President Obama Is My Brother’s Keeper But What About The Sisters?

March 6, 2014  |  

Last week, President Obama had this to say in a speech to introduce his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which brings together private philanthropic foundations, businesses, state and local leadership, the religious community, and nonprofit organizations for the purpose of helping black and other boys of color, particularly those facing “tough odds,” reach their fullest potential:

And I believe the continuing struggles of so many boys and young men, the fact that too many of them are falling by the wayside, dropping out, unemployed, involved in negative behavior, going to jail, being profiled, this is a moral issue for our country. It’s also an economic issue for our country. After all, these boys are a growing segment of our population. They are our future workforce.When generation after generation they lag behind, our economy suffers. Our family structure suffers. Our civic life suffers. Cycles of hopelessness breeds violence and mistrust, and our country’s a little less than what we know it can be. So, we need to change the statistics, not just for the sake of the young men and boys but for the sake of America’s future.”

Black feminist and political activist Frances Beal once noted, “Since our arrival on these alien shores, the black woman has been subjected to the worst kinds of exploitation and oppression.” However, you wouldn’t be able to tell that based upon the fact that so much emphasis is placed on black boys and the value we place on their success as a community.

I don’t mean to sound curt but I am quite over the narrative, which places black boys at the central of what ails – as well as what will fix – the community. Black men are no more or less hindered by “tough odds” than black women. Likewise, black men are no more or less dinged and obstructed by racism. And yet, when it’s time to put forth meaningful efforts meant at addressing the downtrodden and disadvantaged in our community, for black women and girls (in particular, funding for black women and girls) are often left out of the equation.

And I say this as somewhat of a fan of the president’s new charitable endeavor. At least he chose black boys. He could have chosen building houses or wheeling and dealing in Haiti like other ex-presidential pet projects. And at least there is some money behind it – at a minimum, $200 million. But I would be wrong if I didn’t point out this report, which shows that while donations to foundations for women and girls have grown at a rate faster than foundation giving as a whole, it still remains below 7.5 percent of all of overall foundation giving – and it has been like that for well over a decade and a half.

As noted by Brittany Cooper in her essay, Black girls’ zero-sum struggle: Why we lose when black boys dominate the discourse:

I wish that black men — Barack Obama included — had the kind of social analysis that saw our struggles as deeply intertwined.

According to the African American Policy Forum, black girls are suspended at a higher rate than all other girls and white and Latino boys. Sixty-seven percent of black girls reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness for more than two weeks straight compared to 31 percent of white girls and 40 percent of Latinas. Single black women have the lowest net wealth of any group, topping out at $100. Single black men by contrast have an average net wealth of $7,900 and single white women have an average net wealth of $41,500. Fifty-five percent of black women (and black men) have never been married, compared to 34 percent for white women.

This situation is dire at every level. But perhaps the most troubling thing of all: The report indicates that while over 100 million philanthropic dollars have been spent in the last decade creating mentoring and educational initiatives for black and brown boys, less than a million dollars has been given to the study of black and brown girls!”

If you still had doubts about how little we tend to value black women and girls, there it is in dollars and in cents. On the flip side, we spend all this money on “saving our sons” and yet our sons are still in crisis mode. Consider this fairly recent report by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project, which asserts that 68 percent of African Americans reared in the middle of the wealth ladder will not do as well as the previous generation – that compared to 30 percent of whites. I point to that particular study to show that black people still find themselves disenfranchised to whites, even when they are not going to jail or dropping out of school or being absent parents. And obviously there is something else going on her– like systematic racism.

And that’s one of my biggest problems with the “save the black man” ideology, because it puts the burden of change on the back of the victims – or at least half of the victims (the other half is invisible) – while completely ignoring other more worthwhile change-making pursuits, which would help not just black men and boys, but the equally burdened fairer sex as well. Pursuits like policy changes that address the systematic racism and inherent sexism – both of which are imperative to fix “for the sake of America’s future.”

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