Can We Retire Crack References from Polite—Or Not So Polite—Conversation?

In the wake of Whitney Houston’s death, unfortunate references to her past crack use—even though it appears her death was related to prescription drug use—were rampant. Take, for example, John Kobylt, the co-host of Clear Channel’s The John and Ken Show, who delivered this gem, from the theoretical perspective of Houston’s friend: “It’s like, ‘ah Jesus, here comes the crack ho again. What’s she gonna do? Oh, look at that, she’s doing handstands next to the pool. Very good, crack ho. nice.’ After a while, everybody’s exhausted. And then you find out she’s dead.” The remarks landed them a suspension and an agreement that they, as well as channel staff, would attend sensitivity training.

There was no such punishment for Fox commentator Eric Bolling, who decided it was clever to respond to comments by Rep. Maxine Waters by declaring “What is going on in California? How’s this? Congresswoman, you saw what happened to Whitney Houston. Step away from the crack pipe, step away from the Xanax, step away from the Lorazepam because it’s going to get you in trouble. How else do you explain those comments?” He was wise enough to roll back the comments immediately, but not to have refrained from making them in the first place.

It’s amazing that, given how racialized references to crack use are, and how ugly they can be when combined with implications about an accused female user’s sexual behavior, that people with any pretense to respectability, like Bolling, are still bringing it up. Kobylt’s remarks were ugly and insensitive, not only to Houston, but to the people in her life who cared abut her and who were affected by her addiction. Bolling’s are nonsensical—they have literally no point or relevance but to reach for a spurious stereotype about black women. It’s one thing to refer to crack cocaine use if someone is actually consuming crack cocaine. But it would be delightful if we could stop using it as a sloppy, ugly attempt to signal something meaningful.