First, let me start off by stating that I am a supporter of the President. Second, the President should not be exempt from scrutiny and criticism. To the contrary, he took those reins. It comes with the gig.
Chastising young men of color is the absolute wrong way to go about this. Destructive criticism can backfire. Especially when it comes to building the self-esteem and self-worth of a people. Science backs me up here, but since when do politicians apply science to their policies and initiatives? We should be focusing on the positive and going from there.
Poverty and race were addressed like an afterthought during his speech. I'm not surprised. Poor people are under a great deal of stress. Their brains are under a lot of stress. Their bodies are under a lot of stress. Their spirits are under a lot of stress. To tell them that they have no excuse is not just irresponsible. It's dangerous.
The initiative will also most likely help those kids who are doing fine. I am more concerned with the C, D and F students. The A and B already have a support system. Why invest or waste money on people who don't necessarily need it? What's worse, those A and B students will grow up to take these positions of power and will most likely have the same mentality as President Obama. That of victim blaming. Victim blaming is never Ok. Not even the President gets a pass. You combat the system. Not the victims.
Class does play a major role and President Obama was never really a poor kid from the 'hood, so he is unqualified to speak on behalf of young men of color. Especially from that angle he took. There are a great deal of well-off African Americans and Latinos who think they can speak freely and offer these redux failed solutions to "fix" the lives of young men of color. I am from the 'hood. I was raised in the 'hood. I know exactly what the poor young men of color go through. To hear and see someone who is supposed to represent us throw the youth under the bus is a slap to the face.
The only good thing I see out of this is that the issue was raised. We can talk about it, but nobody really knows what exactly makes some poor men of color snap and go the route we think is the right one. That can be genetic and because of personality types. If that is the case, then other initiatives need to take place. That money that could've gone to combat poverty instead of rehashed initiatives. We all know the elephant in the room is poverty. Not some inherent self-destructive mentality of young Black and Latino men.
If only he spent all this effort on raising the minimum wage to whatever inflation is today.
Another thing, if the government facilitated the ultra rich to get richer via deregulation and handouts, then poverty is the government's responsibility. Don't give a leg up to someone who is already on top and then look down at those at the bottom by telling them to raise themselves up by the bootstraps. Don't lecture them about personal responsibility, working hard and dismissing their plight with "no excuses" chants.
Most kids aren't told about mentors, and even if they had a mentor, they don't have money to stay or travel to an after school program. Many of them have to babysit their siblings. Others, and this is the most important of all, need to bond. We are social animals, after all. Bonding comes before any inherent need to "succeed." Who do teenagers bond with? Other teenagers. Bonding might be done through numerous things, and self-destructive behavior is one of them, unfortunately. The President should know. I've seen that famous picture of him smoking weed.
Again, it's not the "subculture" that has a problem. It's society. Not the kids. I wouldn't even tell them to go out and find someone to look up to, because there aren't many folks out there who truly care. And those who are out there are in it more for the limelight. Not to take away from those who do go out of their way, but this is seldom. We have to approach these kids.
Compliment their strengths and always tell them that they can do whatever they set their minds to. Be it in the arts or business. You never chastise them. You never lecture them. You never "school" them. You never give them scorn or indifference. You never criticize their fashion or music taste. You never dismiss their dreams.
The young men who have come up to me for advice have told me that one positive sentence, one gesture of encouragement in the midst of so much negativity, admonishment and indifference, means the world to them. It always pushes them to do better because, believe it or not, they have hope. A hope the adults around them never take a day off from suffocating. Just ask them what good has lecturing them about personal responsibility done?
Note that racism wasn't even touched here. Both to the individual and systemic. Let's say that My Brothers keeper does work. Let's say that the Black and Latino youth take the President's words at face value. Let's say they all go to college and graduate. Where are all these jobs and opportunities waiting for them? Studies show that even when you control for SES, there's still a major difference between people of color and whites when it comes to finding and attaining internships, employment, loans, incarceration rate, health issues, education, you name it.
The right way to fix our "Black and Brown Problem" is by addressing systemic oppression (poverty and racism) and uplifting our youth. Not by repeating the personal responsibility mantra when we all don't have the same support system and social capital as the President did as a kid.