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A Review Essay “In Search of Respect” and “Dorm Room”


The “war against illicit drugs in the United States has led to more questions than answers” (Hendricks and Wilson 2). Contreras believes strongly that “the war has led to numerous inequalities among different racial groups in the country” (24). The law enforcement practices and criminal systems have been targeting specific minority groups such as the African Americans. However, the agreeable fact is that drug use takes place across all races in America. Similar arguments are presented in the books “In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio” by Philippe Bourgois and “Dorm Room: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class” by Rafik Mohamed and Erik Fristvold. This essay will therefore offer a detailed review of these books. The review will identify the common racial stereotypes that have existed in the United States regarding the issue of drug dealing.

Review of the Two Books

These books examine the same problem from two different perspectives. The United States happens to be one of the most diverse sovereign states across the globe. This kind of diversity has been “both a blessing and a curse” (Contreras 48). The concept of diversity has led to new legal, social, and economic systems that target the country’s racial groups differently. The problem of drug abuse continues to affect the welfare of the nation. The government came up with new efforts to control the use of various illicit drugs (Bourgois 27). The war against drug has therefore led to new problems instead of supporting every person in the country.

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The book “In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio” begins by examining the struggles and challenges faced by many people living in El Barrio. This is an inner-city region occupied by poor and underprivileged minorities. The author argues clearly that many minority groups have encountered numerous challenges in the country. For instance, many African Americans have been disenfranchised, abused, and ignored for very many years. This minority group has also been affected by poverty and racism (Bourgois 43). Such developments have made it impossible for them to realize most of their economic and social groups.

The past histories and misfortunes encountered by these people have forced them to become violent. They have focused on new ways to support their social and economic needs. However, a small number of such individuals are usually violent and engage in unlawful acts. This issue has resulted in numerous ethical and legal concerns. The surrounding environments have been characterized by violent behaviors and criminal acts. Such problems are usually caused by the existing improper social systems (Contreras 83). The prevailing conditions have encouraged both minorities and majorities in the country to engage in this lucrative trade.

The text goes further to explain how the government has failed to improve the country’s social structures. Such structures have been promoting the problem of drug trade. Many people from all racial backgrounds have been engaging in this kind of trade. However, the minority African Americans have always been victimized and targeted by the country’s criminal justice system (Bourgois 62). This kind of stereotype has led to new problems thus making it impossible for many minority groups to achieve their goals. Many liberals in the country argue strongly that majority of the people living in poverty-stricken regions are usually flawed. Numerous social malpractices, drug abuses, and criminal behaviors have been recorded in the targeted inner-city. However, the author uses this scenario to explain how the current social system in America is flawed. This is the case because the systems targets and punishes the wrong people.

On the other hand, the book “Dorm Room: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class” offers different arguments to deliver the same thesis. In order to support the targeted stereotype in the country, the authors argue that many successful people in affluent communities have been engaging in drug dealings. Such drug dealers have been able to execute their dealings in various campuses across the country. The most astounding fact is that such individuals execute their businesses in complete freedom (Mohamed and Fristvold 19). This kind of approach can be contrasted with the challenges and obstacles faced by many African Americans in the country.

Many whites have been able to transport large qualities of drugs such as bhang, cocaine, and heroine from one place to another. They have also been collaborating with different cartels in order to achieve their objectives. According to the authors, such people collaborate with different drug dealers in foreign countries such as Mexico. Such individuals face minimal or no consequences. They use their showy vehicles and resources in order to promote their businesses (Mohamed and Fristvold 73).

The authors of the book go further to describe how such drug traffickers achieve their goals without being interrupted by college officials, campus policemen, or law enforcement agents. The outstanding observation is that most of the drug-dealers benefit from the protections availed to them by different law enforcers. The text therefore presents powerful arguments that can be used to reexamine the issues of race and disparity in the country. The stereotype has continued to affect the outcomes of many people in the country. More whites continue to benefit from the privileges availed to them because of their racial backgrounds (Mohamed and Fristvold 92). Such individuals engage in numerous malpractices thus affecting the lifestyles of many people in the American society. However, their racial backgrounds make it easier for them to engage in such misbehaviors. At the same time, many African Americans continue to be criminalized and victimized.

These two books therefore show clearly that race is a powerful tool that dictates most of the stereotypes embraced in the United States regarding the issue of illegal drugs. Although the two books examine the issue of drug trafficking from different perspectives, the reader observes clearly that all racial groups in the country engage in this malpractice (Provine 38). Moreover, the legal path takes a totally different path when it comes to the war against illicit substances.

The whites portray themselves as innocent and rich individuals who cannot engage in such drug dealings. They use their backgrounds to support such malpractices. The African Americans occupy poverty-stricken areas thus becoming the main targets of this war against drugs. Innocent African Americans have also been affected and criminalized (Hendricks and Wilson 4). Most of the social systems encountered in different regions have reshaped the self-perceptions of many people. The social prestige and status availed to these make it impossible for them to face the law. Many African Americans have low self-esteem because of their historical backgrounds (Provine 72). These similarities and differences therefore explain why new practices will be required in the country.

Finally, the risk of law enforcement detection continues to support the arguments presented in these two books. For instance, the law enforcement system has been concentrating on different regions characterized by many African Americans. Such minorities are usually arrested and criminalized for using illicit drugs. Every African American culprit is imprisoned for several years without getting any social support (Alexander and West 69). On the other hand, most of the whites are not arrested. Most of these actors will be released shortly after being arrested. They have been getting lenient sentences for engaging in various drug-related activities. This risk of law enforcement continues to affect the outcomes of many racial groups in the country.


The infamous American war against illegal substances has been guided by racial stereotypes. The minorities have been on the receiving end because of their poor social statuses and economic positions. The government has failed to acknowledge the fact that such African Americans have never been favored by the country’s social structures and systems (Hendricks and Wilson 3). On the other hand, the whites have engaged in drug trade without being arrested. These issues will continue to affect the lives of many minority groups in the future. New policy initiatives should therefore be put in place in order to empower every race. These books are therefore worth reading because they expose the major issues that continue to stain the country’s criminal justice system.


Alexander, Michelle, and Cornel West. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, New York: The New Press, 2012. Print.

Bourgois, Philippe. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Contreras, Randol. The Stickup Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence, and the American Dream, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. Print.

Hendricks, LaVelle and Angie Wilson. “The Impact of Crack Cocaine on Black America.” National Forum Journal of Counseling and Addiction 2.1 (2013): 1-6. Print.

Mohamed, Rafik, and Erik Fristvold. Dorm Room: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class, Boulder: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 2010. Print.

Provine, Doris. Unequal under Law: Race in the War on Drugs, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Print.