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Barack Obama is Helping Us All Redefine Masculinity

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“Being a man is, first and foremost, being a good human,” Barack Obama announced onstage in Oakland, Calif., kicking off the conference for his My Brother’s Keeper initiative. “That means being responsible, being reliable, working hard, being kind, being respectful — being compassionate.”

Obama created MBK Alliance in 2014 as a call to action to close the opportunity gaps facing marginalized boys and men around the country, and the two-day gathering is focused on helping young people reach their potential. The former President was accompanied by basketball star Steph Curry, and surrounded by other young men of color, joining together to create change in local communities and on a national scale.

On the opening night, Obama’s comments focused on redefining masculinity, and breaking down what it means to be a man today. “The notion that somehow, defining yourself as a man is dependent on, ‘Are you able to put somebody else down instead of lifting them up, are you able to dominate, as opposed to support,’ that is an old view,” he said. “A view that, thankfully, I see a lot of young people rejecting.”

Obama also highlighted the idea that people have the tendency to react to discrimination by amplifying traditional masculine traits — and this is a pattern, or “trap,” that we need to break free of as a society. “Oftentimes, racism sends a message that you are less than,” he explained. “[As a result], we feel like we need to compensate by exaggerating certain stereotypical ways that men are supposed to act.”

Finally, Obama encouraged the crowd to rethink what masculinity actually means, and to focus on the power in kindness and compassion. “If you’re confident about your strength, you don’t need to show me by putting somebody else down,” he urged. “Show me how strong you are that you can put somebody else up, and treat somebody well, and be respectful — and lead in that fashion.”

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