Racial Stereotypes and News Media: An Exploration of United States Drug History

Jacobsen, Elise. "Racial Stereotypes and News Media: An Exploration of United States Drug History". University of Washington. Department of Law, Societies, and Justice, 2021.

When it comes to the dangers posed by drugs and drug users, misleading narratives are widespread in the United States news media. News media has become integral to modern public opinion, which holds serious potential to impact drug policy. Considering the astounding racial disparities present within drug enforcement in the US, this paper’s aim is to explore racial bias in news media coverage of illicit substances. Through an exploration of the news media histories of khat, opium, and methamphetamine, this research investigates if race has been a key factor in shaping which drug users are “victims” and which are “criminals”. The conclusion reached is that many portrayals of illicit drugs and those who use them have historically utilized racial stereotypes and unsupported data to create moral panics surrounding various substances. Comparing the news coverage histories between drugs associated with different racial groups exposes a pattern of white supremacist rhetoric in US news media coverage of illicit substances, a pattern which has significantly influenced perceptions of drug users since the criminalization of the first “drug”. Included is a public opinion survey of University of Washington students analyzing the lasting effects the discussed racialized narratives have on individual ideas surrounding drugs and criminal punishment for drug users.

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