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Harm Reductionists: Openly Anti-White Rhetoric Is Not Okay

Or does it?

If you’ve spent time networking with self-proclaimed harm reductionists, you’ve undoubtedly come across openly anti-white rhetoric. Such hate speech is just that — hate speech. If it’s not already clear, such anti-white rhetoric is 100% racist.

A quick Google search defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.”

This Isn’t Some Long-Winded Expose — It’s a Simple Reminder to Leave Racism in the Past

Right now, I live in Jackson, Tennessee. It’s in Central West Tennessee. Here in West Tennessee, there are two syringe exchanges, both of which are in Memphis — if you didn’t already know, Memphis is in the far southwestern extreme of the state.

We do have two Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists (ROPS) — they give out Narcan, in simple terms — who represent Jackson, but they require people to sit through formal trainings on how to respond to opioid overdose. Although I’m glad we have ROPS, they fail to reach homeless people, sex workers, drug dealers, and people who actively use drugs, especially those of us who are most vulnerable to opioid overdose.

Without fail, I’ve given out more naloxone to members of these vulnerable populations than any ROPS in Northwest Tennessee or Jackson. Although I’ve never officially kept score, I’ve given out anywhere between 1,100 and 1,500 doses of naloxone across the past two years. The majority of “participants” I’ve reached have been poor white folks.

This isn’t because I’ve specifically targeted poor whites such as myself… it’s because this group is disproportionately at-risk of opioid overdose here in Northwest/Central West Tennessee.

And I say this not to talk down upon ROPS. I’m really glad we have ROPS here. One of them — who I won’t name here — has given me boatloads of help in the past two or three years. She knows who she is — and I know you’re reading this, too! :^)

Edit: Let me clarify my views on ROPS. They do great things, and I’m really glad Tennessee pays these people to be ROPS. Unfortunately, ROPS struggle to reach people who inject drugs, homeless people, and other at-risk populations. One big reason for this is liability — the entity/entities above ROPS need to train potential NARCAN® recipients on how to use naloxone in responding to an opioid overdose. Of course, knowing that drug-involved people distrust the criminal justice-social services alliance, it’s easy to understand why my fellow drug-involved people wouldn’t want to attend an hour-long naloxone training. Again, I’m glad Tennessee pays ROPS to do their thing. Region 6N’s ROPS, for example, is an angel of a human being and has extensively fought for the fair treatment of people who use drugs across the Volunteer State. My purpose in criticizing ROPS in the paragraph(s) above was to point out that, unfortunately, ROPS often fail to reach some super-vulnerable populations.

Here’s What I’m Getting At

I’ve given out a lot of naloxone, a metric shit ton of syringes, fentanyl test strips, cookers, cottons, tourniquets, and other safe drug use supplies. Who else has done so around here, in non-Memphis West Tennessee?

I’m waiting…

I proudly represent this area and its people. And none of us appreciate this openly anti-white rhetoric. It’s senseless. And it cordons us off from society even more than we already have been — than we already are.

I’m poor. I’m white. I’ve been poor all my life. I’ve dealt with my own drug addiction for over 10 years. I grew up around an addiction — my mom’s — for the first 10 years of my life. I’m a former sex worker. I’m bisexual. In terms of risk factors — things that make me more likely to suffer overdose, homelessness, or other generally bad life outcomes… I’m up there.

Many of my fellow drug users here in Northwest Tennessee/Central West Tennessee are also white. Just like me, they’re “up there” in terms of risk factors.

Our region — and, on top of that, our people… our poor white people — is super underrepresented in the national harm reduction community. There aren’t many voices sticking up for poor whites in this realm.

Those who do attempt to stick up for us quickly get shut down. I’m willing to bear the brunt of more criticism — “you’re racist,” “you can’t call yourself queer,” etc. That kinda criticism.

Please, Please Stop the Anti-White Rhetoric

It’s racist.

I wish every harm reductionist could spend time around here, getting to know these poor whites I’m talking about. I genuinely think the anti-white rhetoric would slow down if y’all got that chance.

Clarification (4/21, 11:49 a.m.): White people aren’t marginalized. Poor whites are grossly underrepresented among harm reductionists. Either way, anti-white rhetoric is racist and has no place in a supposedly anti-racist space.

By Daniel Garrett

I'm a self-employed writer, long-term drug user, and resident of rural Tennessee. Find me on Twitter at @DanielGarrettHR or email me at danpgarr@ut.utm.edu.

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