ONN – Oakland Decriminalizes Magic Mushrooms: A White Drug Of Gentrification Few Blacks Use
The City of Oakland City Council took up a resolution (not an initiative as some have reported) to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms, or “Magic Mushrooms”, at the committee level on Tuesday, May 28th, 2019. It will return to City Council for a final reading on June 4th. (There’s something ironic in saying “decriminalize psychedelic”, “decriminalize psychedelic”, multiple times, but whatever.)
What was so shocking to this vlogger was the speed at which this came up and is headed to Oakland City Council, and the number of media outlets (white mainstream media like this one) that paid attention to this, over the homeless issue.
So, to make sure what I was thinking wasn’t purely anecdotal, I checked on the demographics by race of those who use psychedelic mushrooms. I could not find anything, any data, that included race – age, yes, but not race. I only found reference to a study that included a survey which reported that of the respondents using psychedelic mushrooms, over 90 percent were white, and just 4 percent black.
Then, I found this 2017 post by Ali McGhee called “We’re All Enlightened Here: Discussing Racism in the Psychedelic Community” and about a conference held in, of all places, Oakland (and at the Oakland Marriott City Center). It look a long time for the author to get to the question of “Why weren’t there more people of color in attendance?” But when she did, the best answer she could offer was “The answer, as with all things relating to race, is complicated.” Really?
From my experience in Oakland, which goes back to 1974, only over the last four years have I witnessed a large and rising discussion about psychedelic mushrooms in everyday talk. That’s when you know it’s become a “thing.” But the community doing the talking has been Oakland’s white community between 25 and 35, and for the most part at the center of the gentrification problem. Have doubts? Take a look at this video from the “Decriminalize Nature Oakland” event March 22, 2019 at the Omni Commons:
This event attracted the attention of Oakland City Councilmembers Noel Gallo (District Five) and Rebecca Kaplan (At-Large), with Councilmember Gallo identified as an early sponsor. Neither Councilmembers Gallo nor Kaplan are black, and the numbers of African Americans in the room in the video were woefully few in number.
This, in total, gets to my point: if the homeless problem were not more a black problem, the City of Oakland, and indeed, California, would move faster to solve it.
Because most of the people homeless are black, there’s a kind of lethargy of action that reflects the unspoken idea that homelessness is someone else’s problem – and certainly not at all that of the people who have the time and money to use psychedelic mushrooms.
The Impact Of Burning Man, The Haven for Psychedelic Mushrooms
The sad fact is that psychedelic mushrooms in the San Francisco Bay Area have largely been considered a thing done by people who attend Burning Man, the giant party with a purpose annually held in the Nevada Desert, and created by a white guy from San Francisco. The demographics of Burning Man are such that almost 80 percent of “burners” are white.
And then, Burning Man is widely known as a place to discover psychedelic mushrooms, even if you can be arrested for possession of illegal mushrooms. So, you see the connection between possession of illegal mushrooms, race, and the desire to legalize them, and fast.
Lest you’re not convinced of the race connection, try this post called “Why the Psychedelic Community is so White” by Ifetayo Harvey in “Psymposia.” Harvey, who’s black, writes that
“The ability to talk about drug use, especially psychedelic drug use, is a huge privilege in the United States. Black people are murdered by cops on a regular basis while walking down the street and minding their own business, just for being black; so imagine the risk for black people that comes with talking openly about psychedelics. Imagine what would happen if large numbers of black people gathered to talk about healing our trauma with psychedelics. Such a convening would probably be shut down quickly by the state, much like they did with the MOVE bombings in Philadelphia, the Black Panther Party, Black Wall Street and more recently, the Ferguson uprising and Standing Rock. We, as black people, risk our lives every day just by being black; so it should come as no surprise that we hesitate when it comes to openly speaking about drug use.”
In Harvey’s post, the “psychedelic movement” was observed to be “whiter than the tea party” according to one panel discussion. She ends by pointing to a call for the psychedelic community to listen to its black voices.
I’m not one who does psychedelics, but I favor decriminalization in Oakland, if only to keep the Oakland Police from finding one more reason to jail a black person in our city. Yes, it’s true that blacks are less likely to do psychedelics, but it’s also true that we’re more likely to be arrested for using illegal psychedelics. But, here’s another suggestion: why not work on ending the homeless problem, first.
Doing that would send a clear signal to the psychedelic community that Oakland cares about solving a “black problem” first, and above an issue of the use of recreational drugs.
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