Public Perceptions of Crack vs Coke

Picture this: a wealthy, white, fraternity member walks down the street just outside of his college campus and passes by a group of homeless men smoking crack cocaine. “Ew, there are so many crackheads in this area”, he exclaims. He will then go back to his fraternity house that same night and do multiple lines of powder cocaine with his fraternity brothers. He might even watch his favorite movie, The Wolf of Wall Street and smile at the TV as Leonardo DiCaprio snorts cocaine off the chest of Margot Robbie, wishing it was him. He will likely go on to get a job in something like consulting or investment banking, and do even more cocaine as his salary increases. Society will view him as the epitome of success, a college graduate, with a six figure salary, a nice home, kids and a golden retriever.

The men who were smoking crack cocaine however, are exactly what most of our society desperately hopes to never become. They are the pariahs of our society, the type of guy you step away from on the sidewalk. Of course these are both largely generalizations and stereotypes, but there is much truth to the two archetypes of men. Many cocaine users and addicts are also largely social pariahs, but for the purpose of this topic, I am referring to wealthy, white users of cocaine who society deems as still worthy of respect, despite their drug use. So is it their wealth that makes them different? Is it their status that makes them different? Maybe it is the specific drugs that they use that make them different? It is probably all of the above.
Cocaine is created through an extraction from the coca plant and is often found in a powdered form. The cheaper version, most commonly just called “crack” is made from the same exact cocaine but it is instead mixed with water and baking soda, then heated up, then cooled and broken up into rocks. So it isn’t quite the drugs that separate the users, but rather the public opinion held on the two drugs, as well as the price difference between the two. One minor difference in production, but a largely different perception of users.

These perceptions are largely influenced by other factors such as racial biases, class status, and overall stereotypes that became highly popular during the federal movement known as the war on drugs. In short, this was a time of heightened law enforcement action in relation to drug use. This movement mainly targeted Black Americans, especially those who lived in impoverished urban areas, as well as other people of color and poor people.

It is clear today that the ideas that were becoming increasingly popular in that time period, are still extremely integrated into our society today. The addition of two simple ingredients, water and baking soda, turns one drug into a drug that is seen as substantially worse as the substance it originates from. There is a sad irony behind cocaine being more expensive and therefore more valuable than crack and the way that our society can frequently view a certain subset of cocaine users as more valuable than crack users.

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Jillian Clark

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