February 4, 2014

I had this black friend, and her father just loved me. (He used to call me his Polish princess.) When we'd watch the news, and someone would say something he thought was bullshit, he'd roll his eyes and say, "You know, Susan, white people are crazy."

"Hey, come on, I'm sitting right here," I'd protest.

"No, no, no, you're not white. They are."

And you know, I know what he means. Professional White People, people with power, people who don't have a clue about the world the rest of us live in. People who make pronouncements when they get worked up about a perceived wrong, and have crazy ideas about how to right it.

CNN's Ashleigh Banfield is all worked up about the death of the extraordinarily gifted Philip Seymour Hoffman. She's so worked up, it's almost as if someone took her favorite toy and she wants them to pay -- with their lives.

Because he was "special." He wasn't "just" an addict.

The fact that heroin is such news to the white elite proves how completely out of touch they are. (In fact, I'll bet they have at least one closet junkie in their workplaces.) Heroin (and the related prescription drug Oxycontin, also known as "hillbilly heroin") has ruined, and continues to ruin, huge swaths of our nation.

Heroin and Oxy and prescription drugs got their foothold in my own section of white Philadelphia when the factories shut down. People started selling drugs to stay afloat. And while you may find that despicable, I find it pragmatic. Seriously: with no jobs, no money, and a threadbare safety net, how else do you stay alive?

By impressing some kind millionaire with your work ethic, who rewards you by adopting you as his own?

Philly has such cheap, potent heroin that junkies from all over the country gravitate here. I see hollowed-out white hippie kids panhandling along the highway, kids who look like they used to have a future. And the addicts line up outside the local supermarket, hoping to scrape together enough in tips to get high: "Carry your bags, miss?" Sometimes I see Oxy addicts in withdrawal wandering around the neighborhood, or standing outside the CVS, panhandling. (You can tell they're Oxy addicts, because when they can't get the drug, they get uncontrollable diarrhea and the shit seeps through the back of their flannel pajama pants.)

But Oxy got expensive. That's why so many addicts switched to heroin.

Don't kid yourself that they're all poor whites, Latinos or blacks: I was in Northern Liberties, a highly gentrified and expensive neighborhood, when a couple of shiny young college kids in a BMW asked me for directions to a Kensington intersection.

"What are you looking for?" I said. "If I can picture it, I can help." They laughed, and said, oh, just the neighborhood, they could find their way once they were there. It didn't hit me until after they left that they were searching for an infamous drug corner. I'll bet their parents would never believe it.

And we all see the cars coming over the Betsy Ross Bridge from Jersey to cop. Yeah, more well-off white people. Hell, the drug corners are maybe the last bastion of democracy in America, one of the few places where the upper classes still actually have to meet and interact with the poor.

It's not just the cities, though. I always laugh to myself when I hear white gentrifiers talk about how they'll "have" to move to the suburbs "once the kids are in school." Lots of heroin overdoses in our genteel suburban counties, hushed up by the families. One of the first junkies I ever knew went to an exclusive school on the Main Line. (Those kids could afford the best drugs.)

No, Ashleigh, this isn't about hunting down heroin dealers and putting them to death. And it's not about people killing themselves with drugs. It's much bigger than that. It's about hopelessness, and despair, and personal demons made unbearable by other forces. It's a complex social mess that society shows little interest in solving, except for the occasional rant from a crazy white lady like you.

Grow up, Ashleigh. Life is fucking hard, and people do what they have to do to get by. When we stop treating addicts like criminals, when it's no longer unthinkable to regulate, tax and sell this stuff, when entire segments of the population aren't sent off to jail for upsetting nice, white, privileged ladies like you, when taxes are raised on people like you to fund support services, maybe we can begin to make a dent in this very complicated problem.

Part 2 here.

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