WHEN PRESIDENT OBAMA STOOD on that stage with young brothers from his hometown of Chicago to announce the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, it filled me with an awe I had never known before. Perhaps it was the imagery of seeing a new generation of promising Black men, full of talent and skills to be brought out and honed for the betterment of themselves and their communities, standing there with the one who had reached the highest level of power achievable in this Nation. For all its imperfections, and historical shames of housing discrimination, Jim Crow, and our Original Sin of slavery, this twice-elected Executive was doing what he could to create more that would follow in the path he blazed.
Throughout his era, those beholden to an ethos of Blacks being a perpetually downtrodden minority incapable of rising past the pitfalls of structural and institutional racism have been intensely working to undermine President Obama’s entire existence, with a particular viciousness matched only by the Tea Party. Having created a media identity from victimology, prominent Black academics and pundits synchronously wrote headlines trashing My Brother’s Keeper as a “flawed” program. Over the last several months, the attacks have moved from the program being a retrenchment of “respectability politics” to something far worse.
The latest assailant of My Brother’s Keeper is Brittney Cooper, assistant professor at Rutgers University, co-founder of Crunk Feminist Collective and contributor at Salon, who has established herself as possibly the most vindictive critic of the program thus far. Her latest column sets a repugnant narrative of the President as some sort of non-Black misogynist for not including women of girls of color at the last minute:
When it comes to addressing racial justice issues, President Obama’s personal identifications with blackness take center stage, trumping substantial attention to black women as a political constituency. I used to believe that Obama’s personal racial identifications were powerful, that having a president who had experienced racism personally would help him commit to doing something about it when he had the opportunity to do so. But what has become apparent is that President Obama’s personal understanding of racism is deeply tethered to his position as both black and male. The effect is that his personal experience has limited his vision of racial justice to just one gender.
There are many problems with Cooper’s entire premise, but in particular, she speaks as if women and girls are completely and maliciously ignored by this Executive. The White House Council on Women and Girls–created within the first one hundred days of President Obama’s first term and headed by a woman of color, Valerie Jarrett–serves to render this attack on the administration as utter nonsense. Furthermore, when confronted as to why she ignored this fact, she basically declared the program doesn’t focus on Black girls enough.
So if concerns about intersectionality and how the program impacts women and girls of color, the obvious thing to do would be to demand more from the Council on Women and Girls, as Jarrett is reportedly open to doing. But somehow, the power of Twitter as the engine of social change “hashtag activists” love to proclaim when trying to start a Conversation doesn’t extend to arranging meetings with people in the White House. So at best, Prof. Cooper is grossly misinformed, or at worst, she is a liar building a brand in the manner of Tavis Smiley.
It takes a certain level of hatred and vitriol to attack the President in such a baseless manner. But to back down from a standing invitation to come to the White House and voice concerns is nothing short of disingenuous, dangerous cowardice. These continued attacks from Black Thought Leaders serve as proof that actually having a hand in crafting “life-changing policy” is something scoundrels like Cooper can’t be bothered with.
If patriarchy, misogyny and sexism all stem from broken, ancient definitions of unstructured manhood, how is it productive–or even remotely conducive to the cause of true equality–to continually attempt to sabotage the best thing to ever happen to our young men? If mass incarceration, high unemployment and the school-to-prison pipeline threaten our boys from the day the set foot in pre-school, how is throwing women onto the back-end of a program at the last minute serving them better than strengthening a program for girls that has existed for years?
Every well-educated, well-prepared Black man that comes from My Brother’s Keeper is a threat to the relevancy and brands of this group of people. And these schemes to tear down this initiative serve as proof that most of these Black Thought Leaders do not care in the slightest about young Black men’s lives unless they are languishing behind bars, ripped from this plane of existence at the other end of a white man’s gun, or kept broken and weak, angrily locked in a mode of protest.
Let this foolishness cease, and quickly.