Racism and drug trade

There is a shared idea that ethnic minorities are dominating the drug trade, partly maintained by media. Newspapers in the Netherlands drop the popular term called ‘Mocro maffia’, in which drug crime is directly linked with the Dutch-Moroccan community. In the USA the phenomena of ethnic profiling in drugs crime is for centuries an issue. Despite the white population in the USA are dominating drugs consumption, black people are ten times more often arrested for a drug offense. For the possession of one gram of crack, the cheaper variant of cocaine, a consumer has 18 times more chance to get arrested, compared to cocaine. As cocaine is more expensive, cocaine is more popular amongst white people. Before the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 the chances of being arrested with crack was even 200 times bigger. The way we look at a drug is not fully determined by its health risks, but also framed by the ones who use it.

Paoli and Reuter shared interesting views about this topic in ‘Drug trafficking and ethnic minorities’. They argue that ethnic minorities are not more active in drug trade than white people, but the latter group is less visible.

In The Netherlands  cocaine, heroin and synthetic drugs are qualified as hard drugs and cannabis and hemp as soft drugs. Cocaine, heroin and cannabis are made out of a plant, only cannabis can also be cultivated inside the country. Therefore, in order to import cocaine and heroin, connections overseas are required. Those relations exist between the producing and transit countries in South America, Africa and Asia towards the consuming countries, like in North America and Europe. It is understandable that these connections are easier established between migrants that have relations in these regions and they dominate these segments (cocaine and heroin) of the drug trade.

However, the white population dominates the production of soft drugs and synthetic drugs. In order to produce synthetic drugs one needs certain technical skills and connections with the chemical industry. As white people are more familiar with the Western intellectual capital and their social capital allows them to establish contacts with laboratories. Which is why this particular market is more accessible for white people. Drug laboratories in Brabant for example, can be organized very structured and professional. Besides, next to a middle class profession one can easily maintain a drug lab. Given the fact that producing synthetic drugs demands innovative skills, there is less of a stigma for its trade.

Cocaine and heroin are (qualified as) hard drugs. Other than MDMA or XTC the image of cocaine and heroin is more agressive and criminal. Ethnic minorities have a bigger distance to the labor market than white people have. In 2016, 5.7% of white Dutch people were not employed, against 19.6% of Morrocan-Dutch and 19.3% of Antillian-Dutch. The possibility of employment in the legal sector is smaller for the latter two groups. This not only counts for new immigrants, also for migrants that live in the Netherlands for two generations. Many of these people live in isolated neighborhoods with a lower standard of living quality. They have less examples of people who finished secondary school or higher education. It is therefore not surprising that the lower and most dangerous levels of drug trade are dominated by the ones who have less opportunities in society.


Another explanation of the invisibility of white people in drug trade is the difference of operating in public and covered spaces. Aforementioned white people are better (conditioned to be) acquainted with the prevailing culture and  social rules, than people that have roots elsewhere. White people know the language and the local social codes and have the external profile of not standing out. They come in bars where white consumers come and are able to do business in private settings. Their social and cultural capital allows them to negotiate in private places. Newcomes however, are more forced to operate in public spaces to be able to connect with their potential costumers. The Red Light District in Amsterdam for example, offers a good market where foreign tourists and migrant sellers meet.

Intersectionality is about the intersection of different forms of oppression, regarding ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality and how these groups enforce each other. Is a stigma, of a area, a bar or a drug for example, determined by its characteristics or by the people that are overrepresented?


For both consumption and trade in drugs, white people are privileged. They have more chances of operating invisible and their consumption is being perceived as recreational escapism. They live with the innocent stigma of being a hedonist. For ethnic minorities however, the trade is a way to access the economic class, but unfortunately are easier profiled as a criminal.

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