The House I Live In: Hidden Reasoning of the War on Drugs

From the date of June 17, 1971, there was a particular message displayed to the congress by President Richard Nixon that discussed drug abuse prevention and control. Nixon remarked that the US was beginning to be at war with what has become a big issue with drug abuse in his letter. What has been confusing to many Americans now and back then was that the war was created with the drugs coming from our own country. In his speech, Nixon expressed to execute and finding control of the drug abuse was no longer effective and as reported by Woolley and Peters:

The problem has assumed the dimensions of a national emergency. I intend to take every step necessary to deal with this emergency, including asking Congress for an amendment to my 1972 budget to provide an additional $155 million to carry out these steps. This will provide a total of $371 million for programs to control drug abuse in America.

Since the publicizing of the term “War on Drugs” in 1971, it has been used by many political candidates in elections over the years. In the movie, it was stated, “every war begins with propaganda …and the war on drugs has never been actually on drugs… Additionally drug laws are shaped less by scientific facts, but more by political reasoning”. Some ideas focus on terms from the text like ethnocentrism, diversity training, and culture while the main themes that are used in the text and relate to this war on drugs focus on the economic imperative, ethical imperative, and the critical approach.

With the war on drugs focusing more on the political views of individuals in office, there are always things happening that involve this war on drugs. In the movie, one of the heavily touched topics by almost all the families of, as well as the incarcerated individuals, was the fact that the majority of charges presented to the “criminal” required that the “criminal” serve “a minimum sentencing of typically 20 years”; due to mandatory minimum sentencing drug laws. The majority of these mandatory minimum sentencing laws have been enacted since 1986 and before August of 2012 according to a PDF found at (families against mandatory minimums). FAMM expresses that, “Mandatory sentences are triggered whenever crime involves: 100 g+ heroines, 500 g+ cocaine, 28 g+ cracks, 10 g+ PCP (pure) or 100 g+ PCP (mixture), 1g+ LSD, 100 kg+ Marijuana or 100+ marijuana plants, or 5g+ meth (pure) or 50 g+ meths (mixture)…these mandatory sentences also apply to attempts and conspiracies to commit these drug crimes”. Today, in the political realm many changes are coming forth like attempts to reduce and or demolish these mandatory minimums like found on According to Meriam et al., from CNN:

The Justice Department will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday, noting the nation is 'coldly efficient in jailing criminals,' but that it 'cannot prosecute or incarcerate its way to becoming safer…He questioned some assumptions about the criminal justice system's approach to the 'war on drugs,' saying that excessive incarceration has been an 'ineffective and unsustainable' part of it…The changes are effective immediately.

Alongside of, the “legalization of up to one ounce at a time for individuals 21 and over in the states of Colorado and Washington”. In addition to the attempt to change policies with the intention of reducing the war on drugs, the historical relevance should be brought into the picture. In the film, it is discussed that the war on drugs had started long before Nixon titled it as the war on drugs. When America brought in people of the Chinese ethnic groups to work on the railroads, due to the abundance of those individuals and their desire to work, the American dream of a transcontinental railroad could be achieved. Furthermore, the movie became more detailed explaining how the Chinese nation would find an attraction to using opium and many Americans would fight to illegalize it in response to the Chinese leading as a threat and taking American jobs. Throughout the movie, the narrator shared frequent conversations with the Nanny who provided care for him and his family at a young age. Being from the south, the nanny expressed being able to witness the Jim Crow laws at work. She saw multiple acts of violence, repeated rape, and more negative actions that influenced her to move toward the North as many other African Americans have made the same decision. “They didn’t escape Jim Crow but more so saw it in a different form…”. Even as African Americans had made their initial move towards the North, they still found themselves working low-income jobs which forced them to separate themselves to housing that would accommodate the income they would receive. As disputed throughout the movie, the moment most cities were becoming more established, “FHA put blacks in economically depressed areas”. The saddened and cheap areas began to become more established only to become titled as a red zone community. Although, before African Americans faced this issue, there were Jews and Italians who also relocated within those cities. Eventually, those ethnic groups and cultures found adaption to what was distributed and created what they could out of their opportunities. When things like drugs became available or introduced into these communities it allowed for a source of income. With the close-knit societies like the 77 Cromwell Towers, it easily disperses among the generations and works like a merry-go-round without a break in the cycle. In the movie, one individual stated that “he wasn’t surprised when he hears that his son fell into his footsteps, with me not being around he had to help find income… I can remember when the dealers would come around; it was like Christmas every time. If the kids were hungry, thirsty, someone needed help with rent, or wanted something the dealers would make it happen for all of the people in the community these dealers gave the residents a sense of security and served as idols and role models ironically enough”.

The most valuable research perspective that can be used to analyze the film is the critical perspective because the war on drugs was brought about in the political realm, has continued to grow in the political society, and was dealt with in economical ideals before Nixon’s announcement. With statistics show that many of the individuals who are incarcerated for these drug charges tend to be African American males; which leads the common individual to believe that the police are profiling their “victims.” The film opened my eyes to certain theories and terms that I didn’t even know existed, but I feel directly apply to this topic. This nation is very firm on Anglocentrism or using white cultural standards to judge behaviors and attitudes of other individuals, and that’s because this nation is an ethnocentrism society, it is sought that they feel as if they are dominant and are superior to other cultures. These ideals are taught to each one of us as we are raised and that’s how the American cultures form because we can learn different things and express our own beliefs and opinions. In addition to developing our cultural identity, we are raised on ethical beliefs as a nation, but we also learn ethical beliefs that may differ as you follow the chain through the state, county, city, and individual families. Certainly, we know what is right and wrong but no one person is the same so their “cultural values tell us what is “good” and what “ought” to be good”. This is why the war on drugs will never end for one and two why we can’t even find a band-aid solution to slap on it because you take those concepts and pair them with the concepts that come into play in politics, which feeds the entire nation, you have political views that can focus on the goals, needs and views of the in-group or the goals, needs and views of individuals, like themselves. With the government being allowed to keep certain things private as well as important histories falling short and creating a culture generation gap it serves as the foundation of this war on drugs. Why would you want to fix something that can win you a seat in office? Would you jeopardize the economic surplus the nation receives from the immense amount of jobs provided at these prisons all over the nation? Personally, I can admit that I was one who assumed foreign affairs with the term “war on drugs” in addition to I was completely unaware of the outrageous statistical evidence that showed the incarceration rates as well as things like the mandatory minimum sentencing. Personally, I often act with the thoughts of ethnocentrism and Anglocentrism, it is just how I was raised and where I was raised, not to mention the absent and hidden histories. This movie has opened my eyes to things I don’t see normally. It takes away from the people watching and judgment that is made based on looks or profiling as some would call it. I feel like everyone profiles in his or her own way without intent. Although, I do believe I would feel some sort of compassion for most of the individuals because some of them result to drugs because of stress or not having someone to talk to only for them to become addicted to the drug and make it harder for them to quit when they never meant to become as addicted as they may have. Moreover, I try to avoid news about politics and such because I never found it interesting, I think it is because there is so much to it and it is constantly changing that you have to fully devote your life to it to completely understand it and even then, it’s a lot of opinion based information so there is not much support behind those things.

The film, The House I Live In, brings forth a lot of information about things that many people are unaware of today. The movie intends to bring about awareness of these hidden reasons of the war on drugs. The movie shows that the war on drugs would still be a problem but wouldn’t be as big of a problem if the government didn’t ostracize the idea. In addition to that, if there were not the mandatory minimums, we could send these people to places like rehabilitation programs where they will benefit more instead of putting them in an overcrowded prison for a little bit. There is a big difference between a time out, punishment, and making changes to someone’s life. We should be more aware with how we portray messages and issues like the war on drugs because with politics and propaganda it can take it from a problem to a war within our own nation that will never end. A lot of this comes from learning about different cultures, making yourself aware of the histories, being able to culturally identify yourself for one, and finally acknowledging facts from opinions.

In conclusion, the war on drugs is a battle with classes and cultures among people in the same nation. There is no permanent solution, there are too many benefits for people that are greater than the negative side effects of this war to justify or even search for a solution. There are many possibilities that could be for this war, for instance, what if Nixon never “declared” the war on drugs? How would we be if we just knew it was a problem? Would the prisons be a great employer and overcrowded with inmates? This movie has provided the realization that our culture and the way we identify yourself as well as every action we make is an endless cycle and can cause destruction to something else if we are not careful and take account for our actions.

Works Cited:

  1. Federal Mandatory Minimums PDF.' FAMM. Families Against Mandatory Minmums, 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
  2. Johnannesen, R. L. (1990). Ethics in human communication (3rd ed.) Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
  3. Martin, Judith N., and Thomas K. Nakayama. Intercultural Communication in Contexts. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013. Print.
  4. Merica, Dan, Carol Cratty, and Jessica Yellin. 'Eric Holder Seeks to Cut Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences.' CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
  5. The House I Live In. Dir. Eugene Jarecki. Perf. Eugene Jarecki, Nannie Jeter. 2012. Netflix.
  6. Walsh, John. 'Q&A: Legal Marijuana in Colorado and Washington.' The Brookings Institution. Washington Office on Latin America, 21 May 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.
  7. Woolley, John T., and Gerhard Peters. 'Richard Nixon: Special Message to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control.' The American Presidency Project. The American Presidency Project, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
07 July 2022
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