Sex, Drugs & Science

Jelani Kerr: Drug Policy, HIV & Racism

July 29, 2020 Valerie Earnshaw & Carly Hill Season 1 Episode 9
Sex, Drugs & Science
Jelani Kerr: Drug Policy, HIV & Racism
Chapters
Sex, Drugs & Science
Jelani Kerr: Drug Policy, HIV & Racism
Jul 29, 2020 Season 1 Episode 9
Valerie Earnshaw & Carly Hill

Dr. Jelani Kerr is an Associate Professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences. Jelani and Valerie talk about what getting tenure means for them and doing research in community settings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jelani describes how he got interested in HIV research, connects drug policy to the HIV epidemic in African American communities, gives a history lesson on the war on drugs, and describes why police brutality is a systemic problem. Carly and Valerie talk about Breonna Taylor, the #SayHerName campaign, and stereotypes underlying police brutality targeting Black women.

Read more about Jelani’s work here: https://louisville.edu/sphis/directory/jelani-kerr-phd-msph

Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Jelani Kerr is an Associate Professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences. Jelani and Valerie talk about what getting tenure means for them and doing research in community settings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jelani describes how he got interested in HIV research, connects drug policy to the HIV epidemic in African American communities, gives a history lesson on the war on drugs, and describes why police brutality is a systemic problem. Carly and Valerie talk about Breonna Taylor, the #SayHerName campaign, and stereotypes underlying police brutality targeting Black women.

Read more about Jelani’s work here: https://louisville.edu/sphis/directory/jelani-kerr-phd-msph

Valerie:

I'm Valerie Earnshaw.

Carly:

I'm Carly Hill.

Valerie:

And this is Sex, Drugs and Science. Today's conversation is with Dr. Jelani Kerr. Jelani is an associate professor, newly tenured, of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences. So, Jelani . I wanted to start off by giving you like a big, huge congratulations on your tenure and promotion. And I also just got mine in the last like week or so so, I feel like this is like a recording slash you know, tenure party.

Carly:

Yes.

Jelani:

Okay. Congratulations. Great . We'll have to celebrate next time we see each other, if , uh , I don't know. What do you think that'll be? I don't know , maybe in 2024 or something like that,

Valerie:

2024, we're going to throw the biggest tenure bash at whatever conference we're attending and everyone who's listening is invited. So we were actually talking a little bit about tenure with some of the research assistants, the undergrads in our lab who help produce the show. And they were saying that they, they aren't actually clear on what tenure is. So I'll just lay out there that tenure actually defined... I looked it up. I was like, how do people actually define this? As an indefinite job post. So you're essentially like, it's really hard for you to be fired from your position at a university and, you know, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's in part designed to give faculty members like the security to tackle, maybe unpopular about important topics, like to take risks in your scholarship, in teaching. Is that your impression too, as to why we have the system?

Jelani:

Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's how it's always been explained to me. Like my mentor in grad school, he was thinking about tenure was, this is the, yeah, this is the opportunity to like really do really interesting and really and if need be controversial research and like say controversial truths that need to be examined and explored and discussed , without any fear of reprisal. And so, you know, I think that, you know , that's how I've always interpreted.

Carly:

Does that mean that you guys just like throughout your career until this point, have just had like a secret, like lockbox sort of like all these ideas that you're like, just waiting for, you know, this chance to like, all right now, you know, now that I have this tenure, I can just like jump out. These are all the things that I wanted to do, but I couldn't like, Is that like, or is it sort of like now you get to dip your toes in the water and like allow yourself to sort of think about some of those topics?

Jelani:

I think. Okay . So , okay. So there are a couple of ways to look at it. So some people were just some people kind of thing, listen to the academy as the place where you just need to say what you need to say and just be bold with whether you have tenure or whether you , you know , don't just be courageous and say what you need to say in every , you know , I think, I think that's fine as well. And I think that's , I think that's good. And , but there is this , I mean, there are some level of politics involved to where, you know, you may have to, you be a little bit more judicious and use a little bit more wisdom with what you say and how you say it before you can really, you know, go out there. Because, you know, I mean, we, you know, we have families to feed as well and you have to , you know, bills, you know , still need to be paid and all of that . And so, but I think I've always seen tenures just be opportunity to, if you, to just be more complete and more unfiltered and, you know, in the things that you want and need to say. Now, I mean, I don't think that means like going on top of, you know, going on top of the mountain with a megaphone, not telling everybody really what's up.

Valerie:

They don't want to know.

Jelani:

Right, right. But I think it gives the, more leeway to do that. Like , is that how you feel?

Valerie:

Yeah, I do. I do think that, I mean, you know, and I think my lens here is, you know, we both have lenses that I think we have experienced the, you know, academia. So for me also, like, as a woman, I noticed this last year as my tenure case progressed that I spoke up more and more so like...one example would be that I'm in a , or I was in a meeting with this white man and he's more senior than I am. And the discussion was, or, you know, there was a discussion and we disagreed. You know, I, there were the people in the room, like, I dunno , I would probably say at the beginning of the conversation, it was like 60% probably agreed with me. And 40% agreed with him. Well, over the, you know, over the course of the conversation, he starts to get more heated and he's , he's like starts to pace. And I remember having this thought process, like where is my tenure case? Because what happens at tenure materials is it goes through like first it's voted on in your department, then in the college, then at the college, or then at the university level for us. And I was like, is he able to vote against my tenure case. And I remember having this thought process, like, Nope, all clear. And then I was like, okay, I'm going to just have this conversation with him. Like, I think if it, if I didn't feel like I had passed his reach, that I would have like been more conciliatory or let somebody else in the room champion that argument. But I was like, no, I've got this. Like, I have the power to like, have this conversation with this, with this person who otherwise I think I would have just been like, okay, whatever you think, like, whatever.

Jelani:

Oh yeah , yeah, yeah. People are in the Academy. Like some people in the Academy can be like weirdly pity. Which is what you think would be kind of odd for an enterprise. That's like this really characterized, you know, by intellect, you know how , if you want you to describe it's intellectuals or, you know, really smart people, you know , you know, supposedly mature. And, but that doesn't mean , you know what... I mean, I guess the humane thing is to say, you know, everybody's human and they have their flaws with it is like it is , but I've seen situations where it can be weirdly... where thinking just to be weird, I will give this caveat. It's not, I, I, haven't experienced a great deal of that, where I am, you know, at the University of Louisville. So I do want to say that they've been pretty supportive so far. And you know, like a lot of places I think there are, you know, there may be, there may be some weird characters every now and then, but I think that's everywhere.

Carly:

Yeah.

Jelani:

Yeah. And to tell the truth. I think people in the Academy can be kind of just in general, kind of weird anyway, and I'm not, and I'm not excluding myself from them either.

Valerie:

Oh yeah, no.

Carly:

I wasn't either.

Valerie:

The further I get, the weirder I think that I am like, it's like a real...

Carly:

So what did you guys do to celebrate? This is like a huge, huge deal. I know it takes like a whole lot of, you know, stress and it's all these different processes, like what'd you guys do to celebrate in the pandemic?

Jelani:

Okay. So there's really not much we could do. We couldn't get up and just throw the part. I think I went and got some Kentucky fried chicken and just , you know, I think they may have, I think there may have been it. And like, no wait . Me and my wife got something too . I think, I think we may have gotten some takeout from a restaurant or something, but you know, it wasn't. It was just kind of oh, okay. I mean, I'm happy I have it, but when I first got it, I don't know if it's hit me . It was just kind of like, Oh, okay. That's cool. I got it. You know ?

Carly:

Right.

Valerie:

Well, first and foremost, I'm celebrating right now with Jelani. So... and then also , my husband and I walked around Longwood Gardens, which is my favorite place. So it's, it's this garden kind of area close to where we lived, which is they just have all of these flowers. And so, you know, everyone wants, they're mostly walking around with their masks on , so yeah. So that was nice.

Jelani:

Yeah. Yeah. Anytime it's a good time to get tenure, but with all that being said, this is not a great time to celebrate tenure.

Valerie:

Yeah. It's not a great time to celebrate tenure, but do you feel like it's kind of like the best time to get tenure? I mean, like if, if ever you're going to feel a new level of job security, like having that coming through during a pandemic.

Jelani:

Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Carly:

That's just more of a r eason t hat you guys are both g oing t o have to celebrate once this pandemic is over in 2024.

Valerie:

2024, whatever, fill in the b lank conference.

Jelani:

Yeah. I know, I know.

Valerie:

Have you thought about how, you know, post-tenure life might look for you as compared to pre-tenure life, either like the projects that you're going to take on or just how your life is going to like your stress levels or anything, or what do you hope for?

Jelani:

So my main thing was just, okay now , now I, I'm a little more unfettered in how I say what I want to say. Not that I didn't say what I wanted to say, but I'm now, you know , now I feel a little more unfettered in doing that. To me, that's the biggest, that's the biggest change. You know, I still plan on, you know , I still plan on doing the work. I still plan on. I mean , they may ask me to take more and more administrative roles. I kind of want to just w which is fine. My real passion right now is research.

Valerie:

Well, you're good at it and we need it, so... Oh, that's so nice. Thank you. I appreciate it. I don't know what I'm doing. Oh man. We entirely disagree with you after spending all week deep diving on your research.

Carly:

Yeah, respectfully disagree on that one.

Valerie:

I actually went reading through it. I was like, this is like a really lovely coherent line of like studies and I could totally structure a really nice hope, hopefully what you think is a really nice interview.

Jelani:

Well, I appreciate it. Well, I'll take that back. I don't know what I'm doing, but I don't know what I'm doing.

Carly:

You got to fake it till you make it, you know.

Valerie:

He's made it.

Carly:

Oh, I know. That's what, yeah. So now you can stop faking it. You can just keep rolling.

Jelani:

Yeah. I say they have to say, I don't want to, I think that's a sentiment that a lot of people have. Like we're working on, we're working on it and we can have our areas , areas of expertise. Right . A lot of this is just feeling your way through kind of like knowing the direction. Some of this is feeling your way through the dark.

Valerie:

I understand. I think, I think you're totally right. I think that getting a PhD is sort of like signing up to just always be figuring stuff out. You pretty much have just shown that, like you can figure it out. And now like with each, unless you just want to do like the same type of study over and over and over again, like you're always going to have to navigate like new, totally new things. Or you're going to have to figure out like, how am I going to do this study during a pandemic now?

Jelani:

Oh my gosh. Yeah.

Carly:

Same.

Jelani:

Yeah. So how do you, how are you guys feeling about doing research and during the pandemic?

Valerie:

Yeah, so...

Jelani:

Especially primary, especially data collection, like going out there a nd collecting surveys a nd...

Valerie:

Collecting data in the clinic or out in the community setting . So the main project that we have going on is the next phase has us going back into our local methadone clinic and doing an intervention, essentially with people who , you know, have a history of opioid use disorders or thinking about disclosing that to someone new and the first time for the first time. And then, you know, walking them through this intervention, then they come back after a month and tell us that how it's going for them. And, you know, I should really clarify here that by we, I mean, Carly. Carly is, you know, out in the clinic. And so, yeah, we've had a couple conversations. So Carly, how do you, how do you feel about starting back up, and what are your thoughts?

Carly:

I mean, I, so I'm in a position where I've been stuck inside the house since January. So like I'm super pumped to get back into a routine where like I get to leave the house for work, but , I understand that, you know, there's gonna , it's gonna look a little bit different, some of the interviews and how it's going to be structured and there's going to be some different things we're going to have to... I think it's going to be one of those, like roll with the punches things like kinda trying to figure out space and like the logistics of all of it. But you know, I see a lot of plus sides to it too. So I mean, selfishly, I'm super excited to get back out there if we're allowed, but , that's kinda, I guess, up in the air right now.

Valerie:

Yeah. I think we're going to be able to get back in there, but I'm really worried about putting Carly in there. Like I don't feel great that at all. So I think that's, we're just gonna have to keep our eye. Like, I , I feel like this a lot with Carly actually. Cause like, you know, I'm like Carly, will you just stay home? Or , you know, with work-wise like, if you're not feeling well, just stay home. And Carly's like such a hard worker and she likes to get out of the house and I'm like, Carly take a sick day. And she's like, no, I just had surgery yesterday. So it's today. Like I can do it.

Carly:

She's making it sound way more serious than it actually is.

Valerie:

I don't think that I am. Anyway. It's, you know, she's a super hard worker and I feel like I'm that like, we can, we can wait a month.

Carly:

And I'm like, please let me out of the house for the love of God please.

Jelani:

Well, first I understand, I have a GA who is , you know, who the like that, like she's ready , she's ready to go. And I'm kinda like , and you know , she's taken all the precautions, social distance , but she is ready to mean . She we're like , okay, it's time to , go into community to collect, but she's ready to go. You know? And you know, and I'm , I'm , I'm also to an extent , I'm kinda talking to her to see that, well, you know, we may have to do some things online lists. But she says , it's good to see people who are just really excited and you know, that's, that's who you like, that's great. That's who you want.

Valerie:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Jelani:

So I think you're doing something right, Carly .

Carly:

Well , yeah, but I feel super grateful to get to do the work. I think that it's really interesting being in a methadone clinic all day is something that not a lot of people, you know , can say, and I sort of have the luxury of like being, having everything from the bird's eye view, you know, without actually having to, you know, be in the thick of it. So it's been a fantastic experience. So I , I can't wait to get back, but you know , I'm also all right with waiting, I guess.

Valerie:

That's the pandemic. Yeah. Well, I was just going to take us back and rewind a little bit to some of your , um, to some of your early work and sort of ask you about how you initially got started working with, it looks like a lot of, a lot of your work is at this intersection of HIV prevention and treatment stigma, and then often among African American youth. So we were sort of wondering, you know, why this population of focus, why , why focus on HIV specifically and stigma. Sort of, how did you get into this area?

Jelani:

So , I grew up, so I grew up in the eighties and nineties when the HIV epidemic was first, was first coming to our attention and first kind of... And the first time we're seeing just this rapid escalation of HIV cases and, you know, and just some of my formative years just kind of seeing that and, you know, and I've met people and I've known people and , who know have been living with HIV and know some friends who have died with it. And so that , that's part of the motivation, but it's also the fact that it's , it is , it is a condition that is acquired. And if we look at , if we look at , uh, like a lot of other diseases, like there's such a randomness to cancer , that, in some respects, I almost feel helpless to really address it. You know, or, you know, heart disease to an, heart disease to an extent, but I mean, to me, that just didn't, that, they just didn't really...You know, I just wasn't jazzed about that, you know.

Valerie:

Fair.

Jelani:

And yeah. And so I w ill look a t, so I was interested in mental health. I was interested in HIV and HIV in a lot of ways is kind of all, it is kind of meets at the intersection of a lot of these different types of social m arginalizations. U m, so if you look at, if you look at, l ike class issues like HIV, that directly informs how HIV operates. If you look at racism, homophobia, transphobia, just all in all of these, y ou k now, a ll sexism, all of these -isms. A nd, I'm like, this is where, like all of these things kind of feed into HIV. And then the fact that it, it affected so many, it affects, so many, African Americans so many people a nd, u m, I am, just being younger and just m y kind of g etting wind of the stats and just seeing how it, how it is and I 'm, and I 'm, I'm just like, how is this, how's this, Hey, we have to do something about this, especially because it's not fully explained, y ou know. The disparity, the ramp i n the disparity rate, excuse me, the disparity around HIV just cannot be fully explained by the behavior e ither. They're just not, you, can't n ot, you can't just tell people to change this b ehavior, change that behavior and expect to address these disparities. It won't work because there are a lot of social determinants that help drive t hem. Or there's something that's really u nfeasible in this. That's a bit why I 've got interested in, and the work that I did, in, especially in grad school kind of help. Those are some of the projects and some of the w ork f or the G A that, u m, I started my career off with. So, that's a , that's a bit o f how I , how I was interested i n. So all of those things c ome together and that's how I'm, that's now why I'm working in the HIV field.

Valerie:

And just to underscore that, I mean, you said that you can't explain these, these differences that we see in the data between how , you know, with higher rates of HIV, among African Americans than , than white Americans is . It's not just the behaviors. So what, you know, so part of what science has shown is that , like people are using condoms in pretty similar rates. It's not that like one group versus the other is aging and all of these like really risky sex related or drug use behaviors. It seems to be more like , um, you know, what you're saying is these social determinants. So things like , things like you know, stigma as a social determinant, but also just the idea that there's like, there's more of HIV in some networks than there are in others, just like right now is COVID like, there's just more COVID in some places than others. So if like you go out to a restaurant in some places in the US right now, you're just more likely to get COVID then if you were to go out to a restaurant in a different location.

Jelani:

Yeah . Pretty , yeah, pretty much. And I'm hoping that at some point we can get away from the conversation about, you know, just focusing on behaviors, because in my opinion, we've been fed that for years, for decades actually. And, you know, and it's not really brought us to where we want to be or where we need to be. And so, you know, like a lot of things in health, these things have a foundational structure. Like a lot of inequities and heal from these things have a foundational structure. So, and I'm hoping that in the public health field, and especially when we started talking and then the policy fields, we can start taking an eye to those things because they , they can be addressed, they can be addressed in other countries.

Valerie:

What are some of those things that you would like to , you would like to see the conversation move in the direction of?

Speaker 3:

So first I, I do think that there needs to be like just more resources put into healthcare, just healthcare in general. And I think that would, I think that would give people greater access to tools that you need for HIV prevention , whether it's HIV testing or whether it's kind of used , or just being able to go to the doctor and just talk and get counseling around like sexual, sexual behavior and like, what is, what does it mean to be vulnerable to HIV and what that means? So there are definitely, we can do in the healthcare field and eh. Am I allowed to say, we need a universal, we need universal. Yeah. I mean a universal healthcare .

Valerie:

Absolutely.

Jelani:

Right. And not, not as we've constructed it today, even with the Affordable Care Act. You know, I can , I can talk to him. I can talk a lot about some of the deficiencies with even our most with even my, what appears to be our most liberal approach to healthcare . And I think we're eminently able to address that and we have the resources to address that, but we don't have the political wheel and that's simply. I think it's developing, but it's just simply not there anyway. I tend to go off on tangents.

Valerie:

I'm so with you, because I was having this conversation with a friend last night, and at the end of the conversation, I knew, I mean , it was, it was, it was couched in COVID. I was like, I just don't think that people in the states care about health. You know what I mean? Like if we care, if health was the thing that we cared about, we would have universal health care , we would be making wildly different decisions when it came to COVID. I was like, I just think that maybe, like, I just don't know that we care about health in the same way. And I mean, I shouldn't say we , cause I care about health, I'm doing what I do, but like, you know, I don't, you know, I don't know if it's politics or what, but like, to me, health is so foundational. Like if you don't have health, you don't have anything, you know, so. Yeah ,

Jelani:

Yeah. Yeah. I don't know if this is staggering that we have over a hundred thousand people dead from COVID and that's probably under the numbers that we have now. They're probably underreported and it just seems like nobody cares anymore.

Valerie:

Y eah.

Jelani:

Like, no , it's just business as usual. It's like it's is it's frightening. It's frightening. It wasn't anyway, what's going on? What's going on? Anyway. Okay. Your original question was how to be addressing HIV?

Valerie:

Yeah. That's alright. I think it's all connected.

Jelani:

Yeah. Yeah. So , so I think that universal , uh , universal healthcare would be, would be a good thing. I do. I do think that , the way we educate young people about sex matters. Comprehensives that the science shows that comprehensive sex education works. I understand why people may not, may not want it to go in that direction, but , um, you know, social decision making gives , uh , is an interesting thing. If you're in favor of abstinence only education, but I can understand that, you know, I'm a , you know , I'm a believer, I'm a, you know , I was born again at a , you know , at a young age. So I think, so I can definitely understand that. But at the same time, like for young people, for young people, or if any, I'm not even going to say if , if individuals are interested in having sex, giving them, or if they're not interested in having sex, then telling them how to protect themselves, won't facilitate that. And that's just what the investors, what the data is is .

Valerie:

Yeah. That's a really good point . I've never , I've never thought about it from that perspective, but yeah, if they're not going to do it, they're not going to do it. It's not gonna , they're not gonna be like, Oh, that's how it's done. Okay.

Carly:

Yeah .

Jelani:

R ight, right, right.

Valerie:

N o, t hat's n ot g oing t o h appen. O kay.

Jelani:

Right, right. Yeah. C ause a lot of r easons where they are just kind of, when people, when some people make that decision, like a lot of levels a re for really like personal reasons that they feel strongly about. And so, you know, a teacher talking to somebody about how to protect themselves won't necessarily like give them to change their mind o r when they do decide that if they do get to the point where they decide, okay, I want to do this. Now they have the knowledge.

Valerie:

Right. Yeah. There's no student in that classroom who's like, I've been just waiting for this teacher to tell me about what a condom is. And now that I have this, especially like in the internet age, like now let me have this information, put this condom on this banana. It's going to happen. Right. Zero times I think.

Jelani:

Oh yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Let's see, what else? I think that , well, if we want to get into my research, I've this has started this, this might be like , this might be like starting with the point from where the, where it should end, but what I strongly believe that we need to reexamine drug policies right here. Not reexamine. Look, we need to stop this warranty. We need to legalize some stuff.

Valerie:

Okay. Yeah.

Jelani:

A lot of people w ere just going to jail for things that I'm not sure should be illegal. Specifically, y ou k now, specifically drug charges, for the development of the drug wars, y ou k now, not, you know. There, there h ave been a lot of arguments about his intent. Not even k now, even the, u m, even the history of it and how it's affected people of color, African Americans. A lot of it, I think that just plain old, just plain old getting rid of the prohibition on it would keep people from going to jail so often. And if we can keep more people, more black people in the community, there are far reaching to effects that m aking not only, not only address HIV in the community, but also, y ou k now, i mprove t hat in my, in my opinion, improve the wellbeing and the health of African Americans in this country in general.

Carly:

Absolutely.

Jelani:

So.

Valerie:

Could we delve a little bit into the intentionality of the war on drugs?

Jelani:

Okay. Sure, sure. So the history lesson for today. So in my, in the article there are you gather referencing is we talk about drug war , HIV inequities model. And I do, and I give a brief history about what's the drug war. How did they, you know, how did, how did it start and where did the cover ? And we know that there are some, we know there was messaging around drugs that began in the 20 , early 20th century, maybe even a little bit before that, or even before the early 20th century, but a lot of the focus on the war on drugs like rape. Or a lot of the messaging around drugs and , and how it's been. And , and the nature of that messaging in the of beginning of the earliest 20th century, it's a guy , um, Harry Anslinger , um, uh, you know, it was, you know , the government administrator tasked with, at one point he was tasked with helping to execute alcohol prohibition. So.

Valerie:

Very successful career. Legacy.

Jelani:

Right, right. So he's t asked w ith t his kind of at a point where the tide is kind of turning around how people think about how people think about alcohol. And so even here he a nswered, y ou k now, at one point he's kind of like, you know, listen, m arijuana i s n ot t hat really, really not that big of a deal. You know, we don't need to really p ull that w eight, but they in prohibition was repealed. T hat's a ll you g uy. So you have this guy who has a government agency really that serves no purpose.

Valerie:

Okay. That's interesting. His initial stance is marijuana, no big deal, but you know, I'm in charge of this agency, that's really focused on alcohol. So then his agency is shut down and he's got nothing to do.

Jelani:

Right, right, right. I mean, like, they , like , think about it this time. People like drugs or not really stigmatized drug use is not really stigmatized.

Valerie:

Oh yeah. There's like morphine use in the wake of world. Sorry of the civil war. There's like a lot of people , uh , yeah. I was doing a deep , uh , somewhat history, dive myself on the history of like, like opioid waves in the US cause this is like just, we're kind of in the latest, y ou k now, wave of opioid years. Add more in the past. Oh y eah. Like cocaine i n our Coca Cola.

Jelani:

Right, right, right. And, you know, in Housewives or just, you know, just taking , taking a little, hit a of opium just every now and again. You know, and it's really not a big deal, but , um, there is kind of a , like during this time there is kind of a growing sentiment culturally around drug use, but a lot of it is time, but a lot of the messaging around around drugs, especially promoted by Anslinger is this idea that the drug , the drug use has kind of racialized so marijuana. So the Mexicans are doing marijuana. And, you know, and the agents are promoting , are promoting opium and they're bringing it to where our neighbor and the black people are promoting heroin. And he really had this big thing with, by JS Singers and trying to break up the JS. Yeah . And so,

Valerie:

Okay. Yeah . I mean, someone who's really profoundly racist wants to take down JS.

Jelani:

Yeah . He's trying , he's trying to, he's trying to keep black people from, I mean, this is like a rudimentary explanation of it, but like on something like , he's just trying to keep black people and white people from, from interacting with each other, I think so a large extent to, to prevent miscegenation. And , and so , and so he, you know, he's just going after JS and in this JS court and trying to keep you from going to it because the black people are doing, you know, the white people are using and like, he, he, he really goes after Billy Holiday.

Valerie:

Yeah. Okay .

Jelani:

Yeah. So I read her autobiography and she, and even back then, she's talking, she's talking to me about why are we, why are we paying, analyzing in a legal sense? People who are using people who have addiction issues. Cause she , she went through these long periods of life . She went through these periods of like trying to quit, trying to quit and then, you know , and then, and then, you know, using again and like, no , Anthony was just at her, you know . Right, right. And so that's how we started thinking. That's how we start thinking about drugs in a racial sense. Okay. So then we get to, you know, so then we take this into the Nixon administration.

Valerie:

I'm so glad that you're leading the history lesson . Cause I, I was going to start us with Nixon. So this is, this is really great. Cause we went back like, you know, decades before when I cheated it. Yeah. Okay. So now we read Nixon , which is where a lot of people start with the war on drugs conversation .

Jelani:

Right, right. So

Valerie:

I'm glad we're talking to you.

Jelani:

Well, I'm happy to be talking to y'all too. So Nixon , Nixon, he he's actually the person who in the national center , a presidential politicians started saying like, we need to prosecute this war on drugs as public enemy number one. In reality, my , in the, in the cultural, in the cultural gestalt, nobody is really caring that much.

Valerie:

Oh really? Okay. So he's like stirring the pot?

Jelani:

Right? Right. I mean, it's a part of what politics is, I think, and I think some people are better at this than others is putting your issues out on the front line when, you know , prioritizing your issues within the national conversation because that's what gets legislated. Well, what drug use women necessarily in the national conference conversation like that ? Um, you know, according, according to the sources I've looked at. But , you know , but he does start talking about this war on drugs and he dedicates some resources to it. But you know , I'm not saying that what he does, what he did is benign, but his war on drugs, a lot of it is rhetorical. Yeah . A lot of it is, you know, a lot of it is just talking about it. It's not really until we get to the eighties to when we get the drug war that we know it , as we know it today out out , let me... And that's under Reagan. But let me back up about Nixon for one... Because there is, there is one thing there's a , there's a , um, he did have a staff member, somebody, a member of his cabinet come out and say, you know listen the reason we started talking to John or with me, the reason we started talking about drugs is because it's kind of a backlash to the Civil rights movement and to amp , towards giving the...into the, into the antiwar movement.

Valerie:

Right.

Jelani:

So kind of says, listen, we can't make it illegal for you to be against the Vietnam war or to be Black. But since some people , but now since we think that, you know, some of the protestors and quote unquote hippies are using marijuana and you know, and so, you know , we think black people are using drugs too. We'll just incar...we'll just incarcerate them. We can't make a deal. We can't make being Black or being anti-war legal , but we can make drugs. And yeah . And that's kind of the impetus or from his perspective, that's the impetus for that to be fair. There have been other people from his cabinet who said , no, that's not the case, but Betty is out there. We have to, and we have to be a whip , you know , we do have to deal with it. Right.

Valerie:

Yeah. It's definitely gotten some attention of late. Like I remember, I mean... As I, as I dig throuh, that's what often comes up as you like dig through that. Um, you know, some of the reporting on it is, and that's why, you know, and I think we're on drugs. My mind goes to Nixon because I think of those quotes. So it's interesting to hear, you know, what was going on earlier and then also to think like, Oh, it was largely, largely rhetorical until the eighties when we get some of these policies that you've written about, you know, in some of your work and how just how super damaging they are .

Jelani:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and it's also worth noting that this shows us where we can make, we can make the argument that the drug war is racist in intent. And, and here's the, you know , here's the data to kind of show it. Yeah .

Valerie:

Yeah. That's interesting too, because , um, I was doing some thinking for I had to prep something lately where I had to talk through the purpose of stigma and, you know, one of the purposes of stigma, especially for racism is to oppress, right. And so if the drug war is a structural manifestation of racism, essentially, then it's doing a really good job oppressing. So it's not, you know, stigma serves a function and often , you know, it kind of varies more or less sometimes I think with like how purposeful people are and , you know, having the, in enacting those functions, like, you know, the function of stigma with something like HIV or COVID is like, you know, to keep people away. It's like this disgust reaction. Well , that might be like, you know, less purposeful, but this struggle where, I mean, that's really on purpose. That's like a purposeful oppression example

Jelani:

Yeah , yeah, yeah. I think so. And just as we've, as we've gone through now this time through democratic and republican, republican administrations , um, but we've just seen this thing continuously be prosecuted , um, like mass incarceration begins in the eighties, and it escalates up until today. Allow this because of, you know, drug changes in drug policy at the federal and state level. You know, and just these get tough on crime policies. Now they have been again supported by presidents and, and Congress members in both parties. So, you know, it's , it's just been a lot of, you know, there's just been a lot of, a lot of politicians coming up and working and just trying to one up each other, who's going to be tough on crime. Who's going to be tougher on drugs, to the point where, you know , to the point where we, when we start thinking about it, or at least when I started thinking about it like this , this makes sense. Why are we dealing with addiction using, using the criminal justice apparatus, right .

Valerie:

We don't do it for cancer patients for not like, Oh, you have cancer, let's get you to jail, you know?

Jelani:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, like calling, I mean, like you think police officers to process to try to deal with addiction, just, it makes, it makes me it's outside of the perfect , right . That's like me calling a doctor if I hear somebody beating a woman in the apartment. Like, what is he gonna do?

Valerie:

Let me grab my stethoscope. I'm on my way.

Jelani:

I don't know. I don't know . I mean, it just makes no sense. It doesn't make total sense. So , yeah. So, you know, so I'm just hoping that at some point we can like just kind of get to the point where we can at least marijuana legalize marijuana. And for people who have different addiction , different types of addictions, especially some of the harder drugs that we can really like buttress our treatment , um, apparatus as well, because remember during this time where there were mass incarceration is going up and we're putting more money into prisons and law enforcement, they're , they're cutting money from social services.

Valerie:

Right. Yeah. That's where it's coming from. Yeah.

Jelani:

Right. So , I mean, it's , it's just odd. Like you're , you're going to like , like you lock people up for addiction, but then you take away the thing that's going to help them get off their addiction. And so, you know, so there's, there's just all of this. And then when we, and then what as it relates to HIV specifically, like there are a few ways that this makes Black communities more vulnerable to HIV. One of the first things that we talked, one of the first things is that know just what happens when people are over policed and they're giving longer sentences for similar crimes, more serious charges. You know, when you do that, you extract just a lot of, you extract a lot of black men out of , out of the community. And, you know , that can know that can do some peculiar things too , like sexual networking dynamics.

Valerie:

That's like a really light way to say that. When you take out all the men and you put them in, in prison that just, you know, does some strange things to how people are having sex with each other. Okay . So what does it do?

Jelani:

So, so the way to talk about this is like, there are just not enough man to go around after you, after you take so many of them out of any, out of any community. Okay. And if you take away so many that first of all, that disrupts a lot of monogamous relationships. And monogamy does help undermine HIV.

Valerie:

Absolutely.

Jelani:

So you're breaking, so you're breaking up these relationships. And I think this would happen just in any community. L ike if there are like large numbers of women, you have a lot of heterosexual men. This can be in any community. Some people may take advantage of i t.

Valerie:

Yeah. It's just been , I'm a social psychologist, there's the power of the situation at play.

Jelani:

Right, right. And there that can , um, you know, some people may, some people may do that.

Valerie:

You have some people having sex with multiple partners because...

Jelani:

Yeah . Right now. Yeah . So you may have, we call it sexual concurrency.

Valerie:

R ight.

Jelani:

So that's all t hat, y ou k now, a nd that's a, b ut the literature on this is a bit mixed. So like, so I've seen some articles that kind of say, well, you know, sexual concurrent sexual concurrency is a really good way to spread a spread, any disease, any sexually transmitted disease earlier, faster and more, more prominently within a community. A nd n ow o bviously i n one or two studies that are kind of like, well, you know, the e ffects of that m ay b e, you know, maybe a little bit may not be as high as we think, but, but you know, that it is something that, y ou k now, we need to look at. Okay. So you may have more sexual concurrency. Sometimes, u m, again, can happen i n any community and just take me out of it, but there's like, well, what does that mean for like, u h, for like, for women's ability to like s ay, to engage in sexual negotiation, from a p osition, from a position of power. From a position of a greater power, y ou k now? So, s o, so that's one thing for people who are living with i t, t hat's one, that's one way that it can make communities more vulnerable to HIV. Another way is that if y ou're, if you put a lot of people in a prison. Like when they get out, the way our society is structured, we are people who are, u h, people who are, who have a history of incarceration. U m, t hey're kind of, the penalties for remain after you get out. So, so there are l ess access to jobs. There are less access to social provisions, things like housing a nd things like, b ut all of these things you just need to eat and be healthy, eat l ive, have a place to stay, be healthy. U m, and you put people with, and you put people at greater risk for poverty when you do that. And there is a, there is a very strong relationship between poverty and HIV. There's a r elationship. There's a strong relationship between poverty and like any disease, but we're placing more people i n poverty. And access to h ealth c are can be a little... They don't care. It can be t empered in that situation. If you undermine people's access to h ealthcare. Well, one of the main, one of the main things that's really helping to drive HIV rates down right now is the strategy of trying to test people early, g et them promptly, treated a nd promptly into care and, and making sure people are engaged in care, m onitored, a nd care, and are given access to antiretrovirals, which are drugs that help address HIV. And the drugs and the medications have gotten a lot better over time. U m, more effective. And to the point t o where viral suppression can be so low to the point where you, where transmission is g oing t o go down.

Valerie:

Right.

Jelani:

Well, if people are having trouble accessing healthcare, and most people get h ealthcare from their jobs... is g oing t o prevent them from getting t here. Now maybe they can, maybe they can access around white, b ut we s till need to buttress like this.

Valerie:

Red and white is like some extra support , funding to help get people connected into care. But yeah, I mean, you still have all of these hoops, you know, often that you need to navigate. And there , there are organizations out there that really, I mean, one of the primary things that they do is just like help people figure out how to like access , um, services through Ryan White and things like that. So it's not, it takes a good amount of, you know, what we might call like health literacy or understanding of how to get through the system to access all of that. So, yeah, I mean, circling back to what you were saying earlier, if we had universal health care then anyone could just access their HIV meds. And you know what you're saying, essentially, like if you take your HIV medication, it essentially like keeps the virus, the virus circulating in your blood so low that it's undetectable. And if it's so low that it's undetectable when you run a test, then it's like, it's really hard. Some would say you're just not going to pass it on to other people.

Jelani:

Right. Right. Right. And so , I mean , so though , so those are just a couple of the, to where our drug policy has this reverberating effect through Black communities. It makes people more, more vulnerable to HIV. You know, some through in some of these are through pathways or behavior and some of the beads are just in pathways with access to care and , you know, and the stress and the social and the stress , stress and the stigma and social marginalization of maybe not only being HIV positive, but also being , but also having a history of incarceration. Which, for which, for some reason, people who are living with HIV , are more likely to be incarcerated. Not quite, not quite sure why, but there is this relationship between those, you know, between those two just mere incarceration and HIV.

Valerie:

Like a , you know, there's a lot of attention right now to intersectional intersectional stigma. So living with, you know , multiple characteristics, maybe that might be stigmatized or oppressed in some sort of way. And this just strikes me as like a really heavy stigma storm when you add , you know, that racism that people experience and then stigma associated maybe with substance use, depending on the substance that they're using. And then like when you add in incarceration and then HIV. I mean, that's such a pronounced stigma storm. I mean, what does di, have you, do you talk to people about their experiences of stigma, sort of at the intersection of all of those things? Do have you done work there? Or a lot of, it sounds like what you're talking about is really though, like structural issues that people face. Is that mostly what you focus on?

Jelani:

Yeah. Yeah. Um, so we do, so I have a , um, well , she's not my student, but she's working on , her dissertation is on that topic. Yeah . Especially I see the , she , the she's a social worker in the School of Global Public Health and she's worked on some efforts.

Valerie:

So is she going to call it the stigma storm. Is that the name of her dissertation?

Jelani:

Well, I'mma call her up and I'm gonna tell her by the way. Valerie says...

Valerie:

As a committee member or... Alright, sorry. I didn't mean to cut you off. So continue. So you have somebody work focusing on that a little bit.

Jelani:

Yeah. Yeah. Right. And so that's, that's being met there . That information is being analyzed right now. So we're hoping to know more and I can give you a more robust answer. But yeah . But yeah, well , I do think that the, the, the nature of stigma, especially stigma around HIV just overlaps with other types of stigmas as well. You know, is, like you cannot, it hard to disentangle , um, the stigma around HIV with the stigma around sexual and gender minorities, but you just can't really, you can't really disentangle that. But I'm hoping that we can bring attention to recognizing that for as a considerable subgroup of people who are living with HIV, you can't disentangle , um, that , uh, that stigma, the stigma around like having a history of incarceration as well. I did some , I did this, a smaller study have had about 30 people in it. You know , and this is a , a study like that is usually used to like step up to inform, to like help scale up for a bigger study. So it helps people recognize, Hey, there may be something here let's do something bigger or let's fund something bigger where that can be recognized. And then that's like, there was a , uh , dailies, I think , these correlations, or they just to see if there were relationships between stigma, around being a stigma around living with HIV. And stigma around , um , having a history of incarceration. So with a small study, it looks like there is, it looks like there is an association between the two.

Valerie:

So if I experience more of one then I also experienced more of the other?

Jelani:

Not necessarily that, but just that , they're the relationship that if you put these two together, they're kind of , they can kind of work in tandem.

Valerie:

Got it. Okay .

Jelani:

Yeah. So, and, and w eather and the ways in which t hey means we're still, we're still g oing t o have to figure out, I think t he, I think the K award c an, even though the K award with HIV, negative people or people w ho don't have their HIV status confirmed positive may get, u h, I think that'd be an interesting question to explore there.

Valerie:

Yeah. So the K award is a big deal. It just came, that also came through this summer. So you're having a big summer, right? The K award is a big act . It's pretty big research grant in that and, and can still say facilitate some training, which is great. Cause as we talked about earlier, we're like always training , but it'll protect, you know, most of your time to engage in your scholarship over the next couple of years. So , we'd love to hear more about that and what you're , what you're doing and what you're focusing on within that project.

Jelani:

Okay. Well , so the K award focuses on, or the research arm of the K focuses on people who have a history of incarceration and HIV testing behavior and how that relates to various types of stigma. African Americans, 18 to 24 year old , 18 to 24 years old. Why, why that age group? Because that's a year where a lot of people enter into corrections or are put under correctional control, but it's also a time where , we're seeing a lot, we're seeing people contract HIV. So , um , and so for the reasons I explained earlier in the podcast, I think it's important to look at who look at HIV testing behavior for people after they get out. So that we've established that this is a group that may be at elevated vulnerability. So if so, what is, what are some of the things that are going to inform their participation in the, in the continuum of care, getting tested for HIV? And if they're positive going, going on to , see a doctor and, and get, and take their prescriptions. And so we're looking at that . We're also looking at people's attitudes towards the courts and people's attitudes towards in their interactions with the police.

Valerie:

Oh, that's interesting. What do you, what are you thinking, your , do you have any hypotheses about what you think you're going to find, or is it more exploratory?

Jelani:

It's more exploratory, it's more exploratory. I wouldn't be surprised if we found that people have a negative people have a negative view, especially given . Right. Right. I mean, I think we can safely say that during this moment where we're seeing a lot of African American individuals, a lot of Black individuals who have been subject to, you know , what has been described as police brutality. Prescription bait , you know , I think is , I think it's fair. Um,

Valerie:

I mean it's caught on camera. It looks brutal.

Jelani:

Right, right. Yeah. It's all right . So forth . Researchers tend to temper their words.

Valerie:

Yeah . Like this whole conversation, like, you're just... One of the things I've been thinking about lately is that in getting tenure, I'm like, I feel like I'm , I've gotten very good at like playing the game. You know what I mean? Like, you know, the rules of the game, you know, you like, so I can, you know, I can hear, you know, your ear , a lot of your, like your scientist coming out and like, you know, maybe it's brutal. Some evidence suggests it could be brutal.

Jelani:

Right . Right . Yeah. I mean, that's how we were trained to talk. Yeah. Yeah. Because it's like, here's the science, but we can't really know for sure. We're 99% sure. But we have to leave at 1%. So we'd say, so we temper out language a little bit, whereas, and I don't know, in terms of really seeing and part of the really advocating for policies that we in changes that we want to see. I , I don't know if that's always a good thing because like, in terms of the messaging, I think most people understand, like this is proven , this is police brutality.

Valerie:

Right.

Jelani:

When, when you add a bunch of extra words to it and that really, it kind of keeps it from you kind of filters the message or doubles the message. So the opinion of joining me that a lot of these things are police brutality or these things are police brutality. And, and remember I'm in Louisville. So, you know, Breonna Taylor we had. Yeah. And so now we're collecting, we're collecting data here and, you know, that's, that's happened. A woman was, you know, a woman was invaded and , and police came to the wrong house and shatter she's dead. And there's been no real, in my opinion, nobody's really like where there's been there haven't been any type of accountability that I would like to see, nor am I confident that they'll happen.

Valerie:

Right.

Jelani:

Right. Which brings me to another case, which brings me to another, another point. And I hope I'm not talking too much, but you'll stop me. Right. Which brings me to another point that we're doing a lot, you know, we've been screaming about this for years, you know, for years, like we , I grew up with like , just an, just an idea of, you know, I'm going to have to be a little more wary about the police than other people. You know, and , another side, I'm not quite sure how we got to the point where people think that protesting police brutality is the same thing as protesting police, but just don't .

Valerie:

Yeah, no, that's a really good point. Yeah. It's totally different. Those are two . Yeah.

Jelani:

Right, right. And I'm , and I'm not , and I don't think that , and I think there are dishonest actors who are promoting that, who are promoting that narrative, but for their own, for their own means, but you know, such as the such as the history. But I think that, you know, I'm always had I've always had, I always had the kind of thing, like, alright , you know, like you, you gotta call them things. You gotta call them things go wrong. There's nothing wrong with that, but I, interactions are not always positive. And yeah . And it does . Yeah . Getting back to the research.

Valerie:

Here's the interesting thing, you know, because like, I think that we're scientists and we're people, right. Those two experiences are really intertwined. And I think that , um, you know, our experiences as people can be a real strength for our, you know , perspectives as scientists. And so I think like one of the things I'm hoping to do more like, you know, with tenure is to like bring more of all of myself to science. And, but I do think that there's like there for some people there's, there's some pushback about that. Like, it makes us less objective if we bring our experiences to it. Like, I, I also, I think that that is like a critique of it, but I don't know that anyone has ever told like a white man. Like if you have, you, have you bring your perspective to this, like you're not being objective. Like I think that that like is more targeted towards certain people. But anyway, I think that those, I think it's hard, maybe impossible to separate that. And I think all we can do is be honest in our science, you know, which is actually something that we learned from Sam Friedman earlier this summer on another episode. He's like scientific objectivity might be bullshit. He said, be honest with our, you know, with our endeavor, but I'm not sure that I would say it's that it's bullshit. But I do think that we're as scientists , we're full people and we get, you know, we bring everything to the plate, so.

Jelani:

Okay. Okay, cool . Well , yeah , I would agree with it. But, but yeah. It's yeah, I agree with that. So, okay. I'll talk about the police thing a little more then. Um, so yeah, just so you know, I think I like a lot of African American men. There's just been a lot of suspicion and when you're growing up and some of the, some of the experiences that you have can validate that don't get me wrong. I have positive experiences with police and just you know met some really cool people, you know, have friends over , you know, whatever. But , well, what the , you know , I'd be lying if I said that , you know, they've all been positive. Can I be lying if I say, I didn't think there was some things that were race based. I think I've been in an environment where liker , like where harassment of Black people for it has been used as a cottage industry for, as a revenue stream for attack. And, you know, and it's like, if you're like my , my friend, I don't know why, you know what I'm saying? Like, we're sitting here literally on our property doing nothing and you know, so why , why are we even talking? I have business here. Why aren't we talking? Why are we interacting? But this is why I actually live here. And what are you not ? And what are you doing? I didn't call you. Who's asking you to come here? Anyway then . And so , you know, and you know , I have friends who, you know, suffer police brutality , um, family members, you know, just really awful stuff. It's so sad. You know, I mean like actual physical police brutality.

Valerie:

Oh wow. Yeah.

Jelani:

Yeah, yeah. And you know, we've , we've been here and I'm seeing, you know , I'm seeing just the use of force , um, for, on our people. I'm like, Hmm . That's like , why, why don't get me wrong? I do recognize that people have like , people have jobs end there and there's danger in it. And I do recognize that there has been driven, but I think that a lot of the ways that people are being... a lot of the ways that people are being trained, they're not like this isn't a problem of bad apples, right? This isn't a problem with bad apples. The people are actually trained. I think people are actually trained to be more aggressive than they need, you know, then they need to be. And so like if people were being trained in a way that is obviously costly for communities, then can we really blame them? Or can you blame the fact that they're getting so much training across the camp that we've institutionalized training across the country, our port , like this is a system wide problem. This isn't a problem with bad apples. It's just a lot. This is a wide problem. We go after, but there's a lot of proactive policing in areas where it's not warranted. Right. So Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book, in his book, "Talking to Strangers" and he really makes this really interesting point in that like his , the police officer's interaction with Sandra Bland. Yeah . He may have been a little more aggressive than he needed to be, but this is what he's trained to do this in a way that police officers are across the country are trained to do this. And even, and even if you have, even if you have people who are a little more, who are more reasonable in their execution of how they do, and I met them, I've met people who have been very reasonable in their execution. They're still, they're still the fake bads. People are trained in a way that really, that is appropriate in some instances, but not appropriate in others.

Valerie:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Jelani:

Yeah. And I think, and I think the, I think the breadth of the situations where things may be inappropriate or it's just too large,

Valerie:

If it was a couple bad apples, we wouldn't see a pattern of effects, you know? I mean, there's like, there's just a pattern of things happening and you know, there's starting to be better research on, right? Like, you know, even just taking the, what is that the need of the neck thing that strangles people to death? Like if you don't, you know, that's just like one a, that's like a systemic systemic thing. Like people are taught to do that. And then they do that. And then people, people die. I mean, so don't teach people to do that. It's just like one, maybe a million examples, but that's a, it is, it's a training thing. It's culture thing. It's like, that's, that's not a bad apple thing so much as a way we've people have learned how to do things.

Jelani:

Yeah. Yeah. So , so it just makes no sense. Again, another one of those things that I just think makes no sense. Okay. Sorry . So where are we? I forgot what we are...

Valerie:

Well, we were asking you a little bit about your K award, maybe for an a , if we're thinking a little bit about positionality, maybe I'll, I'll ask you, you know, what is it like for you as an African American man to who's had these experiences with the criminal justice system and who has had, you know, family members affected by HIV and all of this, how is it like for you to, to do this type of research?

Jelani:

So let me clarify. Not necessarily family members, but like good friends were like good friends, but like real life friends.

Valerie:

O kay.

Jelani:

Well. Well. I don't want t o say good friends, b ut friends. Y ou k now, f olks who I've met t hrough m et through the course of my work and you know, just living, y ou know. But what we, u m, so how does m y, how d id my position a s a n African American man informed it?

Valerie:

Yeah. Just what is it like? Is it like, does it feel really invigorating to do this research ? Like, do you feel like, yes, I'm doing it. Do you feel exhausted and tired by it? Like, like he can't turn off. I have a lot of feelings about doing sexism research, for example, it like bums me out. I'll be tired.

Jelani:

Yeah. I'm kind of, I'm actually kind of energized about it because it's , it's like , I feel like I'm in some small way, finding something that I think is wrong. In some small way, I think that is like , this is, this is a big elephant. My piece, my small piece is to tackle this part of it now. And hopefully it can be meaningful. Cause some people in some respects, hopefully we can save lives on a larger, on a larger level. So for the most part, it is energizing. So you know, when you're behind your computer at one o'clock in the morning doing it and you know, your wife would look at me like, what are you doing? I mean, that's why it's still energizing, but it's still, you know , for that being said, it can still be pretty... I mean, it's like , this is painful to see , yeah . This is painful to see. These are literally issues of life and death and it's , it's just painful to see.

Valerie:

Yeah, it is.

Jelani:

I mean, there was research on this where this is like passively traumatizing.

Valerie:

Okay.

Carly:

Absolutely.

Valerie:

Yeah, absolutely. We're glad that you're doing the work because I don't think it is a small way. I , I, I mean, I'm in the field because I think that there is , uh , you know, there's definitely power and understanding, you know? I mean, it takes it from a place of like, you know, people say that this is how it works, but you know, they're making that up. Like it takes it out of that sort of like gray zone and into like, no, this, this is how it works. And if you, if you can show that this is how these things work, then that gives power to change it. You know, that gives an evidence base to create better policies to do better things. I mean, it gives more attention to these issues. So I think it's a big monster way to do it. I think it's fantastic. So maybe I'm biased cause I'm, you know, I'm in the trenches here with you doing the same thing. And so I'm trying to find meaning at all, but...

Jelani:

Y eah, I'm glad you're here. You're doing really important work.

Valerie:

I think we both are. Yeah . I think we're glad to be in the trenches. I was just going to say, is there anything else that we didn't ask you about that we should have, or did we, did we cover a good amount of ground?

Jelani:

I think we covered some good ground. I feel like I have to put this disclaimer. Okay. All police officers are not bad . I don't want it to get misconstrued with positive interactions, but like we definitely there definitely have a system wide problem. And what is our grief ? You know what scandal is about this isn't just what has some individual actors have done, but just the way the system operates, like this is awful, this is a prison .

Carly:

Absolutely.

Valerie:

We're going to underline and bold that in our transcript.

Jelani:

Okay. I'm so happy to be here.

Valerie:

So in this episode, Jelani mentioned Breonna Taylor, because you know, in part, because she was from Louisville. So inspired by the Say Her Name movement, we wanted to dedicate this rap to Breonna.

Carly:

Yeah. So to tell you guys a little bit more about Breonna Taylor, she was a 26 year old EMT who was killed when police officers executing a no knock warrant in the middle of the night, killed her in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, Breonna was known to her friends and family as someone who loved playing board games, phase 10 and skip over her favorites. She loved being with her family when she wasn't working tirelessly as an EMT, working to help others in our community. And then on June 5th, what would have been Breonna Taylor's 27th birthday, many people use the hashtag say her name to remember her and to raise awareness about her case to Say Her Name movement also brings awareness to other Black women who similar stories may not have garnered as much national attention.

Valerie:

So I was digging around in the peer reviewed academic literature, as I often do when I'm trying to, you know , understand something further. And I found this really amazing article by Michelle Jacobs. It was written in 2017 and it's titled "The Violent State Black Women's Invisible Struggle Against Police Violence". My original plan was just to read you the full 67 pages of the article, but Carly told me that we might not have enough space on Sprout to host all.

Carly:

Right. That was the only reason, but yes,

Valerie:

Yeah, that's he only reason. But I thought maybe what we could do is talk through some of the things in this article that really stuck out to me.

Carly:

Yeah. Which there were a lot of them.

Valerie:

So many. Yeah. Okay. So the first thing is just a quote from Dr. Jacobs. I mean she says "Black women are subjected to every type of law enforcement violence imaginable. The most severe violence causes death, but Black women are routinely brutalized by the violence or by the police in ways that do not cause death,". So that to me was really striking because you know, we're talking about Breonna Taylor and there's a lot of conversation around, we don't talk enough about women who have been killed by police. And that's like at one end of the spectrum. So just this idea that there is this routine brutalization that's happening all the time that we're not really talking about was really alarming to know , to think about. So she then goes on to say that the relationship between Black women and the state was birthed in violence. I was just like, what a quote.

Carly:

Right.

Valerie:

Yeah. Birthed in violence. I thought that was really amazing. So she took a historical view to understand stereotypes that promote violence towards Black women and or shape, how react to black women who are experiencing violence. And she focused in on three stereotypes, which I thought were really interesting. So the first is that Black women are promiscuous and are of low moral character. So again, this is a stereotype. So this stereotype promotes the belief that Black women are responsible for being raped. They're responsible for being sexually assaulted. This sort of like she asked for it mentality. So that was the first one. The second one, the second stereotype was that Black women are liars. So , uh , they're not credible when they do report that they have been victimized. So that , so they're not, you know , right . They're not credible. They're not believed because they're liars. Sorry. Even talking about this makes me feel queasy. Like reading the stereotypes is , is these are awful awful stereotypes.

Carly:

Y eah.

Valerie:

Okay. And then the third was Black women as manlike and overly aggressive. So basically I think the idea here is that , um, with these, that Black women are used to violence, so it's not as harmful to her or to them. So basically it's like a tool for taking away empathy. And I was really struck by how together these stereotypes to serve, to blame Black women for their own victimization and then to go on to dehumanize their experiences of pain so that, you know, generally society doesn't need to take it seriously.

Carly:

Right.

Valerie:

So it's just like, all of these working in concert are dangerous and terrible and awful and yeah.

Carly:

Absolutely.

Valerie:

So the brilliant Dr. J acobs then goes on to discuss different ways that Black women experience violence from the police. So she of course gets into murder and she discusses killings from police officers a t length. But then she starts digging into sexual assaults and violence from police officers. And this is, this was really hard to read. So she spotlighted a case of Daniel Holtzclaw, who was an Oklahoma police officer who was convicted in 2016 of raping 13 women on duty. So this all happened just in a six month span i n 2014. And apparently he targeted women who he thought would be vulnerable. And he told them that no one would believe him because he's a police officer. And if we c ircle back to the stereotypes of Black women, like it fits right in there, right. Like black women as promiscuous and o f low moral character. So that's why they are rape-apable in his mind. Right. And then Black women as liars. So he's telling them like, well, if you go to the police, like if you tell anyone you're not g oing t o be believed.

Carly:

Right.

Valerie:

Because people think you're liars.

Carly:

Y eah.

Valerie:

And so then she pepper, you know, she peppers through all of these other examples just to really drive home like this isn't an anomaly. This wasn't like a , a one bad apple scene with killings that we're seeing that this is, this is a systemic issue.

Carly:

Exactly.

Valerie:

It was really concerning to me, Carly, like when she was ranting about the Daniel Holtzclaw case, she was like, this got lots of attention and really brought the issue to light. This was in 2016 and I'm embarrassed. I didn't know about it. Did you? I mean...

Carly:

Yeah. You know, I, I do remember, I think it passed through, you know, maybe one of my Reddit news pages, but , I, you know , wouldn't have been able to pull that from memory without being reminded of it right now, but what's crazier to me is that, you know, all of this, all of his charges happened in the six months span in 2014. And at that point, you know, he'd been on the force for a little bit that like, to me, I just wonder, you know, how, how deep does it run with that person let alone, like you're saying, you know, it's a whole systemic thing. It's, this is not something that just happened once. And that's why, you know, she's writing about it. It's like, this is, this is a problem. And this is what, you know, the reality is for Black women and the legal system in general in this country.

Valerie:

Yeah. It feels to me like we're getting a little bit of light on this issue with Breonna Taylor. Um, but it just feels like an iceberg to me. Like, it feels like these couple of killings at the top or like these, these sexual assaults and these rapes that we know of about.

Carly:

R ight.

Valerie:

A re floating above the water, but it just feels like what's under the water. It could sink the Titanic. I mean.

Carly:

Y eah.

Valerie:

It feels really large.

Carly:

Right.

Valerie:

You know, and I think that the only, the only bright spot in this maybe for me is , is that we have Jelani on our team. Right?

Carly:

Absolutely .

Valerie:

We have...Yeah. People like Jelani, who is focused on these issues. Who is , thinking deeply about the criminal justice system, about its intersections with racism and stigma and issues of health equity. And you know, that he has other scholars as well, who are doing this type of research, including this brilliant Michelle Jacobs, that we were really excited to, you know, read more of her work. So, so hopefully, you know, science is like always the solution to me. So I'm hopeful that with Jelani on our team and with some of these others scientists on our team, that we can make some progress in this direction and light up the icebergs so that we can all see how big it really is.

Carly:

Me too . Yeah.

Valerie:

Thanks to the Stigma and Health Inequities Lab at the University of Delaware, including McKenzie Sarnak and Saray Lopez. This episode was researched by Kristina Holsapple and Alyssa Leung. And the episode was edited by Kristina Holsapple.

Carly:

Thanks to City Girl for the music f or the podcast. And you guys can follow us on Instagram a t Sex Drugs Science for updates, or if you have any comments, questions, or concerns, you can email us at [email protected] That's sex drugs, the letter N science at gmail.com.

Valerie:

Thanks to all of you for listening.