Whether you call them myths or stereotypes, there are certain assumptions that people make about African-Americans (us included). Many of these misguided assumptions derived from the need for white Americans to justify the institution of slavery. It’s easy to enslave an entire race of people if you can convince everyone that they are innately inferior. Now that we are “free”, the stereotypes have evolved but the underlining premise remains the same. The worst part is that many Blacks have bought into and perpetuate the stereotypes, essentially doing the work for those trying to keep us in a sub-standard condition.
Although there are a few positive stereotypes (usually tied to some physical attribute), a vast majority of them are extremely negative. The biggest impact of these negative assumptions is the effect they have on our youth. Just in my lifetime (I’m a 70′s baby), I’ve seen the change between my generation and the Gen Y’s. If we continue to perpetuate these stereotypes, ignorance will become cool, the hustle will become the norm, and broken Black families will be the status quo.
With that in mind, I created this series of articles, Black Myths Debunked. The goal is not really to prove the stereotypes are wrong (we already know that) but moreso to show what so-called “facts” are produced by perpetuating these stereotypes. As people get more sophisticated, so is the propaganda. It’s no longer enough to say Blacks are inferior, now they have data to attempt to support their claims, which is a lot more believable than just saying “Blacks have rabbit blood in them”.
One myth that I have heard multiple times over the last few years is that there are more Black men in prison than there are in college. Even President Obama (then Illinois Senator) used the myth in one of his speeches in 2007. If it’s not true, where did this information originate?
In 2000, the Justice Policy Institute published a report that claimed more African-American men were under the jurisdiction of a federal, state, or local penal system than were enrolled in post-high school education. Based on their findings, there were over 829,000 incarcerated Black men and about 717,500 Black men in college. That seems like a pretty straight forward statistic, but we need to dig in a little deeper (we’ll get into that a little later).
Even if that statistic in 2000 was correct (A BIG IF) that is no longer the case. Over the last 10 years, the rate of Black men enrolled in college has significantly outpaced the number of Black men going to prison. As of 2010, the total number of Black men in prison was 844,600, an increase of 15,400 men (1.8%). On the other hand, the number of Black men enrolled in postsecondary education was 1,341,354, an increase of 623,863 (87%).
Now that we put the myth to rest once and for all, let me show you why the myth was skewed in the first place. The average college student is between the ages of 18-24. Yes, there are some people that attend college after the age of 24, but do you know what they are called…NON-TRADITIONAL STUDENTS. With that being said, the prison population demographic is conservatively 18-80 (in other words, through death).
How can you possibly compare a demographic of 6 years to a demographic of 60 years and expect to glean some type of relevant information?
The real question is how many Black men between the ages of 18-24 are in college versus prison. My guess is that you will find that the number of Black men in college VASTLY eclipses those that are incarcerated.
You won’t see that number though…why? Because it won’t sell any papers, generate any website hits, or increase any television ratings.