President Obama announced on Thursday a new initiative called "My Brother's Keeper" to help black and Hispanic young men succeed in America. Small-scale, on-the-margins things like this are really all Obama can do on the intractable racial disparities in America, because people love to imagine that those disparities don't exist. But that doesn't mean his opponents aren't going to fight and misrepresent even this.
Let's clarify what the program is and isn't. In short, Obama is creating a task force to figure out how to promote and expand programs that provide young men of color with educational opportunities and jobs. In addition, he's pushed for $200 million in funding from a variety of foundations that will go to programs that support those young men at key points. As Yahoo News reports, those include "prekindergarten education, lifting third-grade reading proficiency, leading schools away from 'zero tolerance' disciplinary policies that kick misbehaving students out of school, and persuading businesses to train and hire young men of color." This is private money going to private programs.
What this is not is an excoriation of African-American culture. In an interview with Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett last night, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly suggested that any attempt to help young black people should start with rap music. As transcribed by Politico:
O'REILLY: "[Y]ou're going to have to get people like Jay Z, like Kanye West, all of these gangsta rappers, to knock it off. ... Listen to me. Listen to me. You got to get where they live, all right? They had idolized these guys with the hats on backwards ... and the terrible rock -- rap lyrics and the drugs and all of that. You got to get these guys. And I think President Obama can do it."
VALERIE JARRETT: "I see exactly what you're coming from. ... [W]hat we showed today is that there is evidence that there are wonderful programs out there that can inspire these young people. The president is a terrific role model. The room today was full of role models of these young boys can look up to. And what we have to do is take what's working and take it to scale."
There are so many things wrong with this, of course. As the Daily Beast's Jamelle Bouie points out, Jay-Z and Kanye "embody the American dream," leveraging their talents into careers and wealth. Neither is a "gangsta rapper," a genre that hasn't existed in any real sense for about a decade. But what O'Reilly is really suggesting is the hoary idea that young black people simply need to take responsibility for themselves, clean up their acts, and they, too, can be rich, respected Americans. Bouie: "He sincerely believes that things will be better if young minority men would stop listening to hip-hop, stop wearing 'urban' fashion, and adopt better role models. But this is nonsense."