“[America] has this zero-tolerance, righteous attitude toward drugs that then righteously throws people out of society and into deadly and dangerous spaces, which is where we worked with them.”
In San Francisco, during the dot-com boomof the nineties, homeless drug users were dispersed and dislocated throughout the city due to gentrification. The 2009 book, Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg, is an urban anthropological project that took place over the course of 12 years. The results force us to confront those people, the ones in the street that we walk past everyday. We see their bodies—dirty fingernails, teeth stained and crooked, skin scarred and ashen like the surface of the moon—but what we fail to realize is that most of the time we don’t see these people as people. It can be easier for us to keep walking so long as we neglect a basic fact, that these people are human beings who belong to and inhabit a world not all that different from ours. We are all of the same species.
“The person is trying to engage a sense of self-worth and respect but then there is also the self-deprecation of being a dope fiend.”
Recently, in an act to shed some light on this invisible world, Mark Auslander, director ofCentral Washington University’s Museum of Culture and Environment, picked upRighteous Dopefiend as a museum exhibit. “The book is extraordinary,” said Mark. “But the exhibition reaches a lot of people who wouldn’t actually look at the book and they bring their own stories where, very passionately and beautifully, they recount to friends what their own experiences were.”
Drug users typically aren’t your average museum-goer, who we imagine clad in argyle sweater-vests. Righteous Dopefiend has drawn a whole new audience to the museum. Philippe describes the people who show up as, “Family members who have lost a loved one to addiction, recovered addicts, and, still, others who have lost a friend.”
Philippe then mentioned with respect to the exhibit that, “The most moving part, for me, is the space created for the kin of addicted people. There is no legitimate public space for mourning the loss of an addicted loved one. It’s almost like people think that it is the families’ fault for having an addicted love one and that’s just not the case. It’s like they’re carrying around all that pain of having had to throw someone out of their house who’s stealing everything from them. What else do you do but throw them out? The museum space provides a safe place for people to reflect on that.”
“The opening part of the exhibition is where you meet Tina and Carter [the participants], where you learn about invisible suffering and about the possibilities or impossibilities of love on the street—that is what people talk about,” said Mark. Read more “the fix”…