On February 19, former US President Barack Obama addressed the audience at the “My Brother’s Keeper” (MKB) conference in California. While speaking to the black men and men of colour, Obama touched upon the topic of masculinity and what it is actually meant to be a man. And shared a few insightful things.
“Being a man is being a good human”
At the MKB Rising conference, NBA star Steven Curry was in conversation with Obama. For starters, he introduced himself as “Michelle’s husband, Barack”. This could be seen as a reverse trend as usually women are referred to somebody’s wife, daughter or sister, thereby stripping them of their unique identity.
Obama responded to a participant’s question who asked, “From the time boys and young men of colour are born, we are given this narrow definition of what it means to be a man and how can we begin to change the narrative that is currently forcing us to follow a path that doesn’t align with our identities?” Obama said that being a man is “first and foremost” being a good human. By good human, he meant being responsible, reliable, a hard worker, kind, respectful and compassionate. He said that the major part of the challenge lied in that the men of colour are especially expected to “compensate” by exaggerating stereotypical ways in which men are “supposed” to act.
He also said that putting others down is not the way to show how strong you are, but being strong means the ability to lift somebody else up and treat them well.
Masculinity and toxic masculinity
The society we live in enforces certain stereotypes associated with each gender. Individuals are expected to adhere strictly to them, any deviation invites rebuke and name calling. This notion of masculinity for men and feminity for women is a way of constricting a person’s individuality.
Toxic masculinity is often bred and encouraged. Meaning men and even young boys who are emotional, sensitive or compassionate are perceived as not “man enough”. This is detrimental to the overall well-being of men as they are often expected to bottle up their feelings. Kudos to Obama for addressing this and setting up a great narrative.