Amusing Oppression?

I came across this disturbing video today called "Spiders On Drugs." It was posted on a blog under the heading "Laughing at Spiders."

My initial reaction was horror at what I thought was perhaps an actual video involving drug experiments on spiders. How could someone think giving drugs to spiders is funny? On more than one occasion I've sat in awe quietly watching spiders just like these build their beautiful webs.

Then I caught on that it wasn't a real experiment. But it made no difference to me that it was actually a "joke." In fact, that someone had intentionally set out to make vivisection into a joke is just as bad.

As the video went on it became offensive on a whole new level. Not only was the video speciesist and anti-nonhuman animals, but it took on wholly racist overtones.

In the video different drugs are portrayed as being given to the spiders. Each drug has a stereotype attributed to it. There's an "LSD spider," a "caffeine spider," an "alcohol spider," a "THC spider," and a "crack spider." Of course the "crack spider" speaks Ebonics, drives a hotrod with hydraulics, and is a violent criminal. All obvious anti-Black and anti-Latino stereotypes.

Stereotypes about drugs are serious business. People of color are disproportionately imprisoned. A fact sheet from the Political Research Associates' Defending Justice: An Activist Resource Kit on "How the Criminal Justice System is Racist":

Although many feel that the United States has overcome its racist history, the legacies of colonialism, slavery and racism still affect our policies and practices today. ... Within the criminal justice system, people of color are imprisoned disproportionately due to racist laws, are denied access to the rehabilitative options given to Whites, and are harassed and mistreated by U.S. agencies. Although people of color commit most crimes at the same rate as Whites, the unequal targeting and treatment of people of color throughout the criminal justice system -- from arrest to sentencing -- results in the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color.

According to the fact sheet stereotypes about crack cocaine use produce real and substantial harm to people of color. The following are some of the ways stereotypes like those attributed to the "crack spider" fuel the racist and unequal punishment of people of color:

  • Although crack and cocaine are virtually the same thing, Congress has assigned far harsher penalties to crimes involving crack, a drug primarily associated with people of color. In 1988, Congress passed a law that created a 100:1 quantity ratio between the amount of crack and powder cocaine needed to produce certain mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking and created mandatory minimum penalties for simple possession. In order to receive a five-year sentence for possession with intent to distribute for powder cocaine, a person must possess 500 grams or more. To receive a five-year sentence with crack cocaine, a person need only have 5 grams in their possession.
  • Crack is the only drug with a mandatory prison sentence for a first offense simple possession. The maximum sentence someone can receive for simple possession of powder cocaine is one year.
  • Stereotypes regarding who uses crack cocaine and who uses powder cocaine make mandatory minimums racist. Not only are crack and powder cocaine simply different forms of the same drug, but crack is primarily thought of as a drug used in Black, urban areas. Powder cocaine, on the other hand, is far more expensive than crack and is associated with wealthy White users.
  • Even though the majority of crack users are White, most people imprisoned because of crack offenses are Black. Roughly two-thirds of crack cocaine users are White or Hispanic, but 84.5% of defendants convicted of crack possession in 1994 were Black, while 10.3% were White and 5.2% were Hispanic. The majority of persons charged with crack trafficking offenses in the federal system have also been African American (88.3%).
  • Because of this, a disproportionate number of Blacks are in jail. In 1998-1999, Black Americans consisted of only 15% of all U.S. drug users, yet they were 36.8% of those arrested for drug violations. In 2000, Blacks were 53% of those convicted by state courts for drug offenses.