President Obama announced the expansion of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative at a Congressional Caucus Event last weekend, and well … sigh.
“We still have to close the opportunity gaps, and we have to close the justice gap — how justice is applied, but also what is perceived, how it is experienced,” Obama said at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event in Washington on Saturday. “That’s what we saw in Ferguson this summer when Michael Brown was killed and the community was divided.”
“Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel by fear and resentment and hopelessness,” he continued.
Note the use of “feel,” as if to suggest that those “young men of color” could be imagining these things, though there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.
As a result of the increasingly evident “gulf of mistrust,” Obama said, his administration will launch a “My Brother’s Keeper” community challenge this week, in which it will ask every community in the country to publicly commit to implementing strategies to ensure that all young people can succeed.
“It’s a challenge to local leaders to follow the evidence and to use the resources to see what works on our kids,” the president said. “We need to help our communities, our law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so that our neighborhoods stay safe and our young people stay on track.”
As other, more graceful writers have pointed out, the idea that respectability politics can cure what ails not only the inner city, but the nation at large, is rooted in folly. Pulling up their pants and speaking “the King’s English” is not going to protect black boys from bullets, and it will not magically transform the ghetto into Utopia. What we “saw in Ferguson” was a young black man murdered in cold blood, for reasons we have yet to really know because the assailant hasn’t been charged. What we are seeing in Ferguson now are black men and women, young and old, fighting for their right to exist. We are not seeing justice applied, or experienced. What we are seeing in Ferguson is, in fact, an egregious display of injustice.
I cannot understand, for the life of me, why some notable black women academics keep pushing for inclusion in a program that seems bound for failure, but maybe I’m not meant to understand; perhaps I am too far removed from the girl I was growing up in the hood, but given what I remember, and what I’ve seen, the needs of boys and girls still differ greatly. While I agree that the initiatives for young women of color have been grossly overlooked and underfunded, the answer isn’t hitching their wagons to something that seems too invested on placing the onus of personal responsibility on those at greater risk, and not the circumstances contributing to that risk. If we’re not talking about federal legislation to address the epidemic of police violence, or stopping the bloodletting of the public school system, if the focus is on the aesthetic and not the structural, then these gestures are little more than political theater.