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#MemeOfTheWeek: 'D-Money,' Race And Drugs In America

Gov. Paul LePage, R-Maine, at a news conference Friday, where he apologized for racially tinged remarks he made while talking about Maine's heroin epidemic.
Robert F. Bukaty
Gov. Paul LePage, R-Maine, at a news conference Friday, where he apologized for racially tinged remarks he made while talking about Maine's heroin epidemic.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is responsible for this week's meme. During a town hall in Bridgton, Maine, Wednesday night, he spoke about Maine's drug problem, positing a theory on how some of the narcotics in the state make it in. He said the following:

"The traffickers — these aren't people who take drugs. These are guys by the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty. These type of guys that come from Connecticut and New York. They come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave. Which is the real sad thing, because then we have another issue that we have to deal with down the road."

There's a lot to unpack here. But what stood out the most online seemed to be the way LePage, the Republican governor of an overwhelmingly white state, used race — or at least alluded to it — to discuss Maine's drug woes. Many thought the names "D-Money," "Smoothie" and "Shifty" were meant to describe a particular type of black man.

Online ridicule of the comments seemed to take two tracks — wondering what "D-Money," "Smoothie," and "Shifty" would actually look like:

Or — mocking some of the ugly stereotypes about black men LePage seemed to allude to:

LePage soon walked back the comments, saying they were a mistake. "I was going impromptu, and my brain didn't catch up to my mouth." He continued, "Instead of Maine women, I said white women.... if you go to Maine, you can see it's 95 percent white."

He said of journalists writing about the gaffe, "If you want to make it racist, go ahead and do what you want."

Though it's easy to dismiss LePage's comments and quickly move on, they might reveal something deeper upon further reflection — the way race informs how America talks about drugs.

So far in this presidential election, candidates on both sides of the aisle have been discussing drugs, frequently and sympathetically, particularly because of the addiction problem in one of Maine's neighboring states — New Hampshire, which holds the first primary.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has written about his own daughter's struggles with addiction. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's impassioned speech about addiction and how it's hit people he knows went viral last year. And Hillary Clinton has proposed spending $10 billion over 10 years to fight drug-and-alcohol addiction.

The conversation on addiction this election has focused more on treatment and compassion — and differs from the tough-on-crime rhetoric used previously in the war on drugs. Some say that's because the face of addiction in America today, particularly when it comes to heroin, is increasingly white.

NPR's Tamara Keith has been reporting on the trend, which some have begun calling the "gentrification of the drug crisis." And at a recent New Hampshire forum on addiction, presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich said there may be a racial bias in the way the country is dealing with addiction.

"This disease knows no bounds, knows no income, knows no neighborhood; it's everywhere," Kasich said. "And sometimes I wonder how African-Americans must have felt when drugs were awash in their community and nobody watched. Now it's in our communities, and now all of a sudden, we've got forums, and God bless us, but think about the struggles that other people had."

At the time LePage made his comments about "D-Money," "Smoothie" and "Shifty," he may not have been thinking about any of these larger issues and the complicated way race and drugs intersect.

He may have also not known that the night before he spoke, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency arrested three people in Maine and charged them with distributing heroin.

They were white. And their names — James, Jody and Donna.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
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