Opinion: Why being educated can sometimes cause you pain

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

Although I encourage everyone to educate themselves as much as possible, I must warn you that the more you understand, the more frustration there is to uncover…

I spoke with a formerly incarcerated man recently who told me about his experiences inside the state penitentiary. I could instantly tell that this man was brilliant, as smart as any college professor I know.  He recited legal statutes, laid out subtleties of American politics, and spoke about entrepreneurship as if he were an expert.

The man had used his 20 years in prison in the most productive way possible, learning everything he could.  He also seemed to feel that he had a lot of catching up to do, now that he was a free man.  He explained a few things about his experience, like how surprised he was to find that in most maximum security sections of the prison, black and hispanic men fill up nearly every cell.  He said that most of the white guys he saw in prison were in the low-security and safer sections of the prison (surely to protect them from the “scary” black men).  His story reminded me of my experience in public school, where black boys landed in the special education classes (they tried to put me in those classes too), and the college prep classes were filled with white kids. The educational and prison systems are inherently the same and like the NCAA to the NFL, one has become a feeder into the other.

The man also said something that really made me think.  He reflected on how he’d gone to prison as a young drug dealer, receiving an incredibly harsh sentence for a non-violent crime. He also mentioned how painful it was to get his education in prison and become enlightened on just how imbalanced the criminal justice system is when it comes to young black men.  He said that learning about the circumstances of his incarceration both infuriated him and raised his blood pressure, because his awareness came at a time when he was not the least bit empowered to do very much about it.

I tried to understand the man’s pain as much as I could, even though I’ve never gone to prison myself. My biological father went to prison for drug possession and my older brother figure (technically my uncle) went to prison as well.  So, while I’d seen the devastation of incarceration up close in multiple sections of my life, I was fortunate enough to avoid the traps that were set to destroy me.  But what I could certainly relate to is the fact that sometimes, ignorance can be blissful, because the more you understand what others are trying to do to you, the angrier you can become.  At that point, you gain the stigma of being the angry black man standing in the middle of a bunch of drunken, happy negroes.

Although I encourage everyone to educate themselves as much as possible, I must warn you that the more you understand, the more frustration there is to uncover, particularly when we discover truths about what this country did to our ancestors on its way to stripping us of everything we had.  That’s why black kids in public school aren’t given access to accurate and honest depictions of American history and are instead fed drugs, liquor and Lil Wayne albums.  They want  you to be the smiling, ignorant negro, not the angry black man, even if you have legitimate reason for being angry.

No one is ever going to voluntarily give your intellectual freedom.  That’s something that you’re going to have to take.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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Comments (2)

  1. I particularly love the line; That’s why black kids in public school aren’t given access to accurate and honest depictions of American history and are instead fed drugs, liquor and Lil Wayne albums. Why lil waye?

  2. Very true!!!!

    Knowledge is power and may God give us the grace to stand strong as children of God.

    From the days of John the Baptist until Now! The Kingdom of Light suffers violence but the Violent take it by Force! We are more than conquerors in this life and the Next.

    Shalom Minister Lorraine Jones

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