Black Boys in Crisis: Men Lie, Women Lie, Statistics Don’t

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

 Black men are imprisoned at a greater rate than whites, and this phenomenon is in fact at a historical high. As a recent Pew Research Center study indicates, the gap between blacks and whites in prison has widened by an alarming amount since 1960, when Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1960, black men were five times as likely as white men to be in prison; by 2010, that figure had increased to more than six times as likely. According to the NAACP’s criminal justice worksheet: “If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime,” a ratio that is already true for impoverished and urban areas.

Furthermore, black youth are being incarcerated at extremely high levels: 28 percent of juvenile arrests were of blacks, though they comprise just 12 percent of the youth population. These alarming statistics have their roots in some factors, including the aforementioned drug wars; a knock-on effect from having fathers in prison; a culture of anti-intellectualism: it has become “cool,” and a rite of passage, to spend time in prison; endemic racism and targeting by police officers. We will examine these factors more in more depth later on in the series.

Given the dire statistics outlined above, and the current difficulties faced by the African-American population, it would be easy to assume that educating black boys is a lost cause. This is demonstrably not the case. In fact, if one looks purely at the statistics surrounding young African-American males in education, the progress is inexorably upward. Dropout rates have been steadily decreasing. The achievement gap between blacks and whites is closing: from fifty-three points in 1970 to twenty-six points in 2004 for seventeen-year-olds.

It is clear that, even given the tremendous obstacles facing the black boy in education, his spirit remains unquenched: he will continue to strive for the best and is making headway in the face of almost inconceivable historical injustices. To borrow the words of Frederick Douglass, he has been given the inch; he will now “take the ell.” Though we are still in crisis, there is a visible path out of the morass. Later on in this series, we will examine in detail the primary obstacles that continue to stand in the way of young African-Americans in education and will look at concrete, actionable ways to tear those down, paving the way for a future of parity and promise.


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