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Generation of So-Called ‘Crack Babies’ Are Now Grown Up and Demonstrating the Hysteria of the 1990s Was a Racist Myth

crackbabyThe so-called crack epidemic was left behind in the 1990s, but the image of the “crack baby” leaped out of the decade and became a permanent American pop culture emblem — and one that was always used in connection with Black children.

But it turns out the phenomenon of these sensory-deprived, drug-addicted newborns was just a myth — and there’s even a study to prove it.

In a groundbreaking project led by Dr. Hallam Hurt, then the chair of neonatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center, researchers followed the babies of more than 200 mothers who smoked crack during their pregnancy between 1989 and 1992. After 25 years of tracking these babies, Hurt’s team found …nothing.

There were no differences in the health and life outcomes between babies exposed to crack and those who weren’t.

The whole phenomenon of crack babies was a media-fueled myth.

Newspaper profiles, television specials, years of cruel jokes — it all was hysteria based on an illusion.

But in fact, the fuel was provided by an entity even more powerful than the media — it came from the federal government. As law professor Michelle Alexander revealed in her book, The New Jim Crow, when President Ronald Reagan declared a War on Drugs in 1982, recreational drug use in the U.S. was in serious decline. Reagan’s declaration of war tapped into a growing public sentiment against illegal drug use. So the declaration was more about politics than about drugs presenting an actual danger to the nation.

The Reagan administration was trying to make his pitch to white people, so it was easy to construct Black people as the enemy in the War on Drugs. This has led to mass incarceration that has imprisoned millions and devastated Black communities across the U.S. The administration made crack into the monster it needed to create the modern prison industrial complex.

Alexander said the administration even used publicists to help create the myth of the uniqueness of crack, a new incredibly addictive superdrug. At the start of the crack scare in the fall of 1985, the news media unleashed a series of startling stories about newborn infants who allegedly suffered severe and permanent health damage as fetuses because their mothers ingested cocaine during pregnancy. But as Hurt and other researchers found, the impact of cocaine exposure on newborn health and development was, at best, greatly exaggerated in media accounts.

Karen, left, and Jaimee Drakewood

Karen, left, and Jaimee Drakewood

In a profile on Al Jazeera America, Jaimee Drakewood revealed the pain she has struggled with for years knowing the stigma attached to her as a former “crack baby.”

“I immediately get defensive,” Drakewood, now 25, says about hearing the term. “It’s another stigma, another box to put me in. It bothers me because it feels like I already had my life written off before I was able to live it.”

After using drugs while she was pregnant with Jaimee, her mother, Karen Drakewood, was worried about whether she had harmed her child, so she eagerly signed up for Hurt’s study 25 years ago.

As with the other children Hurt followed, Jaimee Drakewood is doing extremely well, healthwise, and is about to receive her bachelor’s degree from Tuskegee University in Alabama.

Her mother has been clean for more than 10 years and now works for Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections.

Karen Drakewood told Al Jazeera that Hurt’s study actually helped her because it was the first time someone viewed her as a whole person and not just as an addict.

“She was a whole person,” Hurt responded. “Everybody’s got their demons. Her demons were seen in the public eye, but we all have our demons. And I think knowing that helps us respect people.”


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12 thoughts on “Generation of So-Called ‘Crack Babies’ Are Now Grown Up and Demonstrating the Hysteria of the 1990s Was a Racist Myth

  1. Okay…I'm going to concede that the "myth" of your stereotypical CRACK BABY image has been busted. HOWEVER………….this so-called Hurt Study has left out one significant aspect of the crack epidemic: Due to the loss of BILLIONS of dollars from Black communities during the heyday of crack, the quality of life has suffered a devastating blow. Twenty five plus years of this tremendous exodus of much-needed wealth did not happen without a staggering price. Money that would have funded the community with educational supplies, clothing, food and yes…even recreation as a family unit tragically made its way into the hands of the low-life bastards who were/are responsible for the influx of drugs into our neighborhoods. Sure, the South Americans may have cultivated the product itself, but we all know who REALLY profited from this holocaust. Think about it: During the peak of the crack epidemic, did you notice that…..even the WHITE people who wanted to smoke crack had to come to a BLACK neighborhood to purchase it? Think….why? #CollateralDamage

  2. I'm not sure I agree with the crack baby myth. Why are there so many young people school age labeled as special needs today than ever before and they are mostly boys?

  3. Trina Baynes says:

    I tend to agree with Gettison and Florence these reports and study are too sanitized to actually measure any impact. Whenever there is a major setback in our community and the money is syphoned out we loose ALL black children loose not just a group the whole community looses.

  4. Sarah Fuoto says:

    My guess is heavy metal (including lead) poisoning may explain the higher rates of special needs children in poor communities. Capital Homes housing project in atlanta was built in the 60's right on top of the old steel mill ground. I have to wonder if this played out all over the country with many housing projects built on top of poisoned soil. As children show behavior and coordination problems and learning difficulties from even a small dose of lead, I have to wonder how many thousands of families have been hurt.

  5. Lilyan White says:

    it's roughly what Sarah Fuoto said. Working class people tend to live in areas with greater environmental hazards, whether it's from the poor structural quality of those communities, or things like the limestone quarries from where I grew up. Add into this that tests measuring child development and IQ are often biased to find developmental disabilities in working class children, especially boys, and you've got two of various reasons why this is happening.

  6. Darrel Byers says:

    Heavy metal sure but the laziness of educators these days play a part in this too. Frankly, in my day I got paddled for misbehaving. Now my son is in school and when kids his age act up, they get "diagnosed" and medicated.

  7. so ladies, don't worry, it's totally okay to do drugs while pregnant, because there are no adverse effects on the baby! are you kidding me with this story? I don't deny that the drug war is a racially driven one that has overwhelmingly been detrimental to marginalized groups, but I don't think establishing that crack use during pregnancy being damaging is what that marginalization hinges upon.

  8. No differences? Surely, they must have found some differences. Behavioral differences due to their parents living like zombies. Surely, they inherited behavioral patterns, no sleep, hi wired, short temper, scheming people for self indulgence, short attention span etc.
    Ex Cocaine abusers make the best employees because they're so used to being on the go. Work, party, drink, fuck, and work again. Amazing people!
    Today's kids are mentally challenged. They don't have patience, nor do they have similar morals their Grandparents had. Maybe this is an effect of being a Crack baby, or living in a society filled with Crack baby peer pressure, but I really think there are differences. ijs.

  9. yeah, collateral damage is huge and documented. graphs show investments into low-income black neighborhoods and money for programming to support these populations progressively declined as the prison boom in the 80s grew.

  10. Before you start judging this study, first step back for a second. This study was an opportunity for mothers to get clean first, then they studied to see how we developed as we matured into adults. No I don't like the stigma that has followed me because of my mothers actions, but our community is at fault, not these white people. The moment that we stop pointing fingers and actually come together to accomplish the greatness that we were destined to be, then we will succeed finally as a people. Until then we will continue to the be the one race, crabs in the bucket!

  11. ZaZa Ali says:

    I do not need to do a full fledge case study to know that women who had children and smoked crack during their pregnancy harmed them, sometimes with irreprable damage. I know women, women in my family who smoked during pregnancy, and had babies come out with staggering physical, emotional and mental issues. I watched them grow up – some prone to different drugs and alchohol, some stagnated in learning, and many still suffering from physical impediments. My nephew was born with a whole in his heart bcz of crack cocaine. Please – this conversation is way too important to minimize the short and long term effect that this devastating drug, which was placed in our communities by the US government, had on our people. Who funded this study?

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