The “expectation factor” is one of the least talked about topics around as it relates to success and failure. Ever heard of “Failure is not an option?” Well, go to almost any AISD classroom and you will see these words posted on assorted hallway and classroom walls. Well, failure is an option and anyone who tells a child that failure is not an option is misleading them. Not only is it misleading but this very statement tells a child that there is “something “out there” that will keep you from failing—as if there is an invisible support system that will catch them if they fall. There is no such invisible support system—at least not for some. Ask the thousands of young black men being incarcerated every day. America has over 2 million people locked up in prisons and jails—more than any place else on planet earth. So what is causing so many people to get locked up?
Recently I took a bus trip from Amarillo to Dallas—it was cheaper than flying. The bus route went straight down 287 South, through a bunch of towns including Memphis, Quanah, Childress, and Wichita Falls. As the bus rolled into each bus stop people boarded and then started talking to each other. Some of the conversations were disturbing about what is happening with drugs and prison with young black men especially in small Texas towns. Over and over I heard conversations about who got “10 years” “”15 years,” for drug involvement. One person said she moved her kids from Memphis, Texas to keep them out of a Texas prison. But this is happening all over Texas—and all over America. Young black men are being incarcerated with long prison sentences for drug possession, and the heightened drug charge of drug manufacturing. Why are so many young black men going to prison for drug involvement? While I was near Dallas I went to a funeral. A young black man was escorted into the church for his mother’s funeral. He was handcuffed with two Texas Department of Criminal Justice guards on each side. They stood alert watching this handcuffed young man during the funeral. The person next to me leaned over and said he was locked up because he couldn’t control his alcohol. He then added this, “He is a good kid, didn’t hurt anybody, just drinks a lot—doing 8 years.” I watched this young man sit, teary-eyed, handcuffed, at his mother’s funeral, being watched by prison guards. When it came time for remarks he walked forward, stood beside his mother’s casket, and spoke. He said, “We have all sinned.”
The last census said that there were about 40 million “Black only” people in America, or roughly 13 percent of the total U. S. population. Black men currently account for 1 million of the 2.1 million males in prison in America. The August 2013 “Sentencing Project report on Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System,” submitted to the United Nations, said that “one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.” So anywhere you go, just do a mental lineup—in church, in your neighborhood, at a Juneteenth gathering, at a family reunion, at a community basketball game—all over America, do a mental line up and count—one, two three—prison for you—one, two, three, prison for you. Now take this same mental line up and go to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and count the white men—one, two, three—prison for you. Or better still, go to Amarillo High School and go to the boys’ gym, or boys’ locker room and count, one, two, three, prison for you. Now repeat this in every white church, white family reunion, white parade to celebrate Veteran’s Day, 4th of July, count, one, two, three, prison for you. The total number of white males in America is roughly 111 million. If roughly 30 percent of white males in America were in jails or prison that would mean that roughly 3.3 million white men would now be locked up—more than the total current prison population.
If this nation was locking up every third white male in America there would be a national outcry. No one would tolerate locking up every one in three white males in America. Why? The “expectation factor.” There is indeed an invisible support system at play that accounts for the huge racial disparities when it comes to “crime and punishment” in America. This “expectation factor” is a simple as saying “we just don’t expect “our white boys” to go to prison—not at birth—and not thereafter. Just the opposite for “our black boys.” The expectation factor for young black men-and increasingly young black women is that we expect you to spend time in prison—for something. And so the expectation factor helps to facilitate the very atmosphere, in homes, in schools, in work places, and finally in the criminal justice system that now incarcerates one in three black men. The unspoken attitude is “Well, what did you expect?”
Digging into and extracting all the nuances of “Well, what did you expect?” when it comes to disparate treatment of peoples or color is what we need to address in this country. Sure, anytime race comes up some people throw up the barrier of “there you go again talking about race.” Well, race matters. Why does this country’s criminal justice system NOT lock up 1 in 3 white males? Why are there not currently 3.3 million white males incarcerated in America? Let’s dig deep for answers and stop sugarcoating the truth about the “expectation factor” that has placed little to no value on the worth of black men allowing the current mass incarceration. And let’s not forget that we need to take the current statistics and trace them back to this nation’s system-wide mistreatment of black males. What can’t we have this discussion to address one-two-three prison for you? Why can’t we address the “invisible” support system currently in place that protects some folks and throws others to the criminal justice system wolves? Why can’t we have this discussion?
Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.