Maine Governor Paul LePage is drawing heavy criticism after he used racially charged language to describe the growing prevalence of heroin in his state.
His racist comments keep alive the long tradition of racially charged anti-drug propaganda.
“Now the traffickers, these aren’t people that take drugs. These are guys with names like D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty,” LePage told residents at a town hall meeting in Bridgeton, Maine.
“These type of guys that come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin then they go back home.”
As footage of the governor’s rant began circulating throughout social media, many quickly drew attention to his use of “stereotypically black names” to describe the people supposedly responsible for bringing heroin into Maine.
Not surprisingly, LePage and his representatives have attempted to deny that he was speaking at all about race.
LePage’s communications director issued a statement to The Portland Press Herald that said “the governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant.”
The only problem with this attempted cover-up is that LePage himself made it explicitly clear that he was in fact talking about race at the town hall meeting when he concluded his rant by saying:
“Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because now we have another thing we have to deal with down the road.”
While the criticism he’s received so far is absolutely spot on, it seems that what nobody’s really talking about is the way his racially coded language keeps alive a violent tradition in the U.S. of using racism to justify anti-drug laws.
In particular, LePage’s anti-drug fear mongering is an almost perfect echo of the racist propaganda used by Harry J. Anslinger in the 1930s at the height of his anti-marijuana propaganda crusade.
Here’s some of what Anslinger said back then:
“Colored students at the Univ. of Minn. partying with (white) female students, smoking and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: pregnancy.”
“Two Negroes took a girl fourteen years old and kept her for two days under the influence of hemp. Upon recovery she was found to be suffering from syphilis.”
Like Anslinger before him, LePage has drawn on racist stereotypes of violent black men using drugs to sexually violate innocent white women in an attempt to generate anti-drug sentiment.
As if that weren’t that bad enough, this kind of anti-drug rhetoric also works the other way around: LePage’s language capitalizes on actual concerns about the heroin epidemic currently hitting much of the nation in order to reaffirm racist stereotypes.