During President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, I worked really hard to elect him. Friends often joked that I was supporting him before Michelle was. That was probably a stretch, but I supported him very early. Supporting him remained true during his entire presidency. You can imagine my shock when I looked at his favorite songs list and saw Cardi B! If you don’t know her, please look up her lyrics. Find a song called “Twerk.” When you read the lyrics and see the women, you’ll understand why I nearly passed out.
I’m one of the leaders of the Respect Us campaign where we’re leading a movement to rid the airwaves of disrespectful, hateful music. It pains me to call it music that Cardi B, Kanye West, Nikki Minaj, 21 Savage and others do because the words used are nothing but hate against Black women and often the Black community. I told myself President Obama had never really heard the words used by Cardi B because a lot of rappers sound like they’re performing in another language!
Fast-forward to the Obama I supported so vigorously. He was speaking at a meeting of My Brother’s Keeper, a program he initiated. I read an article a few days later by James Hohmann. The title was “Barack Obama Criticizes Pop Culture for Promoting the Wrong Values to Young Men.” He was talking with young men about defying stereotypes about what it means to be a man.
I perked up as I read on. He lectured the men about not worshiping money at all costs, and told them their worth is not measured by how much money they have or how famous they are. He told them he knew a lot of rich people who’re really messed up.
He cautioned against bullying and being selfish while urging them to seek causes greater than themselves. I wanted him to get to the part about not only respecting themselves, but respecting women. He did. He said, “If you’re very confident about your sexuality, you don’t have to have eight women around you twerking … because you know I’ve got one woman, who I’m very happy with. And she’s a strong woman.” I love this man for his love and respect for Michelle!
He blamed pop culture for amplifying toxic messages about modern masculinity (and presumably other things). Pop culture isn’t to blame for everything, but there’s a lot of disrespect in hateful rapping. As a Black woman, I was pleased to hear him say, “We tend to rise to the expectations that are set for us.” He reminded the young men to be kind and not bully people, and that would have an impact. He told them to treat young women with respect. He said, “They’re not objects. They’re humans with the same aspirations and desires, and they’re just as worthy of respect as men.”
He touted the importance of respecting and listening to women. He said, “Oftentimes, historically, racism in this society sends a message that you are less than and weak, so we feel like we’ve got to compensate by exaggerating certain stereotypical ways that men are supposed to act.” He went on to say, “That’s a trap that we fall into, that we have to pull out of. If you’re confident about your strength, you don’t need to show me by putting someone else down. Show me how strong you are in that you can lift someone else up and treat someone well and be respectful.”
My Brother’s Keeper is a program that shows who Barack really is. In that lecture, he gave credence to our Respect Us campaign.
Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc.