Former President Barack Obama spoke at a conference for his My Brother’s Keeper initiative in Oakland on Tuesday about toxic masculinity and the ways it has been reinforced by institutionalized racism.
Obama—who introduced himself as “Michelle’s husband” sat down with Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry (who the former president introduced as “Ayesha’s husband”) to discuss what it means to be a “man.”
“All of us have to recognize that being a man is first and foremost being a good human. That means being responsible, working hard, being kind, respectful, compassionate,” said Obama.
“The notion that somehow defining yourself as a man is dependent on, are you able to put somebody else down… able to dominate… that is an old view,” added the former president.
He also discussed the need to create spaces “where young men of color, and young men generally, don’t feel as if to be respected they have to act a certain way.”
“If you’re confident about your strength, you don’t need to show me by putting somebody else down,” said Obama. “Show me by lifting somebody else up.”
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“My friends and I started a program to mentor students at the elementary school next door. We helped each other keep the good work going. When I got to Howard I hit the ground running—joining student organizations, getting an internship at the White House during the Obama administration, and becoming a mentee as part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, where I had the chance to meet President Obama, ask him for advice, and share what was going on in my life. “Since beginning my mentorship program five years ago, I’ve found a passion for combating disparities and inequalities I see. My mission is to change the world one community at a time. I recently founded my own nonprofit to help out other college students, providing scholarships and highlighting the achievement and impact of minority students across the U.S. ” —Jerron Hawkins, 21, participant at #MBKRising, Washington D.C. (2/3)
Obama and Curry conversed on an amphitheater stage near Oakland’s Lake Merritt amid dozens of young men of color. According to the Huffington Post, the two-day gathering marked five years since Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which works “to break down barriers that too often leave boys and young men of color at a disadvantage.”
Curry jumped in to say that it’s high time the NBA set an example for the next generation of young adults. “One moment can be a difference maker for a lifetime,” said the basketball star. “For me, I can speak for my teammates and people in our league, right now [there is a] social responsibility we feel, to take a stand for things we believe in, to look out for the next generation.”
The former president also explained how men of color have even more of an uphill battle when it comes to toxic masculinity because “racism historically in this society sends a message that you are ‘less than,'” and so young POC “feel we have to compensate by exaggerating stereotypical ways men are supposed to act. And that’s a trap.”
Seeking respect through gun violence, and through the models of “success” pushed by hip-hop and rap “is a self-defeating model for being a man,” said Obama.
“Talking about how I have more money than you, I can disrespect you” is ironic in that it “shows the vulnerability you feel.”
“We live in a culture where our worth is measured by how much money we have and how famous we are,” the former president said to the audience, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I will tell you, at the end of the day, the thing that will give you confidence is not that. I know a lot of rich people that are all messed up.”
“If you are really confident about your financial situation, you’re probably not going to be wearing an 8-pound chain around your neck. If you’re very confident about your sexuality, you don’t have to have eight women around you twerking.”
“Cause I’ve got one woman who I’m very happy with. And she’s a strong woman.”