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You can find this argument in Racism 101.
Kansas state Rep. Steve Alford (R) has a few theories about why marijuana is bad for his state—and they largely involve racist and inaccurate analogies about Black Americans’ relationship with weed.
While speaking at an event, Alford argued strongly against legalizing marijuana, stressing that doing so would rob “clean air” and a “clean atmosphere” from the public’s sidewalks. But when a constituent brought up Colorado’s handle on legalized marijuana, that’s when Alford doubled down, stressing that marijuana “is an entry drug into higher drugs.” And he thinks it’s one that Black Americans are susceptible to enjoying.
“What you really need to do is go back in the ‘30s when they outlawed all types of drugs in Kansas, across the United States, what was the reason why they did that?” Alford said, according to footage obtained by the Garden City Telegram. “One of the reasons why—I hate to say it—the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off those drugs just because their character makeup, their genetics, and that.”
Of course, Alford’s beliefs are incredibly racist. For one, he’s assuming most marijuana users are Black. According to the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services, white Americans between 18 to 25 smoke more weed than Black citizens from the same age group. However, the ACLU reports Black Americans are over three times more likely to face an arrest for possessing marijuana than white people, suggesting the very laws he defends actually engage in racial profiling in order to feed an ongoing broken prison system.
And it’s not just Alford’s beliefs on marijuana that are cause for concern. It’s also the way he talks about Black people. In short, Alford essentially thinks Black Americans are delinquents, citing some fictitious flaw in their psychological build and genetics. That means, in Alford’s eyes, Americans need laws to keep Black people in check. Worse, he thinks if Americans back away from the racist, puritan laws of the 1930s, the country will slide into decline.
“Basically what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to do a complete reverse with people not remembering what has happened in the past,” Alford said, according to the Telegram.
There’s a lengthy history of racists using the same kind of rhetoric as Alford’s. Back in 1994, scientist Charles Murray suggested in his book The Bell Curve that “genetic differences” between white and Black Americans led to white people becoming wealthy and powerful while Black people suffered. Murray’s work is still recommended by white supremacists today, and racist eugenics regularly emerge in discussions around police brutality from white cops against Black Americans.
In short, by claiming Black people’s “character” and “genetics” predispose them to using marijuana, Alford is drawing on some age-old stereotypes suggesting Black people are biologically inferior to whites. And that, at the very least, is incredibly demeaning to Black people. At it’s very worst, it damages entire families and communities through incarceration and the legitimatizing of racism.
Ana Valens is an LGBTQ reporter and essayist for the Daily Dot. Her work has previously appeared in Bitch, the Establishment, Vice's Waypoint, Rolling Stone's Glixel, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.