Joyce McMillan

How the Media Portrays Black and White Drug Users Differently

On Mother’s day, New York Times Magazine published a cover story titled “Children of the Opioid Epidemic.” The photo on the cover of the magazine was the image of a young white mother holding a cherub-like infant dressed in pink stockings and lace. The mother is on her knees, gently kissing her daughter’s neck, her face is obscured. The image goes to great lengths to protect the mother and the child – they are both innocent victims of an opioid epidemic. The article begins with the story of Alicia, the setup immediately renders Alicia’s humanity. She struggled with drugs and alcohol from a young age, her family had bouts with both substance misuse and mental illness, her mother acting as the glue held the family together in the suburbs of Rhode Island. We learn of Alicia’s dreams and her struggles before ever learning of her addiction to Percocet medication. Even as Alicia’s use bloomed, the writer recognized Alicia’s need to use the drugs as a coping tool, to calm her anxieties, to quiet the voices that drove her toward self-sabotage.  Alicia’s drug use didn’t diminish her humanity; it made it more salient, more immutable.

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