'My Brother’s Keeper' Initiative Faces Calls for Inclusion of Girls

'My Brother’s Keeper' Initiative Faces Calls for Inclusion of Girls

A thousand women and girls of color have signed an open letter (36 pages, PDF) to President Barack Obama calling for the inclusion of girls and young women in My Brother's Keeper, the White House initiative to expand opportunity and improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color.

While praising the initiative, which to date has received private philanthropic support totaling some $200 million, the letter asks that the White House "re-align this important initiative to reflect the values of inclusion, equal opportunity, and shared fate that have propelled our historic struggle for racial justice forward." Signed by academics and activists such as Alice Walker, Anita Hill, Mary Frances Berry, and Rosario Dawson, as well as high school students, the effort builds on the case made by a "Letter of 200 Concerned Black Men Calling for the Inclusion of Women and Girls in 'My Brother's Keeper" that was released earlier this year.

"While we applaud the efforts on the part of the White House, private philanthropy, social justice organizations, and others to move beyond colorblind approaches to race-specific problems, we are profoundly troubled about the exclusion of women and girls of color from this critical undertaking," the letter, which was publicized by the African American Policy Forum, states. "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."

Administration officials insist that the initiative and the data collected will benefit both boys and girls, even as they stress that boys of color face particular obstacles that merit a targeted approach, the Washington Post reports. Meanwhile, the president has focused on increasing opportunity for women and girls as part of his larger focus on expanding opportunity for all Americans and has "created the first-ever White House Council on Women and Girls, which for years has tackled issues that disproportionately affect women and girls of color, including equal pay and violence against women," Valerie Jarrett, who heads the council, told the Post.

Nevertheless, while the newest letter acknowledges that "Those who have justified the exclusive gender focus of MBK often remind us that male youth of color are like the miner's canary: their plight warns us that something is wrong in the mine," it goes on to argue that "male-exclusive initiatives seem to lose sight of the implications of the canary's distress: it is not a signal that only male canaries are suffering. 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."