Every generation is granted a few books that define the times. These books reframe prevailing conversations, open up new space for action around old problems, and set the record straight.
Carl Hart produced one such book when he released High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society.
Dr. Hart is a dedicated scientist, activist and educator who has spent his career researching drugs and their impact on human beings. His work addresses the rampant misinformation about drugs and their perceived harms, and he repeatedly corrects the record dispelling prevailing myths linking crime, drugs and poor people of color.
Part of what makes his work so important is that he provides the language and tools to shift our paradigm around the impact of drugs on society. He accomplishes this so compellingly in High Price because we’re along for the ride as he disrupts the very stereotypes on which he once rested his own thinking.
Dr. Hart is on the frontline of the battle to end the war on drugs by fighting assumptions and ignorance with empirical data and truth-telling.
In his remarkable best-seller, Dr. Hart weaves together his personal story with drug research to explode faulty assumptions about drugs and those that use them: black people do not use drugs at higher rates than whites and Latinos; drug use does not equal abuse; addiction is not a function of drug potency but of environmental conditions – poverty, joblessness, lack of opportunities, etc.
His work emphasizes that the war on drugs has never been about drugs - it’s about the people we think use drugs. Those racist assumptions have undergirded a war that has targeted black communities with devastating effects. They also show up in places far beyond jails and prisons - they’re found not only in the way drug laws are written, but also in the way in which neighborhoods are policed, the education children receive.
High Price debunks the myth that there is a direct connection between crime and drug use. More importantly it delivers us from the pernicious fiction that black people form that connection. The enduring power in Dr. Hart’s book and his work more generally, is his ability to connect the constellation of dots produced by the war on drugs.
In writing this book, Dr. Hart has become a scribe of the drug policy reform movement, making plain the ravages of the war on drugs. His work sets the record straight on just how the drug war has become a war on poor people – especially poor people of color-- at the same time that he reveals the stakes of allowing subjective morality and racist assumptions surrounding certain drugs to influence policy and circumscribe people’s livelihoods.
Reflecting on Black History Month, Carl Hart is not just a scientist and an author – he’s a storyteller, a guardian of our history. He has defined the injustice of an experience that millions of us live through and are affected by. He is a record-keeper, enshrining our experience for future generations in order that they may chart from whence we came.
Kristen Maye is a policy associate with the Drug Policy Alliance.
*Editor’s note: This post is a part of the Black History Month series from the Drug Policy Alliance. Learn about the theme and other honorees for 2015. See posts from the whole series, including past years, here.