
The notion that people actually saw crack destroy their community requires people now to think logically. The vast majority of people that use crack were white, and it didn't destroy their community. It hasn't destroyed them, and even black people who use crack it hasn't destroyed them.
If you take a selective number of people or person that you saw use crack and had problems, it requires the observer to look at the problems that the person had before they used crack, and also think about whether the person would have had problems even if they hadn’t used crack. Most of the time that is the case. Adding drugs to the mix whether it is crack or alcohol exacerbated the problem. It is certainly not the best thing for someone to do.
I’m not arguing that the only thing I’m arguing is when we say that crack destroyed the community. It’s just simply not true.
Think about the community before crack was there. Unemployment was higher before crack arrived. Even right now, it is twice that of white folks for black people and it always has been that. When you think about all the problems that we attributed to crack they were already there.
I’m asking people to think about it critically. Nobody is saying that people should use crack. That’s not the point. The point is when we focus exclusively on crack; we didn’t hold people accountable to make sure people had jobs, skills, programs and all the rest of these things. That’s all I’m arguing.
In the book, you lay out that there are many risk factors to determine ones success in life. Do you think it was your passion for sports that help you?
Having role models and strong sister mentors. I had this attractive alternative which was sports. The system is set to prevent poor minorities to become successful. Knowing this, what do we teach our kids to stop the cycle?
We have to be honest with our kids. We are not doing our kids a favor when we don’t let them know that they are twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterpart.
That black men represent about 5% of the population, but about 35% of the prison population.
Black people die at a rate much sooner that white people.
Even though [black people] don’t use drugs more than white people, black people are more likely to be arrested for drugs than their white counterpart.
All of these kinds of things such as police brutality. They are more likely to be killed by police than their white counterpart.
We need to make sure [these facts] are constantly in the public eye. One of the things that are remarkable to me, and one of the reasons I wrote the book is that these kinds of things are just not in the popular press. We have more black people in the popular press than we’ve had in our history.
So, it’s remarkable that we have a black president, and all these numbers and things I just laid out to you. If [these facts] are not in the press, and young people are coming up, and they know intuitively, and they feel it as a result of their interaction with mainstream, and nobody is saying it. No one’s corroborating their reality. What we are doing is setting them up for some psychopathology. They think that it’s really them because no one is saying ‘Hold up. Hold up. The game is fixed. It’s rigged, and here’s how’.
We have been less than responsible. Our generation has been less than responsible.