May 29th, 2015
by Erin Seatter | @erinlynds
A comic that came out late last week compares the life trajectories of two children born into families with different backgrounds. As we follow Richard and Paula from childhood into adulthood, it becomes clear how their families’ socioeconomic status shapes the opportunities available to them, and helps one while hindering the other—even if they can’t see it themselves.
At the same time this little story was making the rounds on social media, I started reading High Price, a memoir by Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist at Columbia University. His book is a self-reflection on the ways that class, race, gender, and external conditions have structured his life, at times obscuring reality, at other times informing his analysis.
Dr. Hart says that before he studied the evidence, he believed the misinformation spread about drugs, especially crack cocaine—that it was highly addictive, that it broke up families, that it made people violent. Showcasing the strength of anti-drug propaganda, he believed all this even though his own experience growing up didn’t support these ideas.
Dr. Hart describes his father’s physical abuse of his mother, the pressures that poverty put on everyone in his family, and having to move from house to house as he lived with one parent or the other or an aunt or grandmother. He stresses that all of this happened before the introduction of crack cocaine, structured by the conditions faced by his parents, grandparents, and their forebears.
The violence that follows the appearance of a new drug isn’t due to its physiological effects on users, says Dr. Hart. It results from distributors fighting with each other to establish their turf.
As for addiction, it isn’t true that doing a hit or two of cocaine necessarily makes someone dependent on it. A lot of other environmental and life factors are part of the equation.
“I’d had the experience of most drug users, the not particularly exciting nonaddiction story that never gets told,” writes Dr. Hart. “I was in the 80-90 percent of cocaine users who do not develop problems with the drug, the group that rarely speaks out about their experiences because they have nothing much to say about them or because they are vilified for having taken an illegal substance.”
In the 1980s US politicians created a simple narrative that drugs were the root of the problem in inner-city neighbourhoods and that war was the answer. Mainstream media unquestioningly regurgitated this narrative, turning drug use into an extreme pathology and hyping dramatic and scandalous stories with little, if any, basis in fact.
Big changes were happening at the time, but they came from the War on Drugs.
“I couldn’t see it at the time,” writes Dr. Hart, “but what had really changed in my world was not the creation of an unprecedented wave of drug-induced violence and a codeless new group of predatory youth. It was how our problems were being described and explained.”
Dr. Carl Hart will speak in Vancouver on June 4 thanks to our friends at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.
May 21st, 2015
by Janet Madsen | @Janet_Madsen
Another SpringBoard under our collective belts, another great day of conversation and learning. The crowd was interested, engaged and curious- not surprising given the presenters.
The duo of Evelyn Maan and Elle Pea started off with The Kids Are Alright, looking at kids and young adults who have grown up with HIV or are uninfected but had exposure to HIV drugs during their mom’s pregnancies. HIV and a planned pregnancy can end with excellent news. Evelyn shared that in the cases of moms with HIV who have had healthcare and access to HIV meds, there have been NO babies born in BC with HIV in twenty years. That’s definitely something to celebrate. Although focusing on the good news, Evelyn did briefly point out the obvious and often heartbreaking part too- for women who don’t know their HIV status or don’t have prenatal care, the outcomes aren’t as good, and babies are born with HIV.
Elle is one of the kids who is alright, although she’s actually not a kid. She’s had HIV since she was a baby and is now a young married mom with a toddler. She talked about learning her own HIV status when she was a teen, grappling with disclosure, and finding out who her friends were. She spoke out to confront stigma, and it was very powerful to hear.
Marnie Goldenberg (the Sexplainer) led session 2 in talking about how to educate kids in our lives about sexuality, relationships, and consent. I really liked her point about the “leave children innocent” claim some parents make when it comes to sex ed. Marnie pointed out that we need to take the lead as parents. We don’t wait for kids to ask about toilet training; we start when we can see a kid is ready. If a kid is asking about their body, why wouldn’t we start to talk about the proper names of parts? Why wouldn’t we talk about consent in a simple way kids can understand? Inevitably it’s because we adults have shame that’s been placed in us, and we don’t want to deal with it. We need to confront our own shame so that our kids don’t need to repeat it.
Sarah Chown and Jessica St Jean of YouthCO finished the day with a great presentation about decolonizing HIV work. They discussed the layers of work that staff at YouthCO do to encourage discussion around colonialism, and the impact it has on Indigenous youth. Multiple factors put youth at risk for HIV, running from the damaging past through the present remnants of racism and inequities. They also talked about allyship; forming relationships that work to move decolonization forward. In small groups, the audience discussed what makes a powerful ally. It was great.
Thanks to Abbvie, our exclusive pharmaceutical sponsor, for supporting the event. Many thanks to the presenters and audience members who made the day so wonderful. We will take your feedback and suggestions and look forward to next year!