Very recently, a student on this campus made some comments to me which have stuck as an example of exactly the kind of thinking that makes racism and prejudice still so alive today. This student associated Washington, D.C. residents – predominantly black citizens, who she said live in violent neighborhoods and go to crappy D.C. public schools – with involvement in illegal activities. She went even further to suggest that Georgetown’s community service programs are an example of our (or her?) generosity and goodwill, essentially asserting that Georgetown students are on a higher moral ground, so to speak. Her assertions are rooted in the notion that there is a correlation between living in the ghetto and being an immoral person, while being outside of the ghetto is almost a guarantee of a more moral conscience. It is thinking like this – which seems all too common – that has led to unfair and erroneous stereotyping, and the perception that being poor and black necessarily leads one into a life wrought with crime, drugs and inevitably prison. Perhaps most notably, these ideas have caused the racially disproportionate nature of the war on drugs. Contrary to what we may see on television or the movies, most abusers of illicit drugs are, in fact, white. A federal survey has even put the number of white drug abuse at at the turn of this century at 72 percent of all drug users. Yet because of thinking like hers, the war on drugs has taken on a racial profile. Blacks and Hispanics comprise the majority of those individuals serving time in state prisons for these offenses, according to the Justice Department. Blacks alone comprise 58 percent of those serving time in state prisons for drug felonies, and blacks are twice – in some cases, almost three times – more likely to be sent to prison than whites are for the same drug offense. I wonder what exactly is meant when it is argued that a person from the ghetto or with a poor background is more likely to engage in illicit activities. Since most abusers of drugs are white, this is doubtful. Perhaps this argument refers the sale of illegal arms. But this argument, too, falls short. The United States is unusual for its political tradition of condoning, even celebrating, civilian gun possession. But the principal crusaders for the right to gun possession are not the poor in the ghetto, but the members of the National Rifle Association – a group largely associated with middle-class white people. If the morality of the gun trade in this country is of concern to some people, they might want to talk to the members of that organization, first. A more wide-ranging point was made, asserting that Third world countries are leading the global phenomenon of illicit trade. I wonder which “leaders” people are talking about. In his book, “Illicit,” Moisés Naím’s points out that Third world countries are victims, and the actual traders are a more diverse bunch than ever. Third world countries, whose governments are too weak, are plundered for their natural resources and porous borders that create very substantial profit opportunities for anyone with enough money and gumption to exploit them. It astounds me that individuals really think that the ghettoes of this country are the roots of problems with crime and illicit trade and that individuals from the ghetto or from poor backgrounds in other countries are more likely to engage in illicit activities than individuals from more prominent backgrounds. Our fight against illicit trade and crime should not be focused solely on the ghettos, because while the drug dealers on the corners of America’s ghettos are clearly a problem, they make chump change compared to those individuals and corporations whose thirst for profit drives those living in Third world countries to depend on the drug trade for a meager livelihood. The issues of the ghettos are symptoms of a much larger problem – one that we cannot see because he has so slyly dressed himself in fine business suits and busied himself with multi-million dollar contracts. Our problem is not those people living in Third World countries exploited by corporation, illicit arms dealers and drug smugglers. Our problem is not the poor individual in the ghetto trying to get ahead, forced to attend those crappy D.C. public schools, as the student I was listening to would say. In the challenge posed by prejudice, I beg individuals out there to rethink their notion of what we are fighting . and whom we are fighting against.

Niara Phillips is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service

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