Ifetayo Harvey of the Drug Policy Alliance has been fighting against the injustice and discrimination found in many of the practices propagated by the perpetual War on Drugs. In our first interview, she told her story about how this war impacted her and her family. She recently wrote a fascinating article for Psymposia about why the psychedelic community is so white and what this says about the culture of drug use.
Lack of diversity in the psychedelic community is hardly a new topic. I remember reading an article some time ago that centered around Burning Man’s struggles with this very same issue. For a community that champions ideas of synergy and transcendence, it is a bit jarring when you notice that many of the people in this collective are fairly (if not entirely) nonplussed by this discrepancy. It could easily be misconstrued as hypocrisy or “All is one, as long we’re talking about are people who look like we do” for people on the outside looking in.
Here, Ifetayo answers some questions I have about how changes can be made to remove some of the stigmas surrounding the psychedelic community's diversity issue.
Prox: You mentioned in your article for Psymposia that the psychedelic community needs to provide a more welcoming environment for people of color. How do you think we can begin to usher in an age where at the very least, minorities can feel more comfortable about and around these substances?
Ifetayo: First, we all need to work together to end the War on Drugs which involves racist police practices and sentencing disparities between white people and people of color, especially Black people. A few years ago the ACLU released a report on marijuana arrests and it basically illustrated how black and white people use marijuana at the same rates, however Black people are four times more likely to be arrested than white folks. The psychedelic community needs to understand that these issues are directly connected to the use of psychedelics. If we’re not fighting for the most marginalized in our society, why are we fighting?
Second, one thing that a lot of privileged folks (wealthy, middle class, white, men, straight etc) don’t understand is that when a marginalized person is speaking to their experience of dealing with oppression whether it be racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. it’s the job of the privileged person to shut the fuck up and listen. Like Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Whites, it must frankly be stated, are not doing their job to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance" So privileged folks must both reeducate themselves by unpacking internalized superiority while also listening to marginalized folks.
It’s really that simple. Respect our truth.
Prox: Is it ever difficult to maintain your sense of identity when traditionalist black culture can seem alien in a prominently white field?
Ifetayo: Not really. If anything, drug policy is a racial justice issue meaning I belong here.
Prox: Do you think there is any one figure or class of people (athletes, celebrities, politicians, etc) who will be responsible for the normalization of psychedelic drug use in our communities?
Ifetayo: No. I don’t like the idea of looking to famous people for anything, much less normalize things. I also don’t like the idea of normalizing psychedelics. To me the psychedelic experience is something beyond words and extraordinary. Far from normal. That said, everyone should be entitled to using psychedelics in a safe environment free from policing or other threats of danger.
Prox: It is extremely rare to hear how psychedelic exploration can benefit women of color. What are some of the boons you’ve noticed since you’ve become more experienced with these substances? How do they directly relate to your perspective as a black person?
Ifetayo: For me, the benefits of psychedelics are overall spiritual elevation. Three years ago I struggled big time with depression and suicidal thoughts. I started learning about mushrooms from various sources so I decided to try them. When I took mushrooms, it felt like I was seeing the world through a new lens. Once they started to kick in, I got a little freaked, but I reminded myself why I took them in the first place and that was to heal. Mushrooms reminded me of what I have to live for. As a black person, mushrooms reminded me that my people have lived through and survived multilayered levels of trauma at least in my family. While on mushrooms, I feel the presence of my ancestors more intensely and I’m reminded that I am not alone in this world.
Prox: As far as religion and spirituality goes, how have these substances (If at all) changed or restructured your beliefs? What can they specifically offer to the prominently Abrahamic black community?
Ifetayo: Before knowing about psychedelics, I wasn’t really religious or spiritual. For most of my life, I’ve identified as atheist or agnostic. My mom encouraged me to go to whatever spiritual belief system that I was drawn to. Growing up, my mom’s spiritual practice consisted of following Ifá. After I got into psychedelics, Ifá and the orishas seemed so natural to me. It was like the mushrooms got me to take that extra step that I had feared for most of my life and that was believing in something outside the human experience.
For folks of Islamic, Christian or Judaic faiths, my guess is that psychedelics would elevate their personal relationship with God and more importantly yourself.
Prox: The War on Drugs seems to be slowly loosening it’s grip on the collective consciousness of Western society. Where do you see drug policy in the next fifty years? What does it mean for the disenfranchised?
Ifetayo: Under the Obama administration, a lot of progress was made to stop the War on Drugs…bail reform, legalizing marijuana, a number of clemencies. However with the Trump administration it’s hard to tell. My hope would be that drug use and drug selling are no longer dealt with in our legal system period. For folks like my father and brother who are formerly incarcerated, I’d like to see some sort of reparative reconciliation and for the families of the incarcerated. I’m not 100% sure of what this looks like.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, business people, creatives or intellectuals?
Ifetayo: Right now, I dig Max P, Blackalicious, Tanks and Bangas, Cunninglynguist, Bi Kidude, and Salif Keita.
I love the work of many brilliant women of color, most of whom I follow on Twitter. I love the fabulous Bad Dominicana. Her artwork is great and so are her podcasts. Feminista Jones is so smart and her Periscopes are great. I also love Yeoshin Lourdes, her commentary on Twitter is gold!
Prox: Favorite Hobbies?
Ifetayo: I love listening and playing music. I started playing trumpet when I was 11 years old and transitioned to euphonium when I was 14 and I’ve been playing ever since. I like going to the gym, trying new recipes, drinking mezcal and eating food.
Prox: Tips for aspiring psychonauts and those interested in combating the War on Drugs?
Ifetayo: Figure out what you’re good at and use that to end the War on Drugs. Find a group of people or an organization to work alongside. The drug policy reform movement could use more people willing to do direct action organizing.
Prox: Information on upcoming projects and releases?
Ifetayo: None right now ☺
You can learn more about Ifetayo and follow her, here.
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