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More in jail or in college?

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IN his movie, “What Black Men Think,” director Janks Morton goes around asking black men this question: Are there more black men in college or in jail?What follows is a montage of black men giving the same one-word answer: “Jail.”

But is it true, or a damaging stereotype that should be discarded?

Morton goes on to do something the rest of us ought to do more often — question the basis for such commonly made assertions. The Rev. Jesse Jackson repeated it in September in speaking of the case of the “Jena 6,” in which six young blacks in tiny Jena, La., were charged in connection with the beating of a white student after somebody hung nooses from a tree.

Jesse Jackson wouldn’t get a thing like incarceration vs. education wrong, would he?

Well . . . .

Morton notes that in 2005, according to the Census Bureau, there were 864,000 black men in college.

And according to the Justice Department, there were 802,000 black men in jails and state and federal prisons.

Statistics are complicated, and there has been some quibbling about the numbers.

But nothing has eroded Morton’s useful observation that the jail and prison statistic reflects an age cohort of 18 to 55, while the age range for college-going males is generally 18 to 24.

It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

The ratio of young black men in college to young black men incarcerated is actually more like 4-to-1, Morton contends, yet even blacks don’t see themselves in that light.

The stereotypical view affects what black men think of their prospects, and what black women think of them.

It’s easy to see how this could do harm.

The stereotype is promoted and maintained, Morton says, by “agenda-driven” organizations like the Justice Policy Institute and the NAACP, which are concerned about the incarceration rate of blacks.

That’s a worthy question, but a different issue.

The argument over statistics should certainly continue, but Morton is right: The reckless repetition of profoundly misleading stereotypes should stop.

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