African / Blacks / Boys / Men

Obama: “Sometimes I Sold Myself Short”

Your value

So as Christian mentioned, during my visit, they’re in a circle and I sat down in the circle, and we went around, led by their counselor, and guys talked about their lives, talked about their stories. They talked about what they were struggling with, and how they were trying to do the right thing, and how sometimes they didn’t always do the right thing. And when it was my turn, I explained to them that when I was their age I was a lot like them. I didn’t have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.

This is United States President Barack Obama. He is talking about black and Latino young men and their challenges.

Last week, in “South African President Zuma Promises Free WiFi in Informal Settlements and a Focus on African Boys in His State of the Nation Address”, which  expressed disappointment following the turgid and unstimulating State of the Nation address by Zuma, I mentioned Obama. Yes I did.

I said I had hoped Zuma would take a leaf about from Obama’s dreams and say something heartfelt such as

We must support black families to raise amazing girls and encourage young women to succeed. This is important not just for these families, but for the future of our country. When girls succeed our nation will lift itself higher. We realise that, however, we are not doing much about their equal challenges facing black boys and men. We are going to swiftly move to design, implement, and monitor national programmes focussing on males. We are going to put energy and thought in programmes to restore the collective sense of purpose of African men. We are going to create opportunities for education, skills, and decent work. We will support men to reconnect with their children and larger families. We will educate boys to succeed to be what they want to be. We will support them to stay in school, love non-violence, desire equality…

And so on.

Zuma did not. Once again, we ask, is Zuma and the men and women in his government shy to talk about black males and the challenges with which they are confronted (without hiding the achievements), alongside the troubles that face and the triumphs of black women and girls?

Regardless, that does not mean we have to stop saying it: we have to raise amazing girls and wonderful boys.

Speaking about disappointments, there are many disenchanting things about Obama and the US under his command, like ‘drones strikes’, threats to individual privacy and other liberties, an Iraq that is tearing apart before our eyes because of US policy and regime change, a hypocritical change of attitude towards Iran, we can go on.

We expected better.

But it was naïveté on our part to expect change because a black man in the white house promised it. If it was true that the colour of a man is his word Africa would be great.

Politics is about power, power is constant so long as it perpetuates itself.

And yet there are some great things that Obama puts his name to such as My Brother’s Keeper. The extract above comes from the Remarks by Obama made earlier this year on February 27, 2014 on the programme. Here is how he concluded his remarks.

I want to tell Moe’s story just real quick.

When Moe was four years old, he moved with his mom Chauvet from South Carolina to the Bronx.  His mom didn’t have a lot of money, and they lived in a tough neighborhood.  Crime was high.  A lot of young men ended up in jail or worse.  But she knew the importance of education, so she got Moe into the best elementary school that she could find.  And every morning, she put him on a bus; every night, she welcomed him when he came home.

She took the initiative, she eventually found a sponsorship program that allowed Moe to attend a good high school.  And while many of his friends got into trouble, some of it pretty serious, Moe just kept on getting on the bus, and kept on working hard and reaching for something better.  And he had some adults in his life that were willing to give him advice and help him along the way.  And he ended up going to college.  And he ended up serving his country in the Air Force.  And today, Moe works in the White House, just two doors down from the Oval Office, as the Special Assistant to my Chief of Staff.  (Applause.)  And Moe never misses a chance to tell kids who grew up just like he did that if he can make it, they can, too.

Moe and his mom are here today, so I want to thank them both for this incredible example.  Stand up, Moe, and show off your mom there.  (Applause.)  Good job, Moe.

So Moe didn’t make excuses.  His mom had high expectations. America needs more citizens like Moe.  We need more young men like Christian.  We will beat the odds.  We need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, the chance to reach their full potential.  Because if we do — if we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers, and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens — then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass on those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren, will start a different cycle.  And this country will be richer and stronger for it for generations to come.

This is the kind of talk that shows that a leader is concerned and interested and is not just politicking. The kind of talk that would show that black male leaders are interested in black males who face challenges right now in the system in which these leaders are at the top. And Obama’s seriousness is shown by his more recent remarks on the initiative.

That does not mean My Brother’s Keeper is a perfect initiative. There have been constructive criticisms by different groups. Groups of black men and black women have offered their views of the shortcoming of the initiative. In the Letter of 200 Concerned Black Men calling for the Inclusion of Women and Girls in “My Brother’s Keeper”, the men have correctly said that while supportive of the  initiative, they are worried about what vision America has for black girls and women. Their contention is that concentrate only on the challenges facing males of colour when the problems of gender, race, poverty under- and un-employment, and inequality are so intertwined.

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.

“As African Americans, and as a nation”, they move,
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.
These are important criticisms anybody interested in the welfare and lives of men should heed. Gender transformation is not a winner-takes-all game. You will not go far if you support black boys and deliberately ignore black girls. And the converse is equally true. Black boys and men need free, well-educated, independent girls and women.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s