I've got about 20 minutes before a van picks me up and takes me to the Roots and Remedies site (I'm here talking about cities and political change). So that doesn't quite give me enough time to make the changes to my chapter on neoliberalism and the black church…but it might be enough time for me to post something relatively cogent here. Let's see.
I was on the Takeaway with Mary Frances Berry last week talking about My Brother's Keeper in the wake of a couple of letters sent to the White House protesting the initiative. Berry signed one of the letters. I was asked, but passed. The letter I received–the one that a couple hundred black male activists, intellectuals, and scholars signed–ended up, just like the letter Mary Frances Berry signed, missing the neoliberal core of MBK.
MBK is basically a self-help initiative backed with foundation dollars. It, like many (though not all) public private initiatives take the concept of the market as a given and work to fit the target subjects INTO the market as it exists. This is why the President focused so much on individual responsibility and on "no excuses". Now we know that the reason black communities are failing has nothing to do with the lack of individual responsibility, and has everything to do with the way the state and the economy currently function. And on top of that, we know that the reason they focus on boys rather than on girls is in part because of the sexist narrative that black communities only function properly when boys can become men and can take their roles as heads of household. And they can only do that when they have self-esteem, when they have the ability to discipline themselves, when they have the wherewithal to get and keep a job, when they have the ability to not only have but raise children, etc. etc. etc.
(Fifteen minutes left.)
The way the problem in this case is articulated–black boys are at the bottom of every important indicator both within black communities and outside of them because they aren't embedded in the right networks, don't have the best level of self-esteem, don't quite understand how to resolve conflict–leads to the types of solutions we get. Black Male Achievement summits. Black male mentorship programs. Black male beer summits. All directed with private resources. All structured by private foundations. The White House may weigh in on "best practices" but there is absolutely NO real public involvement.
The neoliberal end goal for MBK is to identify black boys and men capable of being sufficiently responsible, from black boys and men incapable of doing so. The end goal is to create a better fit between black boys/men, and the modern economy which needs boys/men capable of (legally) grinding and hustling, capable of doing everything for themselves and their community that in a sane society the state would do. And they use foundations to do it not just becasue the GOP controls the Congress and wouldn't pass any legislation that looked to deal with the issues of black boys and men unless that legislation had PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX written on it. They use foundations to do it because they are not interested in having the type of public participation that could either transform a program like this into something more useful for black communities or take a program like this and expand it to cover other constituencies and to generate support for progressive government in general.
When the brothers and sisters protest this move solely on the terrain of gender–they end up missing the most important component. It bears reiterating–if MBK were actually MB&SK we'd be looking at programs that taught brothers to pull their pants up and sisters to keep their legs closed.
Who would want that?
When brothers and sisters protest this move solely on the terrain of gender, they almost by definition, narrow the solution set to a beer summit. Which is what they received, without the beer. The White House calls a meeting, which both sides deem to be "productive" and at best they add a couple of people to any oversight committee they create. It leaves the system itself fundamentally in tact and uninterrogated.
I am SO glad that the brothers and sisters in this case decided to go against Obama's signal initiative. But damn we need a more active black intellectual left.
(Time. Sending this out raw and unedited. Feedback welcomed and encouraged.)