WASHINGTON — The National Organization for Women (NOW) applauds President Obama’s refocusing the nation’s attention, through the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, on the deep racial disparities in education, economic well-being, housing and health care facing people of color. At the same time, we share the concerns expressed by over 200 African American men in their letter urging the president to expand this promising initiative to include girls and women of color — who live in the same households, suffer in the same under-resourced schools, and struggle to overcome a common history of limited opportunities caused by various forms of discrimination.
The crisis facing boys and young men of color is stark, and the inter-agency report delivered to the president on Wednesday is essential reading for all who care about social justice and human rights. It is also true, however, that women and girls of color are in a deep crisis that is too often overlooked. We do not fault the White House Council on Women and Girls for not producing an initiative of the breadth and scope of “My Brother’s Keeper,” as they were neither tasked nor–as importantly–funded to do so. The Council’s charge applies to “all” women and girls. But if the specific concerns of girls and young women of color are not investigated and addressed, it becomes all too easy to reinforce the unfortunate myth that girls of color have succeeded and are not in need of attention.
In fact, girls and women of color consistently come out on the bottom of data tracking the wellbeing of females — whether the measure is health, exposure to violence, rates of incarceration, rates of suspension and expulsion from school, high school graduation rates, or economic security.
The way forward is to rise above the old conundrum in which “all the women are white, and all the Blacks are men.” We must gather and lift up all of the at-risk youth of color in our country. We know that poverty rates, stereotypes, and other factors that undermine the life chances of boys of color also place girls of color at risk. We also know that, like boys, girls of color can make better choices for their futures if we can attend to the supports they need to become fully responsible and self-sufficient young women.
NOW hopes to work with the Obama administration in helping to remove the barriers our society imposes on girls and boys, young women and men, in communities of color. Working together, we can help all of our children overcome the racist and sexist stereotypes imposed on them, and ensure that all are valued for who they say they are, and empowered to achieve their highest aspirations.