The Challenges of My Brother's Keeper

by Fredrick C. Harris

Oct 1, 2015

In this paper, Fredrick C. Harris lauds many of the goals of My Brother's Keeper, a White House initiative whose purpose is to combat the difficult social conditions facing minority boys and young men in the United States, while also suggesting that it may fall short of its goals given its misplaced emphasis on character building. Human capital development and behavior-altering strategies will not succeed, Harris argues, unless policies are put in place which will dismantle the marginalization of poor and working-class minority youth. In fact, says Harris, much of rhetoric about personal responsibility – touted by President Obama at events including the unveiling of the My Brother's Keeper initiative – does not match reality and only reinforces existing stereotypes about black men, particularly as fathers.
  • By closing the educational achievement gap between white men and men of color of working age, men of color would earn as much as $170 billion more annually, the average weekly earnings of all workers would increase by 3.6 percent, and GDP would expand by 1.8 percent.
  • Contrary to stereotypes, these data indicate that although three quarters of black children are born to unwed women, it does not mean that black men are less engaged in raising their children or less supportive of the idea that they should financially support their children. In many cases, they are more so.
  • Instead of seeing marriage and fatherhood as a solution to the problems facing black boys and young men, policies should be created that support poor and working class unmarried parents – both male and female – who may lack the financial resources affluent families have to provide for their children.
  • The rhetoric on the purported failures of black fathers and black men by President Obama and others help to perpetuate racial stereotypes about black fatherhood that are not true. The rhetoric draws attention away from deep structural issues that continue to plague poor and working-class youth as they navigate failing schools, a rapacious criminal justice system, and a society where upward mobility is becoming a challenge for all but the affluent.