Popular perceptions of drugs and alcohol are fluid and in many cases highly volatile. What we think about drugs and addiction, “very much depends on who is addicted.” This assertion leveled by David Courtwright is amongst drug scholars, a matter of consensus. The public and government response to crack, as well as the drug’s enduring stigma, have much to do with society’s fears and fantasies of poor nonwhites and urban districts. It is telling that in her infamous 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, singer Whitney Houston vociferously disavowed previous crack use. When Sawyer read from a press clipping implying said use, Houston grew indignant reminding viewers that “crack is cheap”. Continuing, Houston cited her wealth and status. She “made too much money to smoke crack.” In the same interview, Houston admitted to the abuse of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs, and implied past struggles with eating disorders. However, Houston
would not allow her public image to be stained by the triumvirate of blackness, poverty, and crack. Borrowing from Keith Haring’s mural and a long-standing cultural meme, Houston concluded dismissively, “crack is wack.”
Houston’s denial was motivated by the class and racial politics of cocaine use. To put it another way, crack is wack because it’s perceived to be a drug dominated by poor, black users. News accounts portrayed it as an almost exclusively black drug, as opposed to its upscale chemical cousin, cocaine. From the perspective of drug warriors like William Bennett, one might argue that Hoston’s interview represents the fruits of nearly two decades of anti-crack media assaults. In this respect, the invisible hand of culture may appear to have done the good work of categorizing crack as a vice of disrepute. The War on Drugs had succeeded in driving down demand for crack as the drug became increasingly stigmatized in popular culture and on the street corner. But what of other drugs? Might addicts and corner boys have turned to other less stigmatized drugs as a crutch? If so, all Houston’s denial and the broader demise of crack represents is a another chapter in the grand saga of wack-a-mole drug enforcement.