The Misinformation Behind America's Crack Baby Myth

Mother and infant child
Zain Murdock
March 28, 2021

Where are the “crack babies” now? That’s what the New York Times asked America in 1990, only a few years after Congress had sentenced countless Black Americans to mandatory minimums of 5 years in federal prison during the height of the War on Drugs.

The term “crack baby” originated after a 1985 article by pediatrician Ira Chasnoff. Now known to be a myth, it suggested that there was a possible link between maternal cocaine use and infant health – and American media went wild.

But has white America ever really cared about Black children? By overstating the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure, America had an excuse to dehumanize Black women struggling with addiction and classify them as undeserving of welfare, support, or even their own children.

America’s “solution” for drug addiction and poverty is to imprison working-class Black mothers. And as for the 40-60% of children predicted to be addicted to cocaine? It only turned out to be 2-3%. 

But, even if “crack babies” hadn’t been a myth, do Black mothers and their children not deserve love and resources?

What birthed the culture of the “crack baby” is not unloving Black mothers – but white supremacy. Black women are not disposable. We need to build a world where the response to a Black woman struggling is not criminalization, but rehabilitation, care, and support.

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