Healing, from an Afrocentric perspective, is the effort to maintain a state of balance between physical, mental, social, and spiritual aspects of reality. My question is, where do the politics of herb fit? Today several states in the U.S. allow both recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, including: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Even more, allow medicinal use of marijuana. What role does marijuana use play in the healing of Black men from racism? A new 2017 study investigated the relationship between the experience of discrimination and marijuana use among adult Black men (Parker, Benjamin, Archibald & Thorpe, 2017). Why? Because Black males report experiencing more chronic and acute racial discrimination throughout their lives than Black women (Parker, Benjamin, Archibald & Thorpe, 2017). Moreover, they have begun to have their first experiences with marijuana smoking earlier in life. The researchers used survey data from 1,271 Black men who participated in the National Survey of American Life (NSAL) from 2009.
Black male participants reported how often they smoked marijuana. To make the survey more interesting, the researchers measured two kinds of experiences with racism: everyday racism and major racism. Everyday Racism was measured by having the men complete the Everyday Discrimination Scale, which asked the men about a) being treated with less courtesy than others; b) being treated with less respect than others; c) receiving poorer services than others; d) being treated as if they are not smart by others; e) others being afraid of them; f) being perceived as dishonest by others; g) people acting like they were better than them; h) denied a loan; i) feeling threatened or harassed; j) being followed in stores more than others.
The researchers measured Major Racism by having the men answer questions about whether they were ever unfairly a) fired; b) not hired; c) denied promotion; d) treated/abused by the police; e) discouraged from continuing education; f) prevented from moving into a neighborhood; g) neighbors made life difficult; h) denied a loan; i) received poor service from a repairman.
The results showed that experiencing everyday racism was not associated with marijuana use. However, major discrimination was associated with marijuana use. The more the men experienced major discrimination the more they reported smoking marijuana. The men who reported smoking marijuana the most (every day in the last 12 months), had a decreased risk of experiencing major discrimination. But what does this mean? According to the authors, everyday discrimination is commonly related to increased marijuana use among non-Black ethnic groups. However, it may be that because Black men have more experienced with discrimination, they have become accustomed to these experiences and are not as affected. The authors explain that major discrimination was probably associated with increased marijuana use among Black men because it has a major effect on their livelihoods, their abilities to be providers, and their connectedness to society’s institutions. The authors argue that smoking marijuana may have been a way of escaping or alleviating the negative emotions associated with major discrimination.
One finding that almost goes unaddressed in this study is the fact that men who reported smoking marijuana the most (every day in the last 12 months), had a decreased risk of experiencing major discrimination. Perhaps, future research might explore why. Nevertheless, there are a range of possible reasons, including social withdrawal from institutions where major racism may occur to a change of perspective or outlook. The study also does not consider competing explanations for the relationship between major discrimination and marijuana use, like a rejection of social norms that make both discrimination and the rejection of marijuana normal. Although the researchers, Parker, Benjamin, Archibald & Thorpe (2017), suggest that the marijuana is used to escape or alleviate the negative emotions due to discrimination, could marijuana facilitate much more though? After all, no human behavior is inherently deviant, it only acquires that label in relation to a set of social norms. But whose norms? More and more today, marijuana is being seen as a treatment and less a form of deviance. However, people of African descent have recognized the healing properties of many herbs long before this more recent revolution in “established western medicine”. The healing traditions of many African ethnic groups included those who were herbalists and made use of mixtures of stems, seeds, roots, and leaves instilled with spiritual power for the purpose of restoring balance and harmony (Osanyin among the Yoruba and Inyanga among the Zulu). During slavery, Black people in the South regularly went to conjurers and root-workers who provided them with health services grounded in the use of spiritual power and herbal treatment (Savitt, 1987). Given that informal group healing making use of marijuana is not uncommon, what role might it play in formal healing interventions. People find different ways of making sense of racist experiences and dealing with the stress that may come from those experiences. Utsey, Adams & Bolden (2000) define Africultrual coping as “as an effort to maintain a sense of harmony and balance within the physical, metaphysical, collective/communal, and spiritual/psychological realms of existence” (p.197).
There are four primary components of Africultural coping: cognitive/emotional debriefing is an adaptive reaction that African Americans use to manage perceived environmental stress, such as discussing a racist co-worker with a supervisor, seeking out someone who might make one laugh and holding out hope that things will get better; spiritual-centered coping methods, like praying, represent African Americans sense of connection to spiritual aspects of the universe; collective coping, grounded in a collectivist value system, is the use of group-centered activities to manage perceived racial stress, like getting a group of family or friends together to discuss; ritual-centered coping involves the use of rituals such as acknowledging the role that ancestors play in life, celebrating events, and honoring religious or spiritual deities. Ritual-centered coping might also involve playing music or lighting candles. Constantine, Donnelly & Myers (2002) found that the more African American adolescents believed that their cultural group was a significant part of their self-concept, the more they were likely to use coping methods such as collective and spiritual-centered coping to deal with stress. What role does spirituality play in Black males use of marijuana? It is important that future research examines how effective integrating marijuana into formal healing interventions for Black males might be.
Constantine, M. , Donnelly, P. , & Myers, L. (2002). Collective self-esteem and africultural coping styles in African American adolescents. Journal of Black Studies, 32(6), 698-710.
Parker, L. , Benjamin, T. , Archibald, P. , & Thorpe, R. (2017). The association between marijuana usage and discrimination among adult black men. American Journal of Men's Health, 11(2), 435-442.
Utsey, S. , Adams, E. , & Bolden, M. (2000). Development and initial validation of the
africultural coping system inventory. Journal of Black Psychology, 26(2), 194.