David Farber


On his book Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

Cover Interview of November 06, 2019


In part, I wrote Crack to tell a dark story, a historical accounting of the underside of the American dream. We’ve grown inured, I think, to words like economic inequality, racism, and mass incarceration—for many, they have lost their visceral impact. In Crack, I do my best to explore the lived experience of racial injustice, of what it felt like to endure grinding poverty, of how it felt to believe that your only opportunities were ignominious ones. And then to have discovered, as one of the men I interviewed called it, “white gold.”

In much of American society during the Age of Reagan and Reagonomics, disinvesting in inner city communities and denigrating people living in poverty became political common sense. In another part of American society, during that era, selling crack cocaine became an economic lifeline; it became a way to live out dreams of self-worth and material riches. And on the other side of that economic transaction, for too many poor people of color who had become economically dislocated and socially alienated from mainstream society, crack cocaine was a balm that offered solace for their hard lives.

Good history—even recent history—I think, places readers in a different world. In Crack, I want readers to see the world as it existed for many poor Americans, especially poor African Americans, at the tail end of the twentieth century. And I want readers to begin to understand why crack cocaine, as a product both to sell and consume, made sense to some of those people. This book about the crack cocaine industry in the last decades of the twentieth century explores how the go-go economy of that era looked to those on the wrong side of that era’s massive economic divide. It explores, too, how powerful Americans helped create that divide and then built a carceral state to house so many of those who had been left out of America’s bounty.