Roland Martin’s Wrong: Why Girls And Women Should Be Included In “My Brother’s Keeper”

June 20, 2014  |  

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Two weeks ago, over 200 men tried to talk some sense into President Obama about a major flaw of his My Brothers Keeper’s initiative – basically that without inclusion of women, it will be a doomed policy – but folks didn’t really hear them though.

But now that over a 1000 black women and girls, of all ages and backgrounds including the likes of Angela Davis, Anita Hill, Alice Walker, LisaGaye Hamilton, Rosie Perez and Rosario Dawson, among others… have stepped up to the plate and echoed everything the brothers are saying, some folks are willing to listen. Well, they are willing to listen long enough to tell the women and girls to shut up.

If you have not seen the open letter to President Obama, which was published to the African American Policy Forum website earlier this week, you can check it out in its entirety  by clicking this highlighted link. But just to summarize, the letter talks about how black women and girls (and other girls of color) are too disproportionately at risk for a number of ills in our society. Among them is sexual assault, where according to the letter, “Black girls have the highest rates of interpersonal victimization from assault and are more likely to know their assailant than all other groups.” And then there is the homicide rate among black women between the ages of 10-24, which is also  higher than our non-black counterparts. The letter also states that black girls are also three times more likely to be suspended from school and three times more likely to be incarcerated than white women and girls.

More specifically, the letter states:

Girls and young women must be included in all our efforts to lift up the life chances of youth of color. To those who would urge us to settle for some separate initiative, we need only recall that separate but equal has never worked in conditions of inequality, nor will it work for girls and women of color here.

To those who would urge us to take up our concerns with the White House Council on Women and Girls, we note that the Council, like many gender-focused initiatives on women, lacks an intersectional frame that would address the race-based challenges faced by young women of color in a racially-stratified society. We note as well that the scale and magnitude of the issues addressed within MBK are specific to the needs of communities of color. The White House Council on Women and Girls should of course, be encouraged and supported to do more; however, girls and women of color suffer, struggle and succeed with the men and boys in their lives. Only together will our collective well-being improve.”

Those are all solid points, however that hasn’t stopped accusations that the letter writers (just the women) were attempting to undermine the black man. In particular TV One’s Roland Martin, who recently got on Tom Joyner morning show with Politic365.com’s Lauren Victoria Burke, argued that not only is a gender-specific initiative for men needed, but that Obama has already focused on women’s issues including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the time period that women could file a discrimination claim against their employee to recover wages lost due to discrimination. I don’t know exactly how that Act, in Martin’s mind addresses black women specifically (hell, it really doesn’t do much for most women in terms of mandating equal pay), but Martin has that covered too. By way of Olivia Pope. More specifically he said on the show:

I recall the first lady bringing Kerry Washington and others to the White House and all of these initiatives where they were bringing in women of color, so I’m going, you have something here, why all of the sudden say let’s change this focus after it has been announced all of a sudden, includes girls.”

Well I guess we can all pack up and go home now because Kerry Washington was at the White House and sat on “all of these initiatives.” What were these initiatives, which required the expertise of a television show actress? Who cares? Point is she is black woman. And she sat down in the White House somewhere. And she probably took a picture with the First Lady too. So all you broads whining about sexism and what not, have nothing to complain about. You’re just being overly-sensitive and paranoid. I swear, you broads just enjoy being offended. Move on, already. I mean, what else do you all want? Honestly, if this were a white man being dismissive of calls to action against racism, much like Martin is with women in particular, we would be spitting mad and ready to march on the streets.

But Martin wasn’t done there. Later in the day, he took to twitter and again attacked the letter writers’ aims of inclusion, specifically tweeting:

Memo to sisters who want to come at me over my criticism of #mybrotherskeeper critics: don’t try that “you-don’t-care-about-sisters” crap

So a brother stands up for #MyBrothersKeeper, he’s hating on sisters. But a sister criticizes MBK, she’s righteous? Ok. Gotcha.

I’m confused: I hear a bunch of sisters saying WH Office on Women/Girls is for white women, but where has their open letter been for 5 yrs?

Please show me where 1,000 sisters signed an open letter demanding the WH womens/girls office do more for minority women?

So instead of demanding the WH Women/Girls office create a TARGETED minority effort, the answer is to add girls to #MyBrothersKeeper?

So to everyone saying include girls in #MyBrothersKeeper, why do we have targeted efforts for prostate cancer & breast cancer?

It is laughable to listen to all of these academics act like we don’t have gender-specific initiatives in America, and Black America!

Except there are no targeted programs aimed at black women and girls coming out of any of the Administration efforts, which is part of the point. Not for breast cancer. Not for equal pay (because if white women are getting 77 cent per one white man’s dollar, you can imagine how much the sisters are getting). Not for domestic violence and sexual assault. And no, the episode of Black Girls Rock!, you saw on BET doesn’t count.  Granted it is a wonderful program but does not have the capacity to deal with the millions of black girls around the country in need of various degrees of assistance. And despite Martin’s assertions of equality, there will be serious economic imbalances upon the implementation of this initiative. But I’ll let the brothers tell him, more specifically Paul Butler, a law professor at Georgetown University and former federal prosecutor, who writes in a piece for CNN:

But this is not about a race to the bottom. It is about understanding that the economic and social conditions that prevent many people of color from achieving the American dream do not discriminate on the basis of gender. And neither should Obama’s most important race-based program to remedy these conditions.

Community organizations, many now strapped for cash, stand to receive millions of dollars from MBK. Unless the initiative expands to include women, these groups are likely to orient their programs to where the money is by, for example, restricting job training, college preparation and mentoring to boys only.

As a result of MBK, federal agencies are being asked to collect data about how their operations impact minority males. Unless the mission of this initiative is expanded, the data about girls apparently will be sent to the shredding bin. It’s an ironic result for an administration that prides itself on its support for women’s equality.

As someone with a non-profit background, there is lots of truth in what Butler says about dollar distribution and how it actually effects work on the ground. And as the money pool available to non-profits (as well as public schools, universities and other private/public partnerships) gets smaller, ultimately folks will go where the money is. And at a time when philanthropy dollars spent on all girls only stands at a dismal range of 3 percent to just over 6 percent of total grantmaking, guess who will get abandoned in the process? And how is that a way to build the community?

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