Prompt: The Education of Critical Race Theory

There’s been quite a stir these past few years in the mainstream media about critical race theory. It’s extremely important for us, as incarcerated people, to understand it because it speaks to why the prison system is disproportionally black.

I posed the question: ‘What is critical race theory?’ to many of my colleagues. To my surprise, most of them were uncertain. Education Weekly defines critical race theory (CRT) as an academic concept that observes the perpetuation racial inequality. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a new concept. It’s a scholastic perspective that’s over 40 years old.

Some suggest that the teaching of critical race theory is essential to the healing concerning racial conflict in America. Others say that the teaching of this history serves to maintain the divide in black and white relations in this country. Consider it a case of the ‘truth hurts’ vs. basking in blissful ignorance.

CRT views race as solely a social construction without any truth bearing in biological reality. That is to say, the CRT scholars acknowledge that there is no biological difference between races, and that the concept of races being fundamentally different is a complete fabrication. Though a construct, CRT acknowledges that the idea of race is significant and thus, guides race relations and interactions on cultural, social, and legal spectrums.

CRT suggests that this country systemically promotes a racial caste system, where minorities are relegated to the lower tiers of society.

If CRT has been around as long as 40 years ago, why is it just becoming popular now? Well, to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last decade or so, the recent events leading to what is now recognized as the ‘racial reckoning’ has brought awareness to many Americans about the unfair practices used to continuously oppress the black American population. In the view of CRT, the subjugation of black people has persisted way beyond their enslavement, and has been legally promoted and protected by law in America. The issue now — with the continuous validation of this theory — it has enough merit to guide the curriculums of K-12. Many state legislators (largely conservative Republicans) are rushing to ban the teachings of this theory at the grade school level.

I am of the opinion that, though the truth can be hard to bear, the truth sets you free. I believe that the teaching of critical race theory will be the start of setting this country free from its vile racial divide. Others believe that the teaching of CRT will lead to further the divide in this country. What do you think?

Prompt: Write a paragraph or more describing your opinion on CRT, and your opinion on whether or not it should be allowed to be taught in grade school. Additionally, if you can, trying answering some of the foundational questions of CRT to add more opinion to your piece.

*How do you think law protects racism and upholds racial hierarchies?
*How does law reproduce racial inequalities?
*How can law be used to dismantle race, racism, and racial inequalities?
*How do you think law constructs race?

— Peace and Love, Q

Prompt: Education and the Prison System

Can you agree with the age old saying, “if you know better, you’ll do better?” I, myself, take the phrase as a praise to education as a means to curb criminal behavior in light of a better society. I believe that education, especially at the collegiate level, can help to reinforce moral values of ex-offenders and strengthen them with critical thinking, creating a line of innovative professionals and reputable contributors to society. This would ultimately result in curbing violent crime and would be a more effective use of the state’s rehabilitative efforts. Education is defined as training. So, lack of proper education can be synonymously linked to criminal behavior. Thomas Jefferson even linked being a good citizen to education by saying that ‘no one can properly use their freedom as Americans, if they do not have a proper education.’

Examining my own shortcomings, I could say that many of us who had turned to crime suffered from a sort of mental strangulation brought on by lack of education. Not only were we captives to our resources, being children of poor black families, our belief in getting a college education was shared amongst us too far and few in between. Having been one myself, its hard for a poor young man to really get behind the idea that an education would solve all his problems. Hefty tuitions discourage many poor people from even believing they could actually go to college. College to them is a pipe dream and fit only for the affluent; increasing the gap of disparagement mentally and literally. Instead, they see school itself as a waste of time and shortsightedly decided on faster, more lucrative options to relieve very real, very immediate stresses. It is becoming a common fact, the money it takes to house a single prisoner, could be used to send a person to college for four years. Why do we as a country continue to allow the school-to-prison pipeline target and claim wayward young black men’s lives? Corruption of the prison system became racists’ main weapon in retaliation to the emancipation black people. Now, it has been a system in motion coldly devouring young black and brown lives before bloom. Making higher education readily available to incarcerated people would at least help put us on a path to correcting some of the damages caused by the corruption of a justice system plagued by generations of oversight.

Rehabilitation through education… that isn’t a hard idea to get behind, is it? Maybe even a community college program could work with justice departments and start getting involved with lost youth looking at potentially life-destroying sentences. Me, I sacrificed my high school education because I became a teenage parent. I knew it was a bad decision then, but failed find another way. If I had had the opportunity offered to me to go to college, as an 18-year-old boy who’s life had gotten away from him, I would have jumped at the chance. I know the resources are there.

There was a program that made collegiate education readily available for many incarcerated people – involving the use of grants called Pell grants. This program has long been restricted to the point that only about four thousand inmates within correctional systems across America (less than 1%) receive them. Plus, the program goes up for review every year, leaving those few incarcerated individuals to worry if they’ll be able to finish their college courses. There must be a better way… to achieve this ‘better way’ is the job of both the people and their political leaders. The people with respects to raising concerns to their local politicians that they want safer streets and actual, effective rehabilitation efforts. Simply imprisoning people alone does not rehabilitate them. In fact, it may actually only make matters worse. Men and women, who were deterred from a path to higher education, could benefit by getting another chance at higher learning. Most of all, communities deserve to be safer places to live and raise children, and in a space where a person doesn’t have to be relegated to criminal thinking because of lack of education… its possible.

I believe if the upcoming administration wants to stick by their promise of relief from systemic racism, they would be more than open to providing greater swaths of incarcerated people with a readily available path to higher education. Only time will tell if change is really to come for race relations in America. Or, will it be the same story: America continuing to fail at acknowledging black oppression, and continue holding our country back from fulfilling a dream of establishing a greater union. Until then, whether behind the wall or on the streets… the struggle never stops…

Prompt for the Incarcerated:
How do you think people can benefit from a higher education while incarcerated? Do you believe there should be any specific types of educational course that should be offered to incarcerated people and why?

Remember… you may expound on the topic in a variety of forms: essays, poetry, art, etc. make sure to let the people know who you are and any project you may be or have been involved with. Thank you for your contribution. We are working together to bring awareness to the brilliance they have locked away behind bars.

-Q. Patterson

Thank you to the readers of BrillianceBehindBars.com. Answers to this prompt will be coming in through December of 2020 from those incarcerated across Virginia.