When President Barack Obama launched “My Brother’s Keeper” the reactions were mixed. There were those who took the initiative as a sign that Obama did, in fact, care about Black male youth. There were others, such as Princeton professor Imani Perry, who rightfully pointed out that philanthropy is not policy.
Wherever one landed on the issue, though, it was clear that it did nothing to address the hurdles and systemic inequality that Black women and girls face in the United States. And 200 Black men decided to do something about it by directly petitioning President Obama to expand the program.
“The men who came together to lift up this issue are organizers, professors, recently incarcerated, filmmakers, taxi drivers, college students, high school teachers, ministers, former pro-athletes, fathers of sons, and fathers of daughters,” said author and Vassar College professor Kiese Laymon, one of the organizers of the movement. “These men, identifying as straight, queer and transgender, all share a commitment to the expansion of My Brothers Keeper and all other national youth interventions to include an explicit focus on the structural conditions that negatively impact all youth of color.”
Read an excerpt of the letter below:
We write as African American men who have supported your presidency, stood behind you when the inevitable racist challenges to your authority have emerged, and have understood that our hopes would be tempered by the political realities that you would encounter. While we continue to support your presidency, we write both out of a sense of mutual respect and personal responsibility to address what we believe to be the unfortunate missteps in the My Brothers Keeper initiative (MBK). In short, in lifting up only the challenges that face males of color, MBK — in the absence of any comparable initiative for females — forces us to ask where the complex lives of Black women and Black girls fit into the White House’s vision of racial justice?
Your acknowledgment that race-conscious policies are still needed, and that addressing the needs of those left behind “is as important as any issue that you work on” was inspiring to us. We agree with your sense that racial inequality remains an urgent American problem that, as you indicated, “goes to the very heart” of why you ran for the presidency. We knew very well that you were echoing Dr. King’s observations when you noted that “groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways…require unique solutions.” We understand, as do you, that those ‘’who have seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations” include men and women in our communities who have struggled side-by-side against the opportunity gaps, shrinking resources and disparate conditions that contribute to the desperate circumstances facing our community. So we were surprised and disappointed that your commitments express empathy to only half of our community — men and boys of color. Simply put, as Black men we cannot afford to turn away from the very sense of a shared fate that has been vital to our quest for racial equality across the course of American history.
As African Americans, and as a nation, we have to be as concerned about the experiences of single Black women who raise their kids on sub-poverty wages as we are about the disproportionate number of Black men who are incarcerated. We must care as much about Black women who are the victims of gender violence as we do about Black boys caught up in the drug trade. We must hold up the fact that Black women on average make less money and have less wealth than both White women and Black men in the United States just as we must focus on the ways in which Black men and women are disproportionately excluded from many professions.
We are not suggesting a national moratorium on Black male-oriented projects. But our sense of accountability does reflect the fact that our historic struggle for racial justice has always included men as well as women who have risked everything not just for themselves or for their own gender but for the prospects of the entire community. Moreover, we are concerned that your admonishment to Black and Latino men to be more responsible and to stop making excuses frames problems of educational attainment, unemployment, and incarceration consistent with those who say Blacks suffer from a “culture of pathology.” We believe in a vision of accountability and racial justice that is neither male-centered, heteropatriarchal or victim blaming.
Click here to read the entire letter and the list of signees.