My Brother’s Keeper Skating on Thin Evidence?

by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D.

Once again the President’s advisors in the White House do not appear to be serving him well.  Despite a thin base of evidence regarding the effectiveness of programs targeting boys and men of color, the President is going all out to exclude girls and women of color for an important initiative.

The President announced My Brother’s Keeper as a new initiative at the end of February and called upon the task force that he formed to review data and develop indicators to measure progress for boys and young men of color, survey government programs to see what is working or not working, reach out to private sector (including nonprofit) partners, and report to him at the end of May.  So far, counting today’s announcements, the task force (consisting of federal officials) has raised more than $300 million in private funds that the White House says will be targeted at improving the opportunities of boys and young men of color.

Almost immediately questions were raised first by women of color in the media, then by 200 black men writing an open letter, and then by more than 1200 women of color doing the same, and then by mainstream women’s organizations issuing statements to the press: where are the girls and young women of color?

Girls and boys of color grow up in the same families, live in the same neighborhoods, and attend the same schools.  Girls and boys of color share many of the same challenges but also face a few that are unique to each gender.  While boys of color score lower than girls on some indicators, girls of color score lower than boys on others.  All would benefit from good programs.

Today, the President announced that several government agencies will make special efforts to increase services that can help boys and young men of color succeed.  Surely women’s organizations will be watching closely to make sure those tax dollars are spent in a gender equitable way.

Unfortunately, there is no comparable, ongoing federal effort to identify challenges facing girls and women of color, review data and develop indicators to measure their progress, survey federal programs to see what is working and or not working for them, or, crucially, raise $300 million from private sources to develop solutions for them.

According to the MBK task force report itself, there is very little evidence that any programs for boys of color work, and, of course to exclude girls, the evidence would have to prove that those that do work do not work as well for boys when girls of color are included.  Although the White House claims the MBK initiative is evidence-based, the report presents no evidence to justify excluding girls and young women of color from the initiative.  Boys are rarely compared with girls in the report and no programs are identified as being successful for boys alone. In other words, the inference that boys of color need this investment of resources more than their female counterparts has yet to be substantiated by the MBK initiative.

In the face of all the criticism, the White House has stonewalled.  Finally six weeks after the report was released and months after the criticism began in the media, White House leaders, including Broderick Johnson, who has led the MBK initiative, Valerie Jarrett, and Tina Tchen, met with a few critics and supporters at the White House on July 15. At that meeting and since, White House officials have said MBK will remain all male.  They are happy to discuss ways to do something for girls and young women of color—perhaps collect better data, for instance—but not through MBK.

Since all federal programs generally must be open to everyone, what’s the point of excluding girls and women of color from this initiative?  I’m sure it comes across as a shocking and hurtful omission to young women and girls of color.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is the founder and president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

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