There’s a number of Black women who are not too pleased with being excluded from President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. This week, Kimberlé Crenshaw (a professor of law at Columbia University and UCLA) held a youth rally in South Central Los Angeles to spark a dialogue around young women of color getting similar treatment from the Obama administration. My Sister’s Keeper, anyone? The event, organized by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program, was the third of such hearings held around the country this year to lift up the experiences and struggles of girls of color, in response to My Brother’s Keeper.
Los Angeles native and professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, Kristie Dotson attended the rally, where dozens of girls and women of color testified about their experiences growing up in L.A. in poor, disenfranchised Black and Latino neighborhoods. “My Brother’s Keeper doesn’t want to talk about the fact that those boys of color coming off those mentor programs are going to come back to these same households supported by these women of color who are struggling,” said . “Does anyone care?” Dotson stated.
With the introduction of My Brother’s Keeper, President Obama sought to help young men of color stay on track by providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future. Under Obama’s initiative, businesses, foundations and community groups would coordinate their investments to come up with, or support, programs that keep youths in school and out of the criminal-justice system, while improving their access to higher education. Several foundations pledged at least $200 million over five years to promote that goal. This sounds like an amazing program that could only benefit our young men of color in a post-Trayvon Martin/Oscar Grant/Kimani Gray world. However, there are a few complaints stemming from many women of color who think we deserve the same.
“This hearing was necessitated by the silence around girls of color that we’ve seen in the discourse around the school-to-prison pipeline and more recently in the silence in My Brother’s Keeper,” said Crenshaw. Too often people settle for fallacies that suggest that girls and women of color suffer less than men of color do from racism. The truth, said Crenshaw, is that “girls experience some of the same things boys experience and some things boys never dream of.” Crenshaw maintains that if President Obama won’t allow political discourse around the issue of women of color who need help, then her hearings will. So far, she’s hosted these hearing in Atlanta, Chicago and L.A. Soon, she will be bringing the to New York City.
While My Brother’s Keeper is an amazing initiative, many critics, namely women of color, are wondering: what about us? At a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, who also chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls expressed her disagreements with the critics. Jarrett responded to the critics, saying “I think the flaw in the logic is not understanding that this is not either/or, this is both/and. The president’s approach is to create a society where nobody gets left behind, and right now are young boys of color are falling farther and farther behind than everybody.” Jarrett’s defense of the initiative comes after over 1,000 women of color, including Anita Hill, Angela Davis, and Rosario Dawson signed a letter raising concerns about the fact that women won’t be included in the program:
“We are profoundly troubled about the exclusion of women and girls of color from this critical undertaking. The need to acknowledge the crisis facing boys should not come at the expense of addressing the stunted opportunities for girls who live in the same households, suffer in the same schools, and struggle to overcome a common history of limited opportunities caused by various forms of discrimination.”
Just because something is targeted at one segment of a minority group doesn’t mean that it’s exclusive. Jarrett said, “Many of our initiatives have been designed to make sure that that cohort doesn’t fall behind,” she said, referring to women of color. “So for them we’ll add encouraging girls of color to go into STEM fields. It’s a big priority of us, and that means that that begins with science and math courses, so what can we do to provide mentors to those young girls so they go into those fields.” Jarrett also mentioned the president’s focus on campus sexual assault, although that hasn’t included an explicit focus on women of color.
I appreciate the efforts of Crenshaw and hope that they will do something to ignite a fire under the Obama administration to develop similar programs for women of color. Thank you for My Brother’s Keeper, but women of color need to be kept too. What do you beauties think?
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