I accepted “Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism and the Decade of Greed,” written by David Farber compliments of Cambridge University Press, for review. Unlike others who have written a review on this book, the stories of my loved ones and myself live within the pages. It took me some days, if not weeks, to pick up the book that laid on my living room coffee table with its bold white letters that spelled out “CRACK,” taunting me as if told my secret sufferings. I read many reviews and felt that this book was not only a good read for scholars or those hoping to gain knowledge of parasites that affected a community out of their reach but one that would help me understand the very world I continue to live in.
“Crack” is more than a literary piece for me, but a necessary and therapeutic guide, a more in-depth understanding that allowed me to heal from the pains of yesterday. Farber explains the evils of politics that came to play, such as Ronal Reagan’s Reaganomics, a tax cut that enabled the rich to spend and invest more. While the Black community grew poorer and poorer. y.Faber also speaks about Ronald Reagan and George H.W Bush’s “War on Drugs,” which jailed African Americans for longer sentences than white convicts. Through reading “Crack,” I would learn that crack cocaine was dumped into the most pooer communities to create more wealth for the already-wealthy white Man. While making sure there was no way out of poverty for the poor communities, which were made up of African Americans and Latinos.
Each chapter gave me a better understanding of all the factors that came to play as crack cocaine took control of family members’ lives. Before reading, I felt as if I lived within a puzzle with lost pieces, but now I have a better understanding that has assisted in my healing.
Farber, a history professor at the University of Kanas, considers crack a social and economic phenomenon in the 1980s and early 90s. The United States interviewed men and women who either used CRACK or sold it. These underprivileged souls began selling or using crack as a means of survival. These stories spoke of a life I knew too well, and it cut me deep. I lived on both sides of the fence, the child of a crack-addicted family member and the young girlfriend of a crack dealer. I lived the life of a young child who had to grow up because a family member is sick. It would take me years to understand the cruel meaning of a “Crackhead” after being teased by my peers. However, I would learn that as the crack dealer, the user is using to escape the reality of the world he or she lives in. To some users, this escape is the only survival skill that they are capable of.
I lived life worrying about the corner dealer selling CRACK and how he convinced me that it was a business; he was an entrepreneur. And the little white sugar looking pebbles was our way out of the hood, our only way of achieving the American Dream, and I wanted it, if only for a little while.
I never understood why family members begged, sold, and stole to get high until reading this book. I never understood how my loved one overlook my needs, our needs for a hit of crack until I read now. I walked around for years wondering how the love for CRACK outweighs the love for an innocent child. Then I read the words of this twenty-four-year-old woman featured in the book from Philadelphia who told ethnographer Elijah Anderson:
Right now, I am disappointed in myself, in what I am doing to my babies. I lost my babies. I have three kids; none of them are in my custody. I voluntarily gave them up to my sister. I told my sister I don’t want to see my baby anymore because she doesn’t deserve to see me for what I’m doin’ right now. it’s hurtin’ me that I said that, and I want to go see her, but I can’t let her see me like this… ’cause as long as I’m out here (in the street all I want to do is keep getting high, just keep getting high.” 51
Farber goes through the long history of this drug, from the origins of cocaine from centuries of chewing coca leaves by the Native Americans to cocaine-laced Coke-Cola to The Gourmet Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Cocaine to the crack epidemic. He states information on how to make crack came about in the 1970s with “Druggies in the Bay area, including highly educated Berkeley students smoking homemade crack cocaine—followed by Los Angeles kingpin “Tootsie” Resse discovery of the product, thus introducing it to some of his clients. Farber goes on to say that CRACK did not take off at that time. Reading about the “Cocaine Cookbook” brought back not so good memory with my then-boyfriend, now ex-husband. It was the summer of 1994, and my boyfriend was here from Miami with a couple of friends known as “The Miami Boys” who were here to sell over a kilo and a half of powdered cocaine, but things did not go as planned, and they had to sell it themselves. He came directly to my apartment after getting off the plane and took apart the sole of his Timberland boots to removed compressed cocaine. I remember telling him, “At first, it looked like white candy, but now it looks like powdered sugar.” He would order me out of the room, telling me, “This no damn powdered sugar; I do not know why I did this in front of you. Get out before you get in contact.” Not being a weed smoker, I did not know what he meant, but I left the room. The only thing I knew was that it caused family members to change for the worse. Some weeks later, I would be awakened by the fire alarm, a funny funky sweet smell, and my boyfriend telling someone, “It is gonna be ok I have more.” I would find him and a white, middle-aged man who was one of his top customers at the time in the kitchen hovering over the stove. The Man owned a pawn shop and contributed to my new collection of diamond and gemstone rings, and gold necklaces, TV, VCR, camcorder, and the list goes on. He never came to my apartment ever, so I was surprised to see him. As I entered the kitchen, my boyfriend started blaming me for having cheap pots as he walked back and forth from the kitchen to the living room window. Once again, he told me to get out before I caught a contact and made sure I closed the door. I would later find out that the person who usually cooked the cocaine to crack form had been jailed, and this was his failed attempt to cook it himself. I’m getting sick just thinking about all the chances I took not only with my life but also my children’s hopes of living ” the good life” After the downward spiral of my family finances in the late 80s, I craved the life I once knew. And even though I was in nursing school, doing well as a single mother meeting my ex-husband and believing in him was my focus. I also suffered the effects of having a crack-addicted family member being with him and having this so-call perfect life outweighed it. I told myself as long as he did not sell to my family members, everything was okay.
Farber does an excellent job of educating us as he explains the history of this powerful drug and those affected by it. This book provides an account of a substance’s history, from the medicinal uses to social-economical uses in Hollywood to street use. As Farber described the years before cocaine was rebranded into a popular fashionable high price drug that celebrities such as Eric Clapton, Robin Wiliams, and Richard Pryor indulged in, it was known as “Freebasing.” I actually thought smoking crack was freebasing, but it’s not. Freebasing consists of adding chemicals like ether, whereas crack is made with baking soda. Many well-to-do people used powdered cocaine, and from what I remember as a child, it was a social drug. But after crack claimed the lives of the poor, the glitz and glam faded away. However, this same drug but in the hands and used by African Americans will get you a lengthy prison sentence, and though many of the rich and famous are coming out as recovering addicts such as “Wendy Williams, Robert Downy Fr., Demi Lovato, Ben Affleck, etc. many people have turned away from shunning users. I think this is not the case for the average person; more unfortunate users are labeled “Addicts and CRACKHEADS.”
In the 70s to the mid-80s, my family was doing very well from owning their businesses, government jobs, and pro athletes. Everyone was doing well here in New Orleans. I can remember my Mom hosting or bringing us to a fancy party filled with food, music, dancing, liquor, and what I now know was cocaine. Once the party flowed into my room (we lived in a New Orleans shotgun house), and upon my dresser was a mound of powdered sugar looking substance that I would hear was cocaine sitting on top of it on a mirror. I was thirteen years old, and I was babysitting the younger children in another room. And I asked if my friend could come over and was told no. In a teenage fit of anger and not knowing what the white stuff was on my dresser, but I knew it had to be important to them, I took my hand and knocked it off the dresser. I can see the poof of white substance float in the air, followed by the shattering of the mirror and the shouts of anger that followed to this day. One of their friends shouted, “Send that Lil Bitch to foster care!” I do not remember getting into too much trouble, no less going to foster care or how much they recovered from that bag, but that was my first experience seeing drugs or knowing that family members were addicted.
Still, it did not seem like a bad thing at that time, but once CRACK made its way into New Orleans, the effects would not only cause a ripple effect but change life as we knew it. To this day, I live in a community and have family members who continue to be affected by this epidemic. Crack cocaine may have taken the backseat to other drugs, but with the crackdown on opioids and the loss of veins due to excessive IV use, the younger generation is turning to smoke crack cocaine.
“CRACK” is not a piece to be read envisioning the backdrop of a drug movie. We have become accustomed to hardship and suffering playout on the big screen while pretending that it is not happening in reality… Farber does an excellent job of sharing the stories of those affected by the Crack Cocaine Epidemic and the issues they faced. He is not narrating HBO’s next WIRE, but he gives a voice to those who were written off and shines a bright light on the political monsters who purposely set out to gentrify the minority population for greed. They lined their already wealthy pockets and bank accounts, fully knowing the implications crack addictions would have on the people they set out to destroy.
Farber’s thoughtfully researched accounts on a topic that we often avoid talking about is a necessary read for those who may want to know more about the crack cocaine epidemic. It’s not too often do we explain why something was done, especially in the Urban Community. Farber opened my eyes to my life and those in it. I no longer feel the anger and disappointment that I did towards my family or myself before reading this book. Even though I lived life, I must admit that part of me treasured my innocence and didn’t want to know as much as I do now. He painted a clear picture of how my family, my community, and black and brown people all over the United States were used as pawns in a game of greed by the wealthy white-collar citizens.
The government used crack cocaine as a double edge sword that severed the lives of all who came into contact with it. The book is filled with interviews that speak of the quick road to riches, being out of the projects, and the hopes of a better life for their family, only to be greeted by “DEATH” awaiting them around the next corner. Crack cocaine was marketed as “HOPE,” but there was a”DEATH” clause written in small print, but Farber’s “CRACK: Rock Cocaine, Street capitalism, and the Decade of Greed” brings the magnifying glass to help you read what you missed over the years.
This book hit home, and my heart though it wasn’t written to heal it did in my case. For years I walked around feeling convicted, broken, and angry because I did not understand the cause and effects of an unavoidable evil. I blamed my family members for being addicted to this drug that I did not realize was so powerful, nor did I know that most of them did not have a chance against it.
I was lucky to be born a female in the 70s, unlike the young men I would meet. All we knew was that the man at the top, be he white, black, or green, is the one with the bag, he’s living the good life, and we continue to stand on the corner selling small amounts of crack cocaine, thinking we will attain their level of success. We know we are set up, but we think we can beat the Man at his own game. If the drug dealers and users had at least some knowledge of what Farber touches on in this book, it would break not only the cycle but also the generational curse of the black community.
I also found it helpful in reading because I could visualize, and you feel the bond between Farber and his unlikely friends in the book. A few like him move into the Urban Community with their families to engage, relate, and assist with change, not gentrification of our community. I believe relationships such as these and the ability to meet others where they were at make this book come to life.
I picked this book up filled with guilt, fear, and anxiety. The book felt heavy in my hands. I’m now filled with a sense of peace, full of love, and ready to do the work to assist with my family’s total healing. I can now say without worrying about the judgment that I have lived more than half my life being “Co-Dependent” as well as I am an enabler.
I highly recommend this “Crack” by David Farber; please reads with an open mind and heart. It is not a novel, to the least, but it spoke to me on a personal level, and maybe it will help you gain a better understanding of those affected by the crack cocaine era.
And even though I did not read it for academic purposes, I believe this book can be used in an educational and therapeutic setting. It would also be an excellent book for a nonprofit organization, church group, and book club.
About the Author
David Farber is Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Kansas. He is the author of numerous books, including Everybody Ought to be Rich (2013), The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism (2010), Taken Hostage (2004), Sloan Rules (2002), The Age of Great Dreams (1994), and Chicago ’68 (1988). He lived in New York City with his family at the height of the crack cocaine years and later lived across the street from a small-time crack distributorship in Philadelphia.
ISBN 9781108425278 222 pages Hardcover/$24.95
Now Available https://www.cambridge.org/cg/academic/crack