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42 MIN READ TIME

Race and the First Opium Crisis

FOLLOWING THE RACIST LOGIC Donna Murch exposes in the contemporary opioid crisis leads back to the nineteenth century. The Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, is neither the first drug cartel to capture wealth by pushing opium on a vulnerable population nor the only one to sanitize profits through philanthropic donations.

Consider the following example. The Boston merchant Thomas Handasyd Perkins profited handsomely from the Atlantic slave trade, but like many others, he gradually turned his attention to opium and amassed a fortune. His nephew and fellow cartel member, John Murray Forbes (of the storied Forbes family), used ill-gotten drug loot to become the country’s earliest railroad magnate. These captains of industry were, of course, nothing if not considerate of their fellow man. Perkins used his drug money to establish hospitals, schools, and libraries throughout the Boston area, while Forbes became an ardent abolitionist, financing the free-staters in Kansas during the 1850s and working tirelessly on behalf of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign in 1860 and 1864. Slave trading and drug pushing thus helped subsidize northern humanitarianism.

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About Boston Review

Paperback, 130 pages Racist Logic tackles how racist thinking can be found in surprising—and often overlooked—places. In the forum's lead essay, historian Donna Murch traces the origins of the opioid epidemic to Big Pharma's aggressive marketing to white suburbanites. The result, Murch shows, has been to construct a legal world of white drug addiction alongside an illicit drug war that has disproportionately targeted people of color. Other essays examine how the global surrogacy industry incentivizes the reproduction of whiteness while relying on the exploited labor of women of color, how black masculinity is commodified in racial capitalism, and how Wall Street exploited Caribbean populations to bankroll U.S. imperialism. Racist logic, this issue shows, continues to pervade our society, including its nominally colorblind business practices. Contributors not only explore the institutional structures that profit from black suffering, but also point the way to racial justice. Forum Lead essay by Donna Murch. Responses by Max Mishler, Britt Rusert, Julie Netherland, Helena Hansen, David Herzberg, Michael Collins, Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, Jonathan Kahn, L.A. Kauffman, and Donna Murch. Essays Peter Hudson, Jordanna Matlon, Alys Weinbaum, and Richard Ford.